Michigan under national microscope during spring COVID-19 spike

TCF Center Detroit, March 9, 2021 | Ken Coleman

In the early months of the pandemic last year, Michigan was center stage as one of the national hotspots for the novel virus. Months later, the state was held up for its impressive turnaround and low case rates after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer enacted sweeping restrictions. 

Now, just over a year into the pandemic, Michigan is in a worse state than ever before and back under national scrutiny as Whitmer has declined to issue new health restrictions, despite recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and several health experts.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives her DNC address, Aug. 17, 2020 | Julia Picket photo

Whitmer has attributed the surge of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths to a number of reasons, including Michiganders not following safety protocols and more infectious COVID-19 variants spreading. 

More than 2,600 cases of the most prevalent variant in Michigan, B.1.1.7, have been reported in 62 of Michigan’s 83 counties. 

“With reservoirs of people who don’t have antibodies because they didn’t catch COVID in the first place, we are seeing this variant spread incredibly fast,” Whitmer said on Washington Post Live with reporter Jonathan Capehart. 

As of Monday, the state reported 793,881 COVID-19 cases and 16,901 deaths. Along with high case numbers that are currently growing by the thousands each day are rising hospitalization and death rates. 

Michigan has prioritized its vaccine rollout as one of the most important ways to fight the spread of COVID-19. About 6 million vaccines have been administered across the state and about 31% of the state’s population 16 and older is completely vaccinated, as of Monday. 

“Our challenge is going to be encouraging and educating the public to avail themselves of these vaccines. Right now supply is out-numbered by demand, but that could very soon switch,” Whitmer said Tuesday. 

Earlier this month, Whitmer asked the federal government for more vaccines and to prioritize the shipment of vaccines to COVID-19 hotspots. Her request was ultimately denied.  

Educators and students push state to close schools while COVID cases surge

Whitmer continues to receive pushback from Republicans

During the pandemic, Republicans who control the Legislature have opposed strict restrictions on businesses, schools and gatherings. 

Whitmer said Tuesday that Michigan “has some of the strongest protocols on the books,” noting the state’s mask mandate and the 50% capacity limit for indoor dining.

But for now, Whitmer isn’t hinting toward reverting back to any of the stronger measures the state took last spring or fall, but instead is urging Michiganders and school districts to consider a pause on indoor eating, in-person learning and school sports. 

“We’ve got to really take into account what we can and can’t get the public to embrace and to support,” Whitmer said, responding to her hesitation to implement another statewide lockdown. 

Whitmer this week was criticized by Republicans for her out-of-state travel during the pandemic to visit her father, who has a chronic illness.

“It’s maddening because a lot of these same people would accuse me of not having family values if I didn’t show up when a family member needed some help,” Whitmer said. “It was a two day trip. I wasn’t out partying in Miami. It’s a very different situation than what they’re portraying.”

The governor is not the only one from her administration who has traveled in recent months and received flack for not adhering to the same recommendations they are advising. 

Whitmer’s chief executive officer, Tricia Foster, traveled to Florida with her daughter for spring break and Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel recently traveled with her family to Alabama.

Allison Donahue
Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.