CDC chief to Gretchen Whitmer: Lock down now

The backdrop for this polite but escalating fingerpointing exercise between the Biden White House and a prominent Democratic governor is far too grim for partisans on the other side to enjoy, but just because it’s not fun doesn’t mean it’s not newsy. Both sides are now openly accusing the other of incompetence even if they’re careful not to use that word. Gretchen Whitmer told the residents of her state last week that she had requested a surge of vaccines from the White House to beat back the exploding COVID epidemic in Michigan, had been denied, and would keep pushing.

Today Rochelle Walensky used the daily White House briefing to answer her. Vaccines take too long to work, the CDC chief reminded everyone. It’d be two to six weeks before a dose fully protected recipients; Michigan needs to start dousing the flames of its outbreak today. And the governor conspicuously and uncharacteristically refuses to take the sort of action this time that she became famous for taking earlier in the pandemic.

I’m not mentally prepared for Gretchen Whitmer to become an ally of the right for her staunch opposition to lockdowns but that’s where we’re headed. Watch Walensky, then read on.

Last week Whitmer told Michiganders that she was asking them, not ordering them, to keep their distance for the next two weeks and to cancel activities like high-school sports, as infections have been exploding among younger people. The Michigan High School Athletic Association responded to her quickly: Uh, nope. Even some Democratic officials and public-health experts in Michigan wonder if there’d be any point to locking down at this stage, as most of the population seems fatigued by the pandemic and ready to forge ahead into normalcy even if it means enduring another spike.

Mayor Sheldon Neeley of Flint said he was worried about the steep rise in new cases but for now did not favor sweeping restrictions from Ms. Whitmer. Mr. Neeley, a Democrat, issued a strict curfew for his own city earlier in the pandemic, but said he doubted whether such measures would have the same impact now.

“Those things were effective,” he said. “I think they would be less effective if you tried to use the same tools and tactics as you did once before.”…

“I think we’re so at a point where people are just going to ignore restrictions,” said [Ingham County health officer Linda] Vail, who recounted a recent trip to a gym whose once-diligent patrons were now using treadmills without masks. “And quite honestly, statewide restrictions are going to cause significant pushback.”

Would lockdowns even solve the problem? “Recent infections suggest that small social gatherings were driving case increases, events that are hard to target with government restrictions,” the Times notes. “Children are also accounting for a higher percentage of cases, with spring break trips and youth sporting events emerging as points of concern.”

Gotta do something. It’s not looking good:

Hospital staff and patients have been telling horror stories to local media about what it’s like in Michigan ERs nowadays. One woman with kidney stones and a UTI waited seven hours in a waiting room in pain recently, saying, “It just didn’t seem like I was in the U.S. anymore.” (“There were people just keeled over in their seats over puke buckets.”)

Bizarrely, though, apart from Minnesota and the Texas panhandle, America’s pandemic is now essentially just … Michigan:

Watch Scott Gottlieb, who’s been advising Whitmer, back her up on her call for a vaccine surge into Michigan on “Face the Nation” yesterday. We need to start getting used to the idea of the pandemic as a series of hot spots, says Gottlieb, not as a national picture in which every state is on fire at the same time. If a blaze is raging in one part of the country, it only makes sense to allocate more vaccines there to try to put it out. Even if there’s a delayed effect of a few weeks as immunity builds in vaccinated people, that’ll still extinguish the flames sooner than if we just let Michigan’s epidemic burn out on its own. One lingering question, though: What about the vaccines Michigan already has? Per the Times, they’ve used only 76 percent of doses allocated to them so far, far less than states like New Hampshire and Wisconsin. If Whitmer has the administrative capacity and the public demand to ramp up vaccinations quickly, why isn’t she already doing it with the existing supply?