Whitmer warns about fast Omicron spread, urges safeguards -- but no Michigan mandates

December 21, 2021, 9:57 AM by  Alan Stamm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers cold facts about health risks this winter.

"We are in for another four to six weeks of Omicron spreading rapidly," she said Tuesday morning at a Hispanic center in Grand Rapids. "We see it moving fast, so move fast as well" if not vaccinated and boosted yet. 

Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday morning: "We are in for another four to six weeks of Omicron." (Photo: Screenshot)

Whitmer added at the livestream briefing: "Hospitals across Michigan are stretched thin again. ... They are overwhelmed."

As the extra-contagious strain of Covid rages, the governor reinforced the urgency of getting all shots, as well as wearing masks in all indoor public spaces and high-transmission areas -- workplaces, malls, groceries, theaters and recreation sites. "We're making progress, but progress requires us all doing our part," she said. "Getting those vaccines in critical."

About 63% of Michigan's eligible population has the first vaccine dose, according to state data.

"From Jan. 15 to Dec. 3," Whitmer added in Grand Rapids, "Michiganders who weren't fully vaccinated made up 85 percent of Covid-19 cases, 88 percent of hospitalizations and 85 percent of Covid deaths. ...

"The booster is the best way to stay safe," she said in a message aimed at those partly vaccinated, "so I urge you to make your appointment as soon as you are eligible. Over 35% of Michiganders with two vaccines have been boosted. It's free and it's effective."

Notably, the governor and Health Director Elizabeth Hertel didn't announce any requirements involving masks, closing restaurants, bars or theaters, or limiting in-person education. "We think mandates are less likely to be effective" in persuading those who aren't vaccinated, she said in response to a reporter's question.

Though the Republican-led legislature last year limited Whitmer's ability to impose mandates, the Department of Health and Human Services remains able to do so -- and used that authority in 2020. The governor is up for re-election next November.

A Beaumont Hospital doctor quoted Monday by WXYZ says he'd prefer "limits in terms of capacity for restaurants or to have mask mandates for public areas." The physician, 36-year-old internist Justin Skrzynski of Royal Oak, adds:

"Those [steps] would make a difference because that would shut down transmission immediately." 

State Health Director Hertel, speaking Tuesday after her boss, said: "This surge is real. ... Emergency room waits have increased and some of our hospitals have been forced to close their emergency departments for a time."

Wayne, Oakland and Washtenaw are among counties with confirmed Omicron cases, which also have been diagnosed at the University of Michigan and Michigan State.

The Michigan officials' warnings come on a day when President Biden also will speak about where we are after nearly two years of the pandemic. His Covid-19 Response Team coordinator, Jeff Zients, made this stark statement to White House reporters last Friday: "For the unvaccinated, you’re looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm."

Also last Friday, Whitmer's health department posted that state "health care systems continue to be overburdened with Covid-19 patients, a majority of which are unvaccinated."

Hospitalizations for Covid-19 continue to be mostly preventable.

"We all need to do our part to get vaccinated and boosted to keep ourselves, our families and our neighbors safe," said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, MDHHS chief medical executive.

A national expert -- Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health -- said Sunday on "Face the Nation" that U.S. Covid diagnoses will rise steeply over the next couple of weeks and that the country could soon see 1 million new cases a day tied to Omicron, dramatically exceeding the record of about 250,000 new cases per day set in January.

"The big question is, are those million cases going to be sick enough to need health care and especially hospitalization?” Collins said. "We’re just holding our breath to see how severe this will be."

Related today:

I Was the Ultimate Covid Scold. In the Midst of Michigan’s Fourth Surge, I’ve Given Up

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