With her state battling the biggest surge of new COVID-19 cases in the nation, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says she will not issue new mandates to blunt the outbreak, relying instead on the common sense of a citizenry now experienced in struggling with the deadly virus for over a year.
Data from state health officials shows Michigan has surpassed 100,000 active COVID-19 cases in the last week, the highest number since mid-November. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks the Wolverine State's COVID-19 infection rate as No. 1 in the country with 492.1 positive infections per 100,000 people.
The disturbing rise in cases appears to stem from the spread of the B-117 variant, also known as the U.K. variant, a more deadly and transmissible mutant comprising 70% of new coronavirus cases in Michigan, according to state and CDC data. The state has the highest number of U.K. variant cases in the nation, according to the CDC.
Hospitals throughout Michigan are also reporting a 30% increase in hospital admissions over the past week.
"We really have a race between the vaccination, which is coming and we're getting a lot more of it, and the infections which are right now ... in a fourth surge," Dr. Ora Pescovitz, a pediatrician and the president of Oakland University, told ABC affiliate station WXYZ in Detroit.
Despite the startling stats, Whitmer, who has previously come under attack for her stringent stay-at-home orders and was even the target of a foiled kidnapping plot, says she is not planning to roll back already loosened regulations for reopening the state, which now allows for 50% in-door dining at restaurants and public schools to reopen for in-class learning.
During a news conference on Friday, Whitmer urged residents to avoid indoor dining for two weeks and for high schools to consider going back to virtual learning for two weeks. She also wants to hit pause on organized youth sports.
"To be very clear, these are not orders, mandates, or requirements. A year in, we all know what works and this has to be a team effort. We have to do this together. Lives depend on it," Whitmer said. "There's light at the end of this tunnel, but the recent rise in cases is a reminder that we are still in the tunnel. That's the nature of this virus, the second we let our guard down it comes roaring back."
Whitmer said she asked President Joe Biden on Thursday to ramp up the supply of Michigan's COVID-19 vaccine allocations, specifically, the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot, saying it's essential to efforts to combat the outbreak hitting her state.
White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said at a news conference on Friday that the Biden administration has no plans to redirect vaccine doses from other states to ones like hard-hit Michigan, saying, "There are tens of millions of people across the country in each and every state and county who have not yet been vaccinated."
"The fair and equitable way to distribute the vaccine is based on the adult population by state, tribe and territory," Zients said. "That’s how it's been done, and we will continue to do so. The virus is unpredictable. We don’t know where the next increase in cases could occur."
As of April 7, roughly 39% of Michigan residents age 16 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine and about 24.4% are fully vaccinated, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.
Regardless of its efforts to inoculate its residents, the state has seen its daily confirmed COVID cases dramatically rise by 415% since Feb. 19 among people 20 to 29 years old, according to Michigan Medicine, formerly known as the University of Michigan Health System.
The state recently announced it is teaming up with 26 colleges and universities in an effort to vaccinate students before they head home for summer break. On Thursday, the state said nearly 16,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses are being shipped to the health departments of those colleges and universities to administer.
"Vaccinating this group of the population right now makes a lot of sense as thousands of college and university students near the end of their academic year and are preparing to travel back home, start new jobs, take summer vacations, and interact with their family and friends," Northern Michigan University President Fritz Erickson said in a statement.
"We appreciate this initiative by the state to keep college students safe," Erickson added. "This effort will protect not only the age group that is now seeing a higher rate of infection than before, but it protects communities and families across the state from the spread of the virus due to the mass movement of college students that takes place over the next few weeks."
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said the state's immediate goal is "vaccinating at least 70% of Michiganders age 16 and up as quickly as possible."
Dr. Aimee Gordon, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, told WXYZ that while the U.K. variant appears to be raging across the state, it is not the only reason the contagion is out of control. She said COVID-19 fatigue has also set in across the state, prompting residents, particularly younger people, to let down their guard when it comes to mask-wearing and social distancing.
"I think in general people are getting exhausted," Gordon said.