With an alarming rise in new Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations, officials say Michigan is now a hotspot for the virus in the US.
And it’s on track to potentially see a surge in cases “that’s even greater than the one we saw in the fall,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said in a Friday news conference.
Just how bad are things in the state?
Covid-19 cases per million people are four times higher what they were in mid-February. The percent of positive tests are also four times higher than the numbers then.
Virus-related hospitalizations are also climbing, including among patients younger than ever before. In one part of the state, emergency room physician Dr. Rob Davidson told CNN that hospitalizations have gone up “four fold in just the last two weeks.”
Fueling the soaring numbers are coronavirus variants, health officials say. Khaldun said the state has tracked more than 2,200 cases of variants, but added “there are likely many more that we don’t even know about.”
“Because we are seeing so many cases a day, our public health system is overwhelmed,” she said. “We are not able to get information on many cases nor are we able to identify their close contacts.”
And as variants run rampant – not just in Michigan but across the US – experts worry the state could be a warning sign for what other parts of the country could soon experience.
CDC chief says shutdowns could curb cases
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said late last week that while the state is making progress in its vaccinations – and repeatedly hitting more than 100,000 doses administered in a day – the variants won’t be contained unless vaccinations are ramped up further.
“We need additional supply of the one-shot (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine,” she said, adding that Michigan officials have regularly been in touch with federal leaders and have asked for more vaccines.
But a leading health official said Monday that’s not the best course of action for the state’s crisis.
“We know that if vaccines go in arms today, we will not see an effect of those vaccines, depending on the vaccine, for somewhere between two to six weeks,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House Covid-19 briefing.
“When you have an acute situation, an extraordinary number of cases like we have in Michigan, the answer is not necessarily to give vaccine,” she added. “In fact, we know that the vaccine will have a delayed response.”
The answer, Walensky said, is “to shut things down” and test and contact trace as much as possible.
Some Covid-19 measures are still in place in Michigan, the governor said Friday, including a mask mandate and limits on some indoor gatherings. And while Whitmer didn’t order any new requirements, she called on high schools to voluntarily go remote for two weeks past their spring break, for youth sports to suspend games and practices for two weeks and for residents to avoid dining and gathering indoors for two weeks.
“I think it fell short that she didn’t mandate it,” Andy Witkowski, a Detroit-area teacher, told CNN. “I think the reason that our numbers have spiked is because we’ve opened up, schools are back, they’ve had an uptick in the sports here.”
Jordan Ross, a 25-year-old resident, said not everyone is following the recommendations.
“I’m seeing a lot of students, they know the issues that are going on, but they’re still choosing to either go and hang out with friends or go to, like Florida,” he said. “That’s kind of concerning to me.”
‘Some tough weeks ahead’
Both Whitmer and Khaldun say it’s now up to residents to do the right thing.
“We’re going to have some tough weeks ahead so I’m asking everyone, please take this seriously,” the governor said Friday. “We can’t let up now, not when we’re so close.”
One resident told CNN she approved of how the governor was handling the situation.
“When it comes down to it, people are either going to take care of themselves and take care of each other, or they’re not,” said Leah Fairbanks, a Detroit-area nurse.
Just because something is open “does not mean that it is safe or that you should do it,” Khaldun, the state’s top health official, added during last week’s news conference, also urging for Michiganders to look out for each other.
“Think about the person who may have an underlying medical condition, or who is older and is more likely to die from Covid-19,” Khaldun said. “Think about the person who may need to have a surgery or seek emergency care and the staff or beds may not be available in the hospital.”
“This is serious. We are all connected and we’re in this together,” Khaldun added.