It’s been a very long week of contradictory messages from federal and state officials and supposed experts. Despite this, I thought I’d summarize a number of the major points they seem to be making.
1) Michigan is on fire. Why?
Over and over, we hear that Michigan has the worst COVID-19 levels in the country. It is amazing given everything we did in the state to protect people. Certainly there is a substantial increase in cases, and everyone has weighed in from Dr. Fauci to Gov. Whitmer.
Despite this, it’s pretty clear that the residents of Michigan have been remarkably compliant with social distancing restrictions imposed by the state (which were some of the most limiting in the country). When these were finally eased in mid-February, the population was essentially immunologically unprotected to the coronavirus, and despite wearing masks, quickly resumed some normal activities. This led to many individuals becoming exposed to infection. What did people think would happen?
The other key factor was that vaccines were hard to come by in Michigan, mainly due to a very complex sign-in system. Not surprisingly, the 40-65 age group is the major contributor of current infections since they were not allowed to get the vaccine until recently. The over 65 age group has not been involved in the current wave and does not account for hospitalizations or increased illnesses. This is because they were 50% immunized (70% with one shot) before the restrictions were eased.
Even counting those who have been infected, Michigan is estimated to only have 3 million individuals with immunity total, in a population of over 10 million, not enough to provide herd immunity to stop the infection. Also, while some have implicated “prep sports,” children are not a major issue in this “surge,” reinforcing the CDC’s opinion that they are not a major source of infections.
Despite comments by the state health department (among others), this “surge” is not a problem of viral variants, travel, or bad behavior; it is the result of easing restrictions without first facilitating the vaccination of the adult population of Michigan. If it weren’t for all the Michigan people “traveling” to Toledo to get their vaccines things would probably be much worse.
2) The CDC eases travel restrictions
Despite being concerned and having a feeling of “impending doom,” the CDC director is saying a number of positive things about the current status of the pandemic especially related to vaccines. Yesterday Dr. Walensky announced that some travel restrictions could be lifted for fully vaccinated individuals. They no longer would have to be tested before and after travel and could travel safely as long as they were still wearing masks.
This could be the first of many changes for fully immunized individuals. If travel is safe, so should shopping, eating out, and gym workouts. I think the CDC realizes that you can’t encourage people to get vaccinated simply with a stick, but needs to offer some carrots as well.