Michigan’s COVID-19 surge is the worst in the country. In the past week, we have had more cases and deaths per capita than any other state. In response, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has issued a set of suggestions to curb the spread, such as limiting in-person dining capacity and switching to virtual learning for the next two weeks, but she has not issued any new mandates or restrictions. Instead, she has turned to the federal government, asking for more allocation of vaccines to navigate the crisis. But the federal government has denied her request, stating that the solution is to curb the spread through social measures rather than medical ones.
And that makes sense.
Despite Michigan’s hesitancy to enforce new COVID-19 restrictions, it is clear that abandoning common sense measures in favor of vaccines will result in more unnecessary deaths. We call on Gov. Whitmer to mandate the necessary public health restrictions immediately, as called for by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Then we can ask for more doses.
Whitmer’s recent request for more vaccines from the federal government goes against the guidance of the director of the CDC, who has asked Michigan to “shut things down” as of April 12. Even if the requested vaccines all got here tomorrow, were distributed quickly and injected into Michiganders’ arms, full immunity still takes five weeks to take effect with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and six weeks to take effect with the Moderna vaccine because both require two doses. In other words, additional vaccines, if distributed now, will not create immunity fast enough to slow the surge.
The spike in Michigan could be a harbinger of things to come for other states, so increasing vaccine allocation to any state experiencing a spike would unlikely prove to be an effective long-term strategy in the months to come. Instead, policymakers should focus on implementing and enforcing effective restrictions and directing available vaccines to the most vulnerable communities.
Whitmer’s job is to make the decisions that will protect Michigan residents, even when they are unpopular. As an elected leader, she is uniquely situated to influence the state’s safety measures and decide the trajectory of this outbreak. Even in the face of fierce political opposition or strong community pushback, she must mandate safety measures that will save lives. Her legacy will be shaped by COVID-19’s impact on Michigan and beyond, so shying away from long-term well-being to avoid short-term political pushback would be betraying her responsibility and commitment to the state.
Moreover, these mandates are only effective if a critical mass of the population follows them, so Whitmer should make clear how important safety measures are to the state’s long term health. As the weather gets warmer and more people get vaccinated, it’s easy to feel that the pandemic must be over. However, the spike in cases and deaths makes clear that this pandemic is not over, and the more we pretend it is, the longer it will go on. Michigan residents, including University of Michigan students, should be following suggestions from both the state and the University. All should practice the same social distancing measures they have throughout the pandemic, including avoiding unnecessary travel, wearing masks and keeping social gatherings small and outdoors whenever possible. But it is unreasonable to ask residents to follow instructions it seems their governor doesn’t even support. This is why Whitmer needs to take decisive action and use her voter-given power to enact these measures.
It is critical to consider the number of citizens in Michigan who are hesitant to get vaccinated when discussing this current outbreak. If a significant proportion of Michiganders avoid vaccination, outbreaks will continue, and the risk of variants will increase. Some individuals may not have the information necessary to make that decision, and a state- or nation-wide information campaign could sway initially hesitant people to get the vaccine.
Some communities don’t trust the health care system because it discriminates against people of color, specifically Black people, and Black Michiganders are underrepresented in the vaccine rollout, even after the federal government set up a mass site at Ford Field in Detroit. According to an MLive article, Black people made up less than 10% of people who got vaccinated at Ford Field, despite making up almost 80% of Detroit’s population. Therefore, any vaccination campaign must acknowledge vaccine hesitancy in different communities and focusing on addressing both the symptoms and sources of that mistrust. Education, outreach and accessibility are crucial to ensuring people get the shots and stay safe. This is one aspect of the vaccine rollout the governor can prioritize along with the necessary mandates.
It is clear that more mandates are unpopular and tiresome. After more than a year of living in this pandemic, Michiganders want nothing more than to finally enjoy the benefits of loosened restrictions. However, the current COVID-19 spike in our state shows that, while the end seems in sight, we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. Vaccines are just one weapon in defeating the virus, and they won’t work unless accompanied by public health mandates. Michigan’s leaders must respond to this crisis and residents should listen, no matter how unpopular those measures may be.