Michigan’s Virus Cases Are Out of Control, Putting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a Bind

Nowhere in America is the coronavirus pandemic extra out of management than in Michigan.

Outbreaks are ripping via workplaces, eating places, church buildings and household weddings. Hospitals are overwhelmed with sufferers. Officials are reporting greater than 7,000 new infections every day, a sevenfold enhance from late February. And Michigan is house to 9 of the 10 metro areas with the nation’s highest latest case charges.

During earlier surges in Michigan, a resolute Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shut down companies and colleges as she noticed match — over the din of each reward and protests. But this time, Ms. Whitmer has stopped far brief of the sweeping shutdowns that made her a lightning rod.

“Policy change alone won’t change the tide,” Ms. Whitmer mentioned on Friday, as she requested — however didn’t order — that the general public take a two-week break from indoor eating, in-person highschool and youth sports activities. “We need everyone to step up and to take personal responsibility here.”

That approach prompted an unexpected uttering of approval from Republicans in Michigan, who control the State Legislature and until now have fought Ms. Whitmer’s decisions at every turn.

“This is the biggest thing in 100 years,” Jack O’Malley, a Republican member of the Michigan House, said of the pandemic. “I would say it’s got to be 80 percent of why somebody’s going to vote or not vote for her.”

Still, a small but growing number of doctors and public health officials are calling on Ms. Whitmer to take much more aggressive action as cases worsen by the day.

There is no single reason Michigan has been hit so hard in recent weeks, though the latest surge has been partly attributed to the B.1.1.7 variant that was originally identified in Britain and is widespread in the state. Recent infections suggest that small social gatherings were driving case increases, events that are hard to target with government restrictions. Children are also accounting for a higher percentage of cases, with spring break trips and youth sporting events emerging as points of concern.

There is also reason for optimism that distinguishes this virus surge from those that came before: One in three Michigan residents has started the vaccination process, and one in five is fully immunized. With older residents swiftly getting vaccines, health officials say that most of the people who are infected with the coronavirus now are younger than 65, a less vulnerable population. And so Ms. Whitmer, who received her first shot on Tuesday, has pointed to vaccines — rather than new lockdowns — as the way out of this moment.

“I want to get back to normal as much as everyone else. I’m tired of this,” Ms. Whitmer said in a news conference on Friday where she defended her strategy for the weeks ahead. “But the variants in Michigan that we are facing right now won’t be contained if we don’t ramp up vaccinations as soon as possible.”

Ms. Whitmer, whose administration rolled back restrictions last month when virus cases were relatively low, pressed President Biden in a Thursday night phone call for extra vaccines to address the surge. Mr. Biden declined, and the administration said on Friday that it would continue allocating vaccines based on adult population.

A state official with knowledge of the call, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a private conversation, said the president expressed concern about loosened restrictions in Michigan but seemed to have inaccurate information about what restrictions remained in place. The official said Ms. Whitmer explained to Mr. Biden that capacity remained limited at restaurants, gyms and social gatherings, and masks were still required.

Still, the Whitmer administration is not ruling out a more stringent approach. Elizabeth Hertel, the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said she was optimistic that the continued rollout of vaccines and the governor’s new recommendations would help bring case numbers down. But if that did not happen, she said, more restrictions were possible.

“If we were to get to a point where the health care system says, ‘We are overwhelmed and we cannot take care of Covid patients in addition to our regular patients that we see,’ then we may have to talk about further restrictions,” Ms. Hertel said in an interview.

Dr. Mark Hamed, the medical director for several rural counties in Michigan, said he had lost sleep in recent days, worrying about how to get the surge in his region under control.

On Thursday, he spent 90 minutes on a brainstorming call with his counterparts from across the state. Not once did the group discuss whether the governor should start to close down businesses and schools again, he said.

“I think people are definitely Covid fatigued,” he said, adding that he has noticed more people choosing on their own to wear masks since the latest surge began. “They’re seeing their neighbors affected and their loved ones affected, and they’re starting to change behaviors.”

In Port Huron, a particularly hard-hit region northeast of Detroit, cases are spiking and hospitals filling, Mayor Pauline Repp said.

Ms. Repp said she sympathized with the position the governor and health department were put in last year, when Michigan hospitals were overflowing and strict rules on movements were imposed. But she said some people lost patience as the months wore on and Michigan’s rules remained firm even when cases dropped.

“I almost think in some respects it had a little bit of a backfire,” Ms. Repp said.

The latest surge has complicated life in Port Huron. Public schools have gone back to online instruction. City Hall closed this week after too many workers tested positive. Still, she said, it is common to see shoppers at Walmart or the Meijer grocery store refuse to wear face coverings.

“It’s been a long time,” Ms. Repp said. “It’s a long time to be restrictive and you get to the point where you kind of think, ‘Will life ever go back to normal?’”

Source link Nytimes.com

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