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Expert who spoke to Whitmer on new orders: Michigan is 'losing the race to the virus'

Kristen Jordan Shamus and Dave Boucher, Detroit Free Press on

Published in News & Features

DETROIT – Two of the top national health experts who Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says advised her the state's third COVID-19 surge is not a policy problem warranting more public health mandates told the Free Press tighter restrictions actually would help to flatten Michigan's worst-in-the-nation curve.

"As a matter of disease mitigation, there's no question" shutting down activities like dining inside restaurants, youth sports and moving high schools to virtual learning would be effective in slowing transmission in the state, said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, associate dean for public health practice and training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"It should be very seriously considered," he said. "Stronger action should be seriously considered, but I also at the same time understand that she’s using her judgment about what people will accept."

Sharfstein also suggested the state can't vaccinate itself out of its current crisis.

"Vaccines are helping," he said. "It's just Michigan is, in a sense, losing the race to the virus. ... The vaccine part is one part of the race but the other part is just how fast the virus is running. The virus is running very fast in Michigan."

Sharfstein is among four national experts Whitmer said she has consulted to inform her and health department leaders on COVID-19 decisions, and who, she said, suggested "policy changes won’t reduce the spread."

 

Instead, Whitmer has encouraged Michiganders to take a voluntary two-week break from dining inside restaurants and getting together with friends. She suggested high schools should consider virtual learning for two weeks after spring break and suggested sports teams voluntarily bench themselves.

"To be very clear, these are not orders, mandates or requirements," she said.

Whitmer also appealed to President Joe Biden's administration to surge more vaccines to the state, saying: "It's not a policy problem. ... Taking steps back isn't going to fix the issue. What we have to do is really put our foot down on the pedal on vaccines, and implore people to do what we know keeps us safe: masking, distancing, hand washing."

Whitmer and state health department Director Elizabeth Hertel have stuck by that strategy and have not put in place tighter mandated restrictions — even after the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called on the state to shut activities down and the Biden administration refused to send additional vaccines.

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