Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) hopes to quell the nation’s most severe uptick in Covid-19 cases by rolling out new antibody treatments and speeding up vaccinations, but she suggested Wednesday that new social distancing rules are not necessary, even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges the state to “shut things down.”
Whitmer has encouraged Michiganders to socially distance and voluntarily avoid indoor dining, and she suggested schools close their doors last week, but in a Wednesday press conference, she didn’t indicate any plans to reintroduce mandatory restrictions.
Whitmer said Michigan’s current restrictions — including a mask mandate and indoor restaurant capacity limits — are already stricter than many other states’.
The governor appears reluctant to reinstall last spring’s stay-at-home order and nonessential business shutdown, which drew tense protests from Michigan Republicans and turned into a national spectacle that ended with former President Donald Trump tweeting, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”
Rather than enacting new restrictions, Whitmer said the state is focusing on distributing vaccines, which have reached 45.7% of Michigan adults according to CDC figures (47.6% of adults nationwide have received at least one vaccine dose).
Whitmer also hopes to distribute more doses of antibody therapies to those infected with the virus, including a drug by Regeneron that some research suggests can drive down the risk of hospitalization and death in patients sick with Covid-19.
“Instead of mandating that we’re closing things down, we are encouraging people to do what we know works,” Whitmer told reporters Wednesday. “It’s not the policy problem, it’s a variant and compliance problem.”
Last weekend, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Michigan should “go back to the basics” by reimposing last year’s shutdowns.
Whitmer has urged the federal government to send extra vaccine doses to Michigan, but federal officials turned down this request last week. Walensky argued vaccines will not immediately quell Michigan’s surge because they take weeks to become fully effective.
Coronavirus infections have gradually crept up nationwide over the last month, but Michigan has turned into an epicenter, with the state’s daily case counts approaching record levels. Health experts have partly blamed the outbreak on a contagious and increasingly common coronavirus variant first spotted in the United Kingdom. Plus, Whitmer says some people have abandoned social distancing protocols, and the state’s lower-than-average infection rate last year means most Michiganders didn’t develop antibodies against the virus.
State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) applauded Whitmer’s reluctance to roll out mandatory shutdowns. It’s a rare note of praise from Shirkey, who fought Whitmer’s coronavirus restrictions vehemently last year and bragged to constituents in a private meeting that Republicans “spanked her hard” in state budget debates (Shirkey later apologized).