COVID-19 cases have started spiking in Michigan, which currently has the highest number of positive tests per 100,000 in the nation. The state’s seven-day average is 515 per 100,000. The next closest state is New Jersey, with 300. Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who issued and enforced one of the most draconian lockdowns in the country, is now making pandemic-related news again. Previously, it was for her orders, which included preventing Michigan residents from moving between homes, using motorboats, or buying home improvement supplies.
In October of 2020, the Michigan Supreme Court stripped Whitmer of the emergency powers she had assumed during the pandemic, declaring the orders an “unlawful delegation of legislative power to the executive branch in violation of the Michigan Constitution.” Now, faced with increasing COVID-19 spread, the governor is powerless to issue the same kind of restrictions she did in the past without the Republican-controlled legislature’s consent. With the friction between the branches caused by her overarching actions earlier in the pandemic, getting back her authority to act is not likely.
To decrease transmission, Whitmer has asked Michiganders to voluntarily refrain from gathering indoors and asked local leaders to cancel in-person events, including youth sports. She’s also asked the Biden administration to surge vaccines to the state. Former FDA Director Dr. Scott Gottlieb agreed with Whitmer in an appearance on Face the Nation, saying the administration should have sent more doses to Michigan weeks ago:
Gottlieb said the Biden administration should think more about targeting vaccines and related resources into hot spots as more Americans are vaccinated and outbreaks become more localized.
“We need to get in the habit of trying to surge resources into those hot spots to put out those fires of spread,” Gottlieb said, noting that the entire Great Lakes region is seeing a high rate of infection.
The Biden administration declined to allot the state extra vaccine doses. White House COVID-19 Response Team coordinator Jeffrey Zients said:
Now is not the time to change course on vaccine allocation. There are tens of millions of people across the country in each and every state and county who have not yet been vaccinated, and the fair and equitable way to distribute the vaccine is based on the adult population by state, tribe, and territory.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky echoed this advice today during a press briefing:
But Walensky said the effect of vaccines is delayed, with the results not seen for somewhere between two to six weeks, depending on the vaccine.
“So when you have an acute situation — extraordinary number of cases like we have in Michigan — the answer is not necessarily to give vaccine,” Walensky said.
“The answer to that is to really close things down, to go back to our basics, to go back to where we were last spring, last summer, and to shut things down, to flatten the curve, to decrease contact with one another to test to the extent that we have available, to contact trace.”
Residents of Michigan will be thrilled to hear “flatten the curve” again, to be sure. It is like none of our public health experts have realized the curve only stays flat until people start emerging from their homes. They don’t seem to correlate a surge in positive COVID-19 tests with states that implemented the strictest lockdowns. According to the CDC map, there also appears to be a regional weather pattern in play. Both ideas could be worth pondering.
Further, the idea of equitable distribution of vaccines based solely on the state’s adult population appears overly simplistic. In a state with surging cases, it might be prudent to know the number of at-risk residents and get them vaccinated as quickly as possible. Whitmer specifically asked for the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which requires a single dose. According to Israeli data, this request makes sense because vaccines provide some protection from severe COVID-19 illness even while their full efficacy is building.
The administration is surging tests, therapeutics, and staff to help deploy Michigan’s allotted vaccine supply. White House COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt told Michigan officials to “follow the science.” Science says those 65 and older with comorbidities are at the highest risk for COVID-19-related mortality. One might assume following science would mean getting shots into those individuals as quickly as possible in an identified hotspot.