The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday that Michigan needed to enact shutdown measures in response to its worst-in-the-nation surge of coronavirus infections, rebuffing efforts by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to secure an extra supply of vaccine doses.
“The answer is not necessarily to give vaccine,” the director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said at a White House news conference. “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.”
“Policy change alone won’t change the tide,” Ms. Whitmer said on Friday, as she asked — but did not order — that the public take a two-week break from indoor dining, in-person high school and youth sports. “We need everyone to step up.”
During previous surges in Michigan, Ms. Whitmer shut down businesses and schools as she saw fit, drawing intense protest from Republicans in the state, who viewed her as an avatar of government overreach. The state still has a mask mandate in place and strict capacity limits on a number of activities.
Dr. Walensky said on Monday that because it takes weeks for full protection for vaccines to kick in, the effects of sending extra vaccines to the state would take time and not be the most practical approach to containing spread. Someone is not considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after the second dose of the vaccines made by Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech, or the single-dose shot made by Johnson & Johnson.
“I think if we tried to vaccinate our way out of what is happening in Michigan we would be disappointed that it took so long for the vaccine to work, to actually have the impact,” she said. “Similarly, we need that vaccine in other places. If we vaccinate today, we will have, you know, impact in six weeks, and we don’t know where the next place is going to be that is going to surge.”
Ms. Whitmer has pleaded with the White House to send extra doses, even as her state has used just 78 percent of those delivered so far, according data reported by the C.D.C. She said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” on Sunday that the White House should reconsider its refusal to alter its distribution plan — currently based on population — so that localities that face flare-ups could get extra doses.
“I made the case for a surge strategy. At this point that’s not being deployed, but I am not giving up,” Ms. Whitmer said last week, describing a Thursday evening call with the president. “Today it’s Michigan and the Midwest. Tomorrow it could be another section of our country.”
Michigan continues to add cases at the country’s highest rate. More than 7,000 cases are being reported there, on average, each day, a sevenfold increase since late February. As of Monday, 16 of the country’s 17 metro areas with the highest recent case rates were in Michigan.
While there is no single reason why the state is getting hit so hard recently, the surge has been partly attributed to the B.1.1.7 variant that was originally identified in Britain and is widespread in the state. Small social gatherings appear to be driving case numbers. And children are also accounting for a higher percentage of cases, with spring break trips and youth sporting events emerging as points of concern.
Ms. Whitmer has emphasized demand for Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine, which will be extremely limited until federal regulators approve production at a Baltimore manufacturing plant that recently contaminated up to 15 million doses in a factory mixup.
Andy Slavitt, a White House pandemic adviser, said on Monday that instead of playing “whack-a-mole” with vaccines, the federal government was working to help Michigan more efficiently administer the doses it has now and “rebalance” its supply.
“We know there are appointments available in various parts of the state, and so that means that we have excess vaccine in some parts of the state,” he said.
Mr. Slavitt said that the federal administration had also offered to send Michigan extra supplies of monoclonal antibody treatments and testing, and that there was a team from the C.D.C. in the state, in addition to 140 new vaccinators from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Elizabeth Hertel, the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said last week that she was optimistic that the continued rollout of vaccines and the governor’s new recommendations would help bring case numbers down. But if that did not happen, she said, more restrictions were possible.
In response to Dr. Walensky’s remarks, a spokesman for Ms. Whitmer said on Monday in a statement that while the governor appreciated the federal government’s assistance, “she will not stop fighting to get more vaccines for the people of Michigan.”
“As our nation’s top health experts have said, this is not a failure of policy, but rather a compliance, variant, and mobility issue, which is why it’s important for us to ramp up vaccinations as quickly as possible,” said the spokesman, Bobby Leddy.