She stressed the extension does not mean that no one will be allowed back into the office. Instead, she said it gives the state the tools needed to transition employees back to work.
“At this juncture, with our high positivity numbers, it’s really important to extend for another six months so that we have the ability to work through what these protocols look like and get people back into the workplace when it’s safe to do so,” Whitmer said, speaking outside a mass vaccination clinic at the Eastern Michigan University convocation center in Ypsilanti.
State workplace regulations are set to expire this week. They require employers to allow people to work remotely if possible, and outline safety and health protocols that must be followed if employees are going to work together in the same location.
While the governor said the restrictions are necessary, it’s one of only a few COVID-19 regulations extended by the Whitmer administration in recent weeks.
Instead, the health department and the governor are taking a different approach to fight the latest new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic — relying on personal responsibility and accountability.
“I believe government’s role is, when we can’t take action to protect ourselves, the government must step in. That’s where we were a year ago, that’s where we were four months ago,” Whitmer said.
“We’re in a different moment. Every one of us has the ability and knowledge to do what it takes, and it’s on all of us to do it. And that’s why we are just imploring people — take this seriously.”
Whitmer and joined U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Detroit, on a tour of the vaccination site. They thanked front-line workers and spoke with residents getting their vaccines.
Ypsilanti resident Kevin Lawson said he was surprised but pleased to see Whitmer at the EMU vaccination site. The 51-year-old father said he appreciates everything the governor has done to combat the pandemic and thought it was exceedingly important to get the vaccine.
“It’s a fighting chance,” Lawson said, adding he wanted to get the vaccine to help protect his family. “I’ll take a fighting chance over no chance.”
Whitmer and Dingell also renewed their requests for the Biden administration to surge vaccines to Michigan and other states where COVID-19 is raging. In a call with President Joe Biden last week, Whitmer asked him and other federal officials to send more vaccines to Michigan. Dingell and the rest of Michigan’s congressional delegation sent a bipartisan letter to the president expressing a similar ask.
“Like it or not, Michigan is getting more attention than we want. We’re the No. 1 state with the No. 1 number of cases,” Dingell said.
“It all worries me — I’ve lost too many people. I have lost family and friends to this virus. We may be sick of the virus, but this virus isn’t sick of us.”
The Biden administration said it will not surge vaccines to national hot spots. Officials have argued the state can allocate doses it already has to parts of the state that need it the most.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Monday that even if Michigan received a surge of vaccines today, it would take weeks to see the impact of those new doses. Instead, she said the state needs to institute new restrictions.
“We know that if vaccines go in arms today, we will not see an effect of those vaccines, depending on the vaccine, for somewhere between two to six weeks. So when you have an acute situation, an extraordinary number of cases like we have in Michigan, the answer is not necessarily to give vaccine,” Walensky said.
“In fact, we know that the vaccine will have a delayed response. The answer to that is to really close things down, to go back to our basics, to go back to where we were last spring, last summer and to shut things down, to flatten the curve, to decrease contact with one another, to test to the extent that we have available, to contact trace.”
A report in the Washington Post on Friday also alleged Michigan and other states may not be formally asking for every available dose from the federal government.
Michigan has denied this report.
“We do allocate and order down all the vaccines that are accessible to us,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive, said Friday morning before the report.
“We actually met with the White House team yesterday and walked through our entire ordering strategy … they agree with us that we are ordering all of the vaccines that are available to us.”
Neither Whitmer nor Dingell said how many vaccine doses would be enough. After the event, Dingell said the state needs as many as the federal government can provide.
Despite Michigan’s COVID-19 trends heading in a dangerous direction for weeks, the health department and the governor have not instituted any new mandates to restrict capacity at restaurants, other businesses or personal gatherings.
On Friday, Whitmer called for a two-week pause on indoor dining at restaurants, in-person classes for high schools and for all youth athletics. While Republicans cheered the lack of new regulations, athletic associations, school districts and businesses appeared to be ignoring the request.
Whitmer did not directly say whether any difference in COVID-19 trends would lead her to change her mind on restrictions. She did point to a recent bill, passed with the vote of every Republican in the state Senate, that would tie indoor dining at restaurants to COVID-19 case rates and hospitalization rates.
“If that was the law now, everything would be closed right now. And that speaks to exactly why identifying one number or two numbers doesn’t tell the whole story. Public health experts will tell you, you’ve got to look at the context,” Whitmer said.
“Here’s where we are: Instead of a year ago, where this was a novel virus, where we didn’t even know that a mask was going to give us 97% protection, we had to take strong action to keep people safe. We now know a lot more about this. We now have PPE, we now have testing, we now have vaccines. We each have enough information to do our part, and that’s what we’re calling on people to do, to do your part.”
The governor’s office faced criticism late last week in light of Trish Foster, the governor’s chief operating officer, posting photos to social media of a family spring break trip to Florida. The move came after Whitmer expressed concern about Michiganders traveling for spring break.
On Friday, Whitmer’s press secretary said Foster “is fully recovered from COVID and fully vaccinated,” and noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently gave updated guidance that fully vaccinated people can travel within the United States.
The seven-day COVID-19 case rate in Michigan is almost the highest it has ever been during the pandemic. The seven-day average deaths per day is more than double what itwas one month ago. Hospitals all over the state are nearing or have reached capacity.
More than 2 million residents are fully vaccinated, with a total of more than 3.2 million people injected with at least one dose. That’s about a quarter of the 16 and older population completely vaccinated. The governor recently acknowledged vaccine supply will likely continue to remain a problem, but suggested the state could reach 70% vaccinated anytime between mid-May and early July.
Staff writer Kristen Jordan Shamus contributed to this report.
Contact Dave Boucher: [email protected] or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.