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CDC to Gov. Whitmer: Time to Shut Down, Not Surge Vaccines

Michigan is on fire—a coronavirus variant is spreading rapidly among younger people, including children, yet high-risk activities, including youth sports and indoor dining, remain open. CDC Director Walensky addressed the conflagration Monday.
April 14, 2021, 10am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Pandemic Public Health
Sue Smith

How bad is the coronavirus outbreak in the Wolverine State?

"Nowhere in America is the coronavirus pandemic more out of control than in Michigan," reported Julie Bosman and Mitch Smith on April 10 for The New York Times. The average of daily new cases had increased 8% from 6,500 a week earlier, the date of our related post, "What's Going on in Michigan?" according to the Times Michigan coronavirus database.

Outbreaks are ripping through workplaces, restaurants, churches and family weddings. Hospitals are overwhelmed with patients. Officials are reporting more than 7,000 new infections each day, a sevenfold increase from late February. And Michigan is home to nine of the 10 metro areas with the country’s highest recent case rates.

As of April 13, the day after Michigan recorded 10,669 cases (though the 7-day average was < 7,300), the state claimed 15 of the top 20 U.S. metropolitan areas in the category, "where the outbreak is worst now" in the Times metropolitan areas coronavirus database. Two metros in Illinois, two in Pennsylvania and the New York City area filled the rest.

All four states are in the red zone, classified as "very high risk," along with New Jersey, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Delaware, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Puerto Rico, Florida, and Colorado according to Covid Act Now on April 12.

Biden administration vs. Whitmer administration

"The Biden administration and Michigan’s Democratic governor are locked in an increasingly tense standoff over the state’s worst-in-the-nation coronavirus outbreak, with a top federal health official on Monday urging the governor to lock down her state," write Noah Weiland and Mitch Smith for The New York Times (source article) on April 12.

As the governor, Gretchen Whitmer, publicly called again for a surge of vaccine supply, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at [Monday's] White House news conference (via YouTube, 36 minutes) that securing extra doses was not the most immediate or practical solution to the outbreak.

“The answer is not necessarily to give vaccine,” said the director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “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.”

Public health experts not in agreement

Vaccines or public health measures? The final question of the White House Covid-19 Response Team's press briefing showed that not even the experts agree.

"[V]accines, we understand, are not a panacea, given a crisis situation in Michigan right now," stated Heidi Przybyla of NBC News.

But some public health officials, including Dr. Gottlieb over the weekend, are saying that the administration probably should have surged vaccines to Michigan two weeks ago when the data started coming in.  Can you address that?  And what is the argument against doing this...?

Walensky explained the delayed response of vaccines would make it ineffective to halt the surge in a timely manner. "I think if we tried to vaccinate our way out of what is happening in Michigan, we would be disappointed that it took so long for the vaccine to work, to actually have the impact," she replied.

Dr. Céline Gounder, an internist, infectious-disease specialist and epidemiologist, also answered that question in her Washington Post op-ed, "Vaccines won’t save Michigan from its covid-19 surge," published Tuesday. In addition to the medical explanation about the delayed immune response from the federally authorized COVID-19 vaccines, she writes:

The hard truth is that the measures that will help curb Michigan’s surge are those that take effect instantly: masking, sticking to household bubbles, socializing outdoors, not gathering indoors and maximizing indoor ventilation. These are the same mitigation measures that we’ve been recommending for months, the same measures we’re all tired of following and the same measures that so many are discarding now that we have vaccines (even if they haven’t yet been vaccinated).

But when it comes to the pandemic, politics too often trumps science, as Weiland and Smith note.

Even though some doctors and public health officials in Michigan have called for new lockdowns, there is a bipartisan sense that another lockdown would be a political nonstarter, especially with the legislative Republicans who hold majorities at the Capitol in Lansing.

Gov. Whitmer is in a difficult situation, finding herself at odds, once again, with a president in the pandemic. The former one defied her leadership by telling her constituents to "liberate Michigan" (along with Minnesota and Virginia) and the current one will send her additional vaccinators, therapeutics and coronavirus testing supplies, but not the additional vaccines that she believes are what's needed most for her state.

Related in Planetizen:

Hat tip to Michael Keenly.

Full Story:
Published on Monday, April 12, 2021 in The New York Times
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