COVID-19 cases on the rise in Michigan

Jeff Thomas, Features Editor

Over the last two weeks, Michigan has seen a 12% increase in new COVID-19 cases. The increase has coincided with the Feb. 1 lift of dine-in bans on restaurants and the reopening of in-person learning and contact sports in public schools.

From Feb. 14 to Feb. 27, Michigan was one of only five states in the U.S. to see a rise in new COVID-19 cases. Michigan’s 12% increase in cases was favorable only to North Dakota’s 25% increase and Wyoming’s 31% increase.

Despite this data, Michigan’s soon-to-be, new Health Director Elizabeth Hertel is optimistic about the position the state is in. During an interview last week with the Detroit News, she pointed to the overall decline in infection numbers (a 51% decrease in new daily cases since the beginning of February) and an increase in vaccination rates as indicators of the solid position the state is in going forward.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is similarly optimistic, though cautious about further lifting restrictions. During a press conference last week, Whitmer discussed the possibility of expanding dine-in capacity in restaurants, lifting restrictions on nursing home visits and allowing for private indoor gatherings of more than 10 people. 

“I am hopeful that eventually we get to that point, Whitmer said. “But at this juncture… we’ve got to keep watching the data.”

As most decisions on COVID-19 restrictions have been on a three week cycle, Michiganders should expect an update on the state’s COVID-19 policies relatively soon.

Since the beginning of the pandemic Michigan has reported 645,375 cases of COVID-19 and 16,498 deaths from the virus. One of the worst places in the world for COVID-19 infections last spring, Michigan’s turn around in infection rates is generally accepted as one of the success stories of what pandemic restrictions can accomplish.

While facing opposition from Republicans in Lansing and Washington D.C., Whitmer stuck to her guns on COVID-19 restrictions. As a result of her commitment to restrictions, Michigan saw fewer cases of COVID-19 per capita than neighboring states Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana.

Moving into this new stage of the pandemic political tumult continues to be an issue in Lansing, as Republican leaders in the state congress continue to reject Whitmer’s appointees and hold up COVID-19 relief legislation

This move from the GOP senate is in retaliation to what they claim has been a unilateral pandemic response from Whitmer. GOP leaders say they want bipartisanship and a seat at the table in governing the state. Ultimately, the GOP is trying to leverage votes in order to get Whitmer to further lift restrictions.

Michigan Democrats have responded to these efforts by saying that Republicans are not presenting legislation or even clearly articulating their ideas on how to respond to the pandemic. Democrats further assert that these Republican actions are politically motivated and counterproductive to improving the lives of Michigan’s citizens.

The Michigan Department of Health continues to encourage social distancing and mask wearing guidelines to reduce viral transmission.

Michigan continues to increase the availability of testing and sites for receiving the vaccine. With the recent emergency approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the hope is that the state can reach the 70% vaccination threshold necessary for immunity sooner with these additional doses available.