CDC chief says vaccinating alone won’t stop Michigan Covid surge

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer receives a dose of Pfizer Covid vaccine at Ford Field during an event to encourage Michigan residents to receive the vaccine on April 6, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan.

Matthew Hatcher | Getty Images

A senior health official in the Biden government said Monday Michigan should “shut things down” as it grapples with a staggering increase in coronavirus cases.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said an increase in Covid-19 vaccinations alone is not the answer – even as Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer urges the federal government to send her more vaccines.

“I think if we try to vaccinate our way out of what’s going on in Michigan, we’d be disappointed that it took so long for the vaccine to work and actually have the effects,” Walensky said during a White House briefing the pandemic. It took several weeks for the vaccinations to kick in and the number of cases decreased, she noted.

The state’s best bet, Walensky said, “is to really close things up.”

Walensky urged Michigan to “go back to where we were last spring, last summer, and turn things off, smooth the curve, reduce contact with each other” and step up testing and contact tracking efforts. The number of cases in Michigan has risen dramatically in the past few weeks. For the past week, an average of 7,359 new cases per day have been recorded and, according to Johns Hopkins University, the pandemic cases were nearing Thanksgiving. Deaths are also increasing.

“What we really have to do in situations like this is turn things off,” said Walensky.

Whitmer, a Democrat in a politically violet state where shutdowns were particularly controversial, was reluctant to order new restrictions in response to the recent surge in cases.

Last week, she asked residents of her state to voluntarily restrict their activities and urged schools to temporarily stop personal learning. However, she stressed that “these are, to be very clear, not orders, mandates or requirements”.

No state has more daily infections per capita than Michigan, according to a CNBC analysis of the Johns Hopkins University data.

Much of the current surge comes from a highly infectious variant of Covid, B.1.1.7, the most common strain of virus in the United States today

Whitmer on Friday called on President Joe Biden’s administration to flood their state with vaccines and called on the government to “develop a vaccination program to help states like Michigan”. The government is reportedly ready to transfer some resources to the state, but not vaccines.

Without contacting Whitmer directly, Walensky pushed back calls for additional vaccines to be shipped to states with severe outbreaks.

“There are different tools that we can use for different periods of time,” Walensky said at the meeting on Monday.

“We know that if vaccines are in our arms today, we won’t see any effect from those vaccines for two to six weeks, depending on the vaccine,” she said. “So when you have an acute situation, an extraordinary number of cases like Michigan, the answer isn’t necessarily to give a vaccine. In fact, we know the vaccine will have a delayed response.”

“We also need this vaccine in other places,” said Walensky. “If we vaccinate today, we’ll have an impact in six weeks and we don’t know where the next place will be to increase.”

– CNBC’s Berkeley Lovelace Jr. contributed to this report.

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