CDC director contradicts Whitmer, says Michigan needs shutdown to control COVID-19 surge

    CDC Headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, 2014 | Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

    Contrary to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s current strategy of prioritizing mass vaccinations to quell Michigan’s worst COVID-19 outbreak yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director said during a Monday briefing that restrictions are once again necessary throughout the state to control the spread.

    “Really what we need to do in those situations is shut things down,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. “I think if we tried to vaccinate our way out of what is happening in Michigan, we will be disappointed that it took so long for the vaccine to work, to actually have the impact.”

    Since vaccines were first distributed to Michigan in the winter, Whitmer shifted her plan from strategic shutdowns and restrictions to a focus on mass vaccinations instead. The state remains largely without restrictions, aside from a mask mandate and public safety guidelines including restaurant capacity limits and contact tracing.

    Michigan is currently one of 13 states that the Covid ActNow data model characterizes as “very high risk” for COVID-19. According to the tracker, there are now a “dangerous” number of new cases with 73.9 daily cases per 100,000 in the state.

    As of Saturday, Michigan reports a total of 738,023 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 16,500 deaths. Just under 40% of the state’s population 16 and older have now been vaccinated, and Whitmer aims to bring that percentage up to 70% by May as an alternative to shutting down businesses and imposing restrictions once again.

    While COVID cases, deaths, hospitalizations rise, state sticks with vaccination strategy, not new restrictions

    The Democratic governor has also called on the President Joe Biden administration to create a vaccine surge program to distribute a higher number of vaccines to states experiencing worse outbreaks. Biden, a Democrat, has so far not taken up Whitmer’s request and his administration continues to distribute vaccines to states based on population.

    Whitmer on Friday did call for a two-week “pause” on in-person learning and youth sports, but stressed that it is voluntary while imploring Michiganders to exercise personal responsibility.

    Michigan Republicans had long decried Whitmer’s previous COVID-19 restrictions and asked for her to trust residents to be responsible.

    But on Monday, Walensky said relying so heavily on mass vaccinations to “flatten the curve” while largely keeping the state open is not necessarily the best course of action, particularly given that vaccines take between two to six weeks to be fully effective.

    “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, to flatten the curve, to decrease contact with one another to test to the extent that we have available, to contact trace,” Walensky said.

    Laina G. Stebbins
    Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).