Whitmer: Vaccines the focus of combating COVID-19 surge

Coronavirus

See more from political reporter Rick Albin’s interview with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer‘s above.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With Michigan’s COVID-19 case numbers surging and hospitals sounding the alarm about capacity, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plea is the same as the one coming from doctors: Get vaccinated.

“We cannot predict a virus. What we can do is acknowledge (that) right now, we have the tools to stay safe,” Whitmer told News 8 in a video call Wednesday morning.

“The people that are showing up with COVID and filling up our hospital beds are unvaccinated,” she continued. “That’s a choice that many people have made, unfortunately, and that’s where our work really needs to be: focused on educating and ensuring people understand these vaccines work, they are free, they are easy to access and, now, anyone 5 years old and up is eligible.”

Michigan has been seeing a slow but steady increases in cases for months. In recent weeks, the numbers have ballooned more rapidly, with the lagging indicator of deaths also ticking up. Spectrum Health, West Michigan’s largest hospital system, is treating more COVID-19 patients than ever before. Spectrum said Thursday that 91% of its COVID-19 inpatients have not been vaccinated. The percentage is even higher among intensive care patients (94%) and those on ventilators (94%).

Whitmer noted that with the virus putting a strain on the health care system, it’s harder for doctors and nurses to treat all patients, including those whose ailments have nothing to do with coronavirus.

Asked if she was considering reinstating virus mitigation mandates like requiring masks in public places, the governor indicated no.

“The vaccines are really such a crucial tool that, of course, we did not even have a year ago,” Whitmer said. “We’ve seen a real overlay of where people are getting COVID to where there’s higher unvaccinated rates. Absolutely, that’s what’s driving the issue that we have. So statewide mandates don’t make a lot of sense in this moment because it is a specific population of unvaccinated folks that we need to encourage to get vaccinated.”

She recognized reaching the people who, even after the vaccines have been available for nearly a year, have still elected not to get one will not be easy.

“I think it’s one of the most challenging issues that we’re facing, not just here in Michigan but as a nation, and frankly, globally,” Whitmer said. “The early politics around this public health crisis have had a long tail and have created a lot of hardship in terms of reaching people and giving people confidence and ensuring they’ve got an open mind and are interested in these lifesaving vaccines.”

She said she knows she won’t be able to reach some people who disagree with her politics, so she called on leaders across the aisle to put out the message to their constituents.

“(Vaccines are) so important for our individual health, for our collective health and for our economic health,” Whitmer said.

The governor added that the state has encouraged local school districts to institute mask requirements, though it has so far not required them. Last week, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a public health advisory encouraging everyone to wear masks in public, though not ordering it.

You can reach out to just about any pharmacy, health care system or health department for information on getting vaccinated. Adults who got their first doses six months ago should also get an appointment for a booster.

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