Editorial: Whitmer, stay firm on avoiding mandates
Much like last holiday season, Michigan is getting slammed with a wave of COVID-19 infections. While this is discouraging, we're pleased to see that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is avoiding lockdowns and other orders she relied on for much of the pandemic.
In recent weeks, Michigan has led the country in new virus cases and hospitalizations are also on the rise, leading some in the medical community to push for more measures to halt the spread.
That’s what’s happening in other countries like Austria and the Netherlands, where officials there are once again turning to draconian stay-home measures and other restrictions. And states like California and New York are putting in place tougher vaccines and masking requirements.
No one wants to see undue pressure on the hospital system and already worn down nurses and doctors. But Michigan can’t afford the restrictions that brought the economy to a halt. Many businesses never recovered, and the labor market is still faltering.
Since the last health orders were lifted in June, Whitmer has kept her focus for the most part on vaccines and encouraging Michiganians to get them. More than 70% of residents 16 and up have now had at least one dose.
Despite that progress, hospitalizations from COVID are close to a record high.
That led the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services recently to “advise” masking indoors, regardless of vaccination status and to encourage businesses and other establishments to ensure that all people entering, including employees, wear masks. The health department has the ability to issue epidemic orders that can force masking and broad business and school restrictions, as we saw in the winter and spring.
And last week, Whitmer chimed in that “additional guidance” will be forthcoming from her administration.
Guidance is OK, but the governor must resist calls to do more. For instance, Debra Furr-Holden, an epidemiologist and associate dean at Michigan State University, chided Whitmer for not stepping in with tougher measures.
"We didn't intervene when we saw cases starting to creep up," Furr-Holden said last week in an NPR interview. "That was the time to put mask mandates back in place, to really keep pushing for people to get vaccinated, to restrict indoor gatherings and density, requiring kids to wear masks in schools, and we didn't do that."
Last year at this time, Whitmer shut down in-person learning at high schools and colleges and restricted indoor dining for weeks.
But now that vaccines are readily available and other COVID treatments are an option, such top-down approaches must be avoided.