CDC director advocates “tighter” restrictions in Michigan
Washington – Head of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is pushing for tighter restrictions in Michigan to slow a surge in COVID-19 infections, such as: For example, taking a break from eating indoors or stricter rules for youth sports.
“As you know, I would advocate a stronger mitigation strategy to reduce community activity, ensure the wearing of masks, and we’re working closely with the state to work towards that,” said CDC director Rochelle Walensky on Michigan in a briefing Wednesday.
Walensky said that in areas with significant or high community transmission – including Michigan – “I encourage communities to consider adjustments to meet their particular needs and circumstances,” such as not engaging in youth sports that are not outside and are not at least 6 feet a part.
It was the first time Walensky Michigan publicly proposed tightening its COVID controls since the state’s cases began to spike in recent weeks.
In early March, Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration eased COVID-19 restrictions on businesses, nursing homes and other gatherings, a move the governor described as “good news” for Michigan. Orders, which included doubling restaurant capacity from 25% to 50% and postponing the curfew for indoor meals from 10:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., will expire on April 19.
The CDC director’s remarks came as Michigan’s top epidemiologist said Wednesday the state had the highest number of cases, the highest case rates, and the highest rates of coronavirus hospitalizations and intensive care units in the nation.
Rather than impose stricter COVID rules, Whitmer told CNN Tuesday that Michigan could potentially lift most of the remaining COVID-19 business restrictions this summer if the state’s vaccination rate increases.
Michigan’s goal is to vaccinate 70% of those over the age of 16. The rate was close to 24% through Tuesday.
“If we’re successful and people do their part, we could very well be in that position this summer,” said Whitmer.
Michigan’s COVID spike
State and state briefings highlighted how Michigan has become the hardest hit state for COVID-19.
The state’s test positivity rate is up 348% year over year, rising from 4.3% on Feb.19 to 15.6% on Wednesday, Sarah Lyon-Callo, director of the Michigan Bureau of Epidemiology and Population Health, said during a press conference in Lansing.
Case rates have increased 375% since the February 19 low, from 190 per million to the current 491 per million, she said. About 5,000 new cases are reported in Michigan every day, with more than 8,000 some days, Lyon-Callo added.
Michigan added 8,015 cases on Wednesday, according to the Department of Health.
Walensky said Wednesday that CDC teams are on site in Michigan to assess correctional outbreaks and enable more testing in the context of youth sports.
Her agency is also doing increased public health monitoring and sequencing to better understand “what is happening with B.1.1.7” and variants, Walensky said.
It referred to the British variant, which is 50% and 70% more communicable than the original strain and is now the most common strain in the United States, according to the CDC. There are more than 400 B.1.1.7 cases in Michigan’s prison system, and the state has a total of 1,817 cases in the UK.
Federal public health officials said there are no plans to increase Michigan’s supply of COVID vaccines as the federal government continues to assign doses based on population.
However, Wallensky noted that Michigan officials “are increasing” vaccine supplies in areas of the state where more COVID-19 outbreaks are occurring.
“We have the ability to ship vaccines within the state, of course, but we are in close contact – both through the CDC and in direct discussions with the governor and her team – about the resources that can be most helpful at this point.” said Andy Slavitt, White House COVID-19 adviser, of Michigan.
“And as for the kind of support we can provide, nothing is off the table in these talks and we will keep all options open as long as we stay close.”
Slavitt noted that there is a “menu of things” that his team discusses with states in such situations, including staff, personnel, therapeutics, and locations.
Asked to comment on Walensky’s remarks, Whitmer’s office said Michigan continued to have “smart” health policies like a mask mandate and capacity restrictions for large gatherings, unlike states like Texas and Florida, which have lowered the restrictions.
“We’re still very much in this pandemic, but we’ve learned a tremendous amount about how we can protect ourselves and our loved ones,” said Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy.
“Therefore, every Michigander has a personal responsibility to do their part by wearing a mask, washing hands and maintaining social distance to slow the spread of this virus.”
The state is driving plans to accelerate tests for schools, businesses and nursing homes and to expand test protocols for all sports students. He also noted that he has expanded the state’s vaccination program in the past two weeks.
All three affected COVID variants are present in Michigan, according to Lyon-Callo. The number of confirmed cases is expected to be fewer than the number of actual infections, as variants can only be confirmed by genetic sequencing of virus samples.
Of the 12,505 confirmed cases with B.1.1.7 variants identified so far in the United States, Michigan had 1,817 confirmed cases, according to Lyon-Callo.
The United States has found 323 cases of variant B.1.351 that were first identified in South Africa, including seven in Michigan. And of 224 U.S. cases of the P.1 variant first identified in Brazil, Michigan has confirmed two.
The state recently insisted on doing more testing. Lyon-Callo said the average seven-day test rate in Michigan rose from 3,253 tests per million people per day last week to 3,497 tests per million people per day this week.
One area Michigan has seen outbreaks in the past few weeks has been youth sports, which contributed to COVID cases in children ages 10-19 over the past five weeks – a greater growth than any other age group.
Walensky noted that the CDC’s guidelines in this area of youth sport are “fairly clear” as to substantial or high transmission.
“These activities should be done outdoors and more than three feet away,” she said, adding that testing should be done at least twice a week for sports that are at high risk of transmission Viruses exists.
An epidemic order issued by officials from Michigan last month requires rapid COVID tests for all teenage athletes ages 13-19 – rules that apply to middle schoolers through high schoolers as well as private club sports.
Whitmer said Tuesday officials may need to take additional measures to curb transmission through school and club sports.
“We are seeing the diffusion in youth sport continue and, frankly, it’s something we are very concerned about,” she said. “… that could be an area where we need to do more.”
An advocacy group last week sued Michigan’s health director over the new COVID-19 roles and protocols for youth sports rules, arguing they are “invalid” and violate legal rights.
Nationally, the CDC is also tracking spikes in daycare outbreaks, Walensky said on Wednesday. More young adults – those in their thirties and forties – are being admitted to hospitals with “serious illness,” she said.
Employee Beth LeBlanc contributed to this.