Michigan is fighting both a spike in COVID-19 cases, and a continued resistance to effective action

Michigan is fighting both a spike in COVID-19 cases, and a continued resistance to effective action

The U.S. is now averaging over 3 million vaccinations a day. That would be enough to vaccinate more than 90% of the population in 100 days, so it’s not surprising that the percentage of Americans who have received at least one jab jumped from 33% on Thursday, to 34% on Friday. And since the vaccine is currently not currently available to children, the percentage of the adult population which has been vaccinated is now at 44%. 

If the rate of vaccination continued exactly where it is today, 75% of American adults will have been vaccinated by May 7. That is, so long as Republican refusal to accept the vaccine doesn’t get in the way. That’s an amazing number; one that’s well ahead of the best projections from just a month ago, and months ahead of the projections made a year ago. If the 2020 logistics of vaccine distribution were marked by overpromising and underdelivering, 2021 has seen the process steadied out and relentlessly expanded. States are now able to see what level of vaccine they’re going to be getting  weeks in advance, allowing for better planning. Meanwhile, thousands of new vaccine sites have opened, with many large sites running seven days a week. In state after state, vaccines are becoming available to all adults well in advance of deadlines.

It’s almost like something changed in January.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing from here to herd immunity. Americans are still dying from COVID-19 at a rate over 900 a day, new variants have proven to be more infectious of children, and a spike in Michigan is once again straining local healthcare resources.

As CNN reports, some Michigan hospitals are again choosing to delay nonemergency procedures as both cases and hospitalization rates for COVID-19 continue to rise. Social distancing guidelines were rolled back on March 2 in Michigan, and the state was already facing a lot of resistance (up to, and including a plot to kidnap and execute Gov. Gretchen Witmer). All of this turned out to be bad timing, as the fast-spreading B.1.1.7 variant was just becoming prevalent in the area.

Michigan has seen a sustained spike in cases that has brought the 7-day average over 7,600. That rate is actually higher than what the state saw at the peak of the Thanksgiving—Christmas spike that hit across the nation. And, as inevitably happens, the new rise in cases is now being trailed by an increase in hospitalizations and deaths. 

Getting the spike in cases under control is going to to take not just medical action, but political courage. Gov. Whitmer hasn’t been issuing a flood of new executive orders, but has urged high schools to suspend in person classes voluntarily, and reminded the state that a mask mandate issued by the state health department remains in effect. In a news conference on Friday, Whitmer made it clear that tougher restrictions and better compliance is required. 

“As we take a hard look at the data and observe the spread of the variance,” said Whitmer, “we all need to go above and beyond the rules we already have in place. We all have to step up our game for the next two weeks to bring down rising cases.”

The reasons for the focus on high schools comes with mounting evidence that, no matter what the view about the initial spread of COVID-19, children are playing a major role when it comes to the B.1.1.7 variant. Studies in the U.K. medical journal The Lancet, and reports from the University of Minnesota, show that as this variant spreads, not only are more children and younger adults being infected, more of them are becoming seriously ill. The overall number of patients who become critical hasn’t changed, but the people being hospitalized are now skewing younger.

Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press, University of Minnesota’s Dr. Michael Osterholm made it clear that concerns about children and the now dominant variant are real. “Please understand, this B.1.1.7 variant is a brand new ball game,” said Osterholm. “It infects kids very readily.”

Evidence so far suggests that children still are not transmitting the virus as readily as adults, because they carry a smaller viral load. However, the B.1.1.7 variant has spread rapidly through both some schools and day care centers. 

As ABC 12 in Flint reports, the same is true of Michigan.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, who is Michigan’s chief medical executive, said young people are seeing the largest increases in COVID-19 spread. The 10 to 19 age group saw the biggest increase last month before the 20 to 29 and 30 to 39 age groups also saw increased spread of the illness.

One vector for the new variant that has been seen in multiple states: youth sports activities. As CNN reported on Thursday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has made special note of clusters of cases related to youth sports. This has led the CDC to re-issue guidelines suggesting limits to youth sports activities.

 Which makes it extremely frustrating that, due to the Republican majority in the Michigan state legislature and others working to undercut Whitmer, the new “restrictions” aren’t mandates, but recommendations. Instead, the Republican speaker of the Michigan House said Whitmer should remove all remaining restrictions and just “trust the people of this state to do the right thing for themselves and their families.” Because that’s working so well. 

Finally, as the Detroit Free Press reports, Michigan High School Athletic Association executive director Mark Uyl followed Whitmer’s speech by announcing that he had “no plans to pause any schedules.” The games will go on … because the games are going on.

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