Michigan’s worst-in-the-nation coronavirus outbreak shows no signs of abating. Daily reports of new cases continue to climb. Hospitalizations are approaching peak levels. And deaths are rising, too.
But Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who unapologetically locked down her state last year, signaled again on Wednesday that she had no plans to impose new restrictions.
“Instead of mandating that we’re closing things down, we are encouraging people to do what we know works,” Ms. Whitmer said, stressing that a mask mandate and occupancy limits remained in place in the state. “It’s not the policy problem. It is a variant and compliance problem.”
Ms. Whitmer finds herself overseeing a rapidly escalating crisis with no easy solutions. Sixteen of the 17 metro areas with the highest recent case rates in the country are in her state, which has accounted for more than 10 percent of all U.S. cases reported in the last week.
The governor has also clashed publicly with the Biden administration, which has declined to send the extra vaccines she requested and instead suggested a shutdown.
In the meantime, the situation remains dire.
“Patients are again lining our hallways, like they were last spring,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, describing the situation in Michigan hospitals. She added: “Just because something is open and legal, it does not mean that you should be doing it.”
Politically, imposing another shutdown in Michigan would range from difficult to untenable, especially given Ms. Whitmer’s tense relations with the Republicans who control the State Legislature. Earlier this week, State Representative Steve Johnson, a Republican, said that ordering a new lockdown would amount to “political suicide.” Even most Democrats have avoided calling for such a step.
“It’s the governor’s decision, and to me it’s not a clear-cut decision one way or the other,” Mayor Mike Duggan of Detroit said Wednesday. He blamed backyard parties and maskless private gatherings — not restaurants or gyms — for driving up case reports in his city.
“If she shuts these things down, and the gatherings are in private homes, have you really made an impact?” said Mr. Duggan, a Democrat.
Instead of ordering a new shutdown, Ms. Whitmer spent much of her news conference on Wednesday talking about the benefits of therapeutics, including monoclonal antibodies, and urging people to be open to those treatments if they are given a Covid-19 diagnosis. She also pleaded with residents to wear masks and get vaccinated.
“We are seeing people abandoning the protocols, we are seeing more mobility,” Ms. Whitmer said. “And the worst part is, we now have the existence of variants here in Michigan that are just easier to spread.”
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