Michigan governor promoting shots, not more restrictions, during surge

Governor Gretchen Whitmer received a first dose of the safe and effective Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after becoming eligible in the latest phase of prioritization that includes all Michiganders age 16 years or older. (State of Michigan)

DETROIT – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration is focusing on getting more people vaccinated, not imposing new restrictions on the economy, despite a wave of COVID-19 cases and crowded hospitals, Michigan’s health director said Wednesday.

Elizabeth Hertel noted that indoor high school sports, a source of infections, are wrapping up soon, and spring sports are outdoors where close contact is less likely. All teen athletes must be regularly tested, a rule that began Friday.

Hertel spoke to reporters while more unflattering statistics emerged. Michigan was No. 1 in the U.S. for new COVID-19 cases: More than 46,000, or 469 per 100,000 people, in the last seven days, the federal government reported Wednesday, far ahead of New Jersey at 321.

The state health department reported 8,000 new cases Wednesday and 30 more deaths.

About 37% of residents 16 and older has had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Detroit, which is lagging behind other areas in Michigan, will spend $1.2 million to send people door to door to promote the shots.

“Our focus right now continues on making sure we’re getting as many people vaccinated as possible,” Hertel said. “We still do have a number of restrictions in place that limit gathering sizes.”

Earlier, in Washington, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Michigan to come up with "stronger mitigation strategies" that decrease community activity.

The number of people with COVID-19 admitted to Michigan hospitals has doubled every 12 to 14 days for three weeks, the state said.

“We know that our hospitals are well-equipped to handle these surges,” Hertel said. “We've seen them do it a number of times now, unfortunately.”

The state epidemiologist, who tracks the spread and control of COVID-19, predicted the spike will ease in the weeks ahead.

“Now with COVID, I guess I should learn not to say things like that in public because we don’t know what the virus will do,” Sarah Lyon-Callo said. “However, based on what I understand now about how the virus works and how the vaccine is working and how well the vaccine campaign is going, I’m very optimistic.”

Separately, the Biden administration, citing the pandemic, removed work requirements for people getting Medicaid health insurance benefits through the Healthy Michigan plan.

"The potential for coverage loss among Medicaid beneficiaries ... would be particularly harmful in the aftermath of the pandemic, and makes the community engagement requirement impracticable,” said Elizabeth Richter, the administrator of Medicaid and Medicare.


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