There is much concern about the “fourth wave” of COVID-19 in the U.S., and blame has been placed on variants, reduced social restrictions, and lack of vaccines. Pressure has increased on the federal government to rethink its strategy for combating COVID since most new infections are concentrated in just a handful of states, including Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Four of these states already have more restrictive mask requirements and social restrictions, so that does not seem to be a solution.
Michigan’s seven-day average of new infections rose from 1,503 on March 7 to 7,609 Friday, according to data analyzed by The Washington Post. This has generated much hysteria about Michigan on social media, but mis-information seems to dominate. National pundits like Scott Gottlieb and @Erictopol have been advocating to “redirect vaccines to save Michigan,” even though The Washington Post reports that current stocks in the state are poorly distributed to hot spots and are underutilized.
In this regard, it is really unclear whether Michigan is delivering vaccine to the areas of the state that are involved in the surge. These areas are geographically well defined, and there are issues about state and local co-ordination of vaccine distribution. Local officials have pointed to reduced demand, staffing challenges, and inadequate communication between state and local officials as barriers.
Mouhanad Hammami, director of the Wayne County Health Department (Detroit area) in Michigan, said, “a sharp and unexplained drop-off in the county’s share of Moderna doses meant it couldn’t operate one of its clinics,” ordinarily capable of administering 2,000 doses per day to people in the Detroit area. Given the increased cases in Macomb and Wayne county, this is counter-productive at best.
The federal government now seems focused on supporting Michigan’s inadequate vaccinating effort with nationally-supplied medical technicians to try to increase the delivery of vaccines, but does not feel there is a need for more vaccines in the state. The most pressing question is whether people will get vaccinated against COVID-19 if it is available. Surveys have identified vaccine reluctance as a major issue in the state.
There is also the issue that the number of infections does not accurately reflect the impact of the “surge” happening in Michigan. Michigan looks worse when examining new cases due to better testing than other states. Also, news reports have focused on a limited number of hospitals that are taking most of the COVID-19 cases. Beaumont, Spectrum, Henry Ford, Ascension, McLaren, UM, and Sparrow have the vast majority of patients.
Overall, however, these hospitalizations and ICU cases, while increased in Michigan, are fewer than other states, as are deaths. This is potentially because few individuals over 65 are involved in the current outbreak, and that group, rather than younger cases, typically accounts for deaths.
So while there is clearly an increase in COVID-19 cases in Michigan, the reasons for this are cloudy. More importantly, real solutions appear non-existent.