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Michigan not planning statewide COVID-19 mandates despite rising deaths, hospitalizations

Sailor Transfer Patient
Seaman Luke Cunningham/Commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
A patient is transferred to an intensive care unit.

Michigan’s top doctor said Wednesday that the state is not planning any mandates to stem the spread of COVID-19, despite that some hospitals are now reporting more patients with more serious illnesses than at any previous point in the pandemic, and new cases of the disease are continuing to climb.

Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said local officials are free to make rules around masks, vaccine requirements and distancing, but the state is staying away from broad mitigation measures.

“What we do have are very clear recommendations. At the state, we believe that universal masking in schools is needed. That message has not changed.”

What has changed, though, is the toll the pandemic is taking on Michiganders. After a slow climb since July, COVID-19 cases are spiking. Some hospitals are telling the state they’re completely full, and they’re making plans to convert conference rooms to patient care spaces.

Still, the state said mitigation measures are up to local health officials.

Norm Hess, the executive director of the Michigan Association for Local Public Health, said there’s a tough balance between letting local officials respond to local conditions, and taking authority away from communities.

Certainly he said, there are times when state action is necessary. But they’re difficult to spot until the moment has passed. “Whether or not this is that time, I am not sure,” he said.

Some local officials have tried imposing requirements to slow the virus’s spread, only to reverse course days later. They’ve faced intimidation and death threats.

Hess said rules at the state level could insulate local health leaders from retaliation for policies that effectively curb transmission of the virus. “Local health officials have been in a very tough spot for quite a long time now,” he said.

Bagdasarian said this fourth pandemic surge in Michigan started when cases spread in schools and spilled over into surrounding communities with vaccination rates insufficient to prevent widespread transmission.

“This was exactly what we had been fearful of, and it really shows that even though we have the tools at our disposal, not enough people are using those tools,” Bagdasarian said.

But that was before vaccines were authorized for children.

Now, the Pfizer vaccine is recommended for children as young as 5 years old. Bagdasarian and Hess said they’re hoping parents will get themselves and their kids vaccinated without mandates requiring it.