Opinion: The mystery of the overwhelming Covid surge in Michigan

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Despite this good news, cases are increasing dramatically in some areas. For example, Michigan is now in the midst of an overwhelming surge that began about six weeks ago. Daily cases are approaching their highest peaks; Michigan has by far the highest rate of new infections of any state in the country over the past seven days (510.5 per 100,000 population). Minnesota is close to Minnesota (290.7 per 100,000).

Speculation is in high gear regarding the simple question: why Michigan and why now? After all, the increase is not (yet) seen in neighboring states with Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin each well below 200 new cases per 100,000 population. Quickly understanding why this is happening is especially important right now, as no one knows whether the Michigan outbreak is due to a strange collision of circumstances or, much more worryingly, a sign of an atrocious fourth national wave of the pandemic. .

So far, many possible explanations for the increase have been postulated. The daily number of diagnostic tests in Michigan has been stable for several months, so there is unlikely to be a contributing factor. In addition, 23.7% of people are fully vaccinated, just a hair above the national rate. The vaccine is now available for those 16 and older, as is the case in many other states. Not much out of the ordinary there.

Local experts noted that many outbreaks in the state have been concentrated in schools, sports activities, daycares, retirement homes and other places of gathering. Yet the small outbreaks here, there and everywhere are not unique to Michigan, nor is the recent resumption of somewhat normal life.

Most reviewers have also reported viral variants. Michigan is among the states with the highest rate of the most contagious B.1.1.7 variant (57.6% of new cases compared to 44.1% in the United States). But several other states – Tennessee, Florida, Minnesota – are also above the 50% mark. Again: why Michigan and why now?

Examining the racial and age profile of the cases also does not offer any real insight. The Michigan Department of Health is tracking many factors in detail, and its most recent data shows a similar increase in cases across all races and ethnicities and in all age groups. Overall, cases are up 52% ​​week-over-week, with the largest increases in the 20-29 age group (73%) and 30-39 age group (63%). These demographics only recently became eligible for the vaccine. In addition, a wave among 10-19 year olds, most of whom are not eligible for vaccination, has calmed down somewhat recently; this group has also seen a sharp increase in cases.

Michigan’s experience to date provides an extremely strong argument for the effectiveness of vaccination. Although the virus appears to be spreading uncontrollably among people under 59, those with a few months of vaccine eligibility (60 and over) have an incredibly stable (and low) infection rate. This makes Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s call to President Joe Biden for more vaccines all the more logical, as the administration pointed out when it rejected Whitmer’s request, giving more vaccines to Michigan will mean less for surrounding states (and others). This, some experts fear, will cause other states to become the next Michigan.

The most likely explanation for the Michigan outbreak is a mixture of all of the above: a highly transmissible viral variant is spreading one step ahead of vaccination among newly eligible candidates, with some contribution from an early return and partial to normal life. And this is where politics rears its ugliest head.

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Michigan after all was repeatedly referred to by former President Donald Trump last spring as a state that needed to be freed from Covid-19 restrictions, as if the Democratic governor, not the pandemic, was the enemy. Some even cite the former president’s ‘liberation’ mantra as a contributing factor to the April 30 armed uprising against the Capitol building in Lansing as 400-700 protesters gathered to protest the current legislative session. .

In addition to storming the Capitol building, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) found some protesters planned to kidnap Whitmer, a disclosure that then-candidate Biden said may have been spurred on. by the incendiary tweets of the then president.

And now the same Governor – Whitmer – is facing a crisis similar to that of last spring where, despite threats, she has held her ground.

This time she blinked. She is not asking for a return to the unpopular but effective restrictions of Covid-19, a decision questioned by the head of the CDC.

But perhaps his experience of the last Michigan lockdown, which included not only the storming of the Capitol building but also threats to his life and that of his family, weakens his resolve. Given the intensity of these threats, I can understand his hesitation. What I cannot understand is why Trump did not use his influence among his base to make it clear that planned or executed violence, including kidnappings, is not allowed. A clear and consistent message condemning threats to the governor could have made all the difference.

Perhaps what sets Michigan apart can’t be fully explained by the viral B.1.1.7 variant, reopening schools, or not getting young people vaccinated yet. Rather, it is perhaps another consequence of the unthinkable threats facing the governor. She has become more hesitant to do what’s necessary and lock in her condition, knowing the personal risk this could entail. The Lansing rioters of last spring may have set out to liberate Michigan, but in their blind rage they may have only succeeded in encumbering it with the dizzying danger of a meteoric pandemic.

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