Whitmer says May CDC mask guidance was ‘infuriating’ and a mistake ⋆

Shortly after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled her “Vacc to Normal” plan in late April rolling back pandemic restrictions as the state moved closer to meeting its goal of 70% of residents 16 and up getting the COVID-19 vaccine, the feds stepped in with new health guidance.

In mid-May, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that “fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”

The state of Michigan dropped its mask order days later and Whitmer announced an end to all health restrictions by late June as COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths dropped. 

The CDC guidance — which was later reversed in July — has been criticized by many health officials as the more contagious Delta variant has spread across Michigan and the nation. In a phone interview Wednesday morning, the asked Whitmer if the CDC’s May guidance was a mistake and if it made it harder for officials to issue future mandates.

I absolutely think it was a mistake,” Whitmer said. “It was infuriating, frankly. And I think that a huge disservice to all of our efforts as we were working toward our goals of [getting] 70% of our 16 year olds and up vaccinated — that announcement really undermined the effort. And I think it created a lot of anxiety and confusion unnecessarily.”

Last week, the state hit its goal for 70% of those 16 and older to receive at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. However, Michigan has topped states for the most COVID cases in its worst surge yet, with hospitals “full of unvaccinated COVID patients,” as Whitmer noted in the interview. On Friday, the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) issued a mask advisory — not a mandate — before the Thanksgiving holiday when big indoor gatherings are expected. 

Yeah, like so many people that have worked to stay safe and done their part, it’s frustrating to see that COVID is still a very real threat to us all. And by us all, I mean, in the form of unvaccinated COVID patients filling up our hospitals and when that happens, every one of us is at greater risk.

– Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Whitmer hinted this week at a press conference more health guidance would be forthcoming and the Advance asked her what that would be. The governor stressed the importance of getting vaccinated and for those who have to receive their booster shot.

She said it’s important to “reinforce for people that this virus is still a very real and present danger. Those that are vaccinated are in a much safer position. But if you are six months out from your second shot, you are eligible to get a booster. And now is a great time to do that.”

Michigan’s top two officials have both gotten their boosters — Whitmer on Nov. 5 at the advice of her physician and Gilchrist on Friday.

“I am in my immune period,” she told the Advance. “Now it’s been two weeks since then, and I’m really happy that I was able to get it.”

The state also will outline guidance for people who may be getting together for the holidays.

“If you’re combining households and you’re inside for prolonged periods of time, we encourage people to wear masks unless everyone there has been vaccinated and has been boosted and is in a safe position,” Whitmer said. “But if you are congregating indoors, masks are still really an important additional tool to stay safe and to keep from spreading COVID.”

When asked if an advisory will be issued, Whitmer said yes.

If more folks on both sides of the aisle would promote the efficacy of these great vaccines, I think it would go a long way toward getting more people vaccinated.

– Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

The Advance also asked Whitmer about the Benton Harbor water crisis, Republican legislation on voter restrictions after the 2020 election, where negotiations are at with GOP legislative leaders on billions of unspent federal stimulus and infrastructure dollars, the 2022 election and more. Look for additional coverage in future editions of the Advance.

The following are excerpts from the interview with Whitmer on the pandemic, including the state’s decision not to issue a school mask mandate for the 2021-22 school year, people who have followed health orders feeling let down by the lack of restrictions during the fourth surge, many Republican leaders refusing to encourage vaccinations and more:

: What would you say to people who have followed health orders and gotten vaccinated, but may feel let down by your lack of COVID orders for much of this year?

Whitmer: Yeah, like so many people that have worked to stay safe and done their part, it’s frustrating to see that COVID is still a very real threat to us all. And by us all, I mean, in the form of unvaccinated COVID patients filling up our hospitals and when that happens, every one of us is at greater risk. If you have a heart attack shoveling snow or you’re driving down the road and someone crashes into your car — we need to know that when we need help and show up at the hospital, that there’s going to be a bed there. And right now they are full of unvaccinated COVID patients. 

And the workforce in our hospitals is exhausted and stressed out. They’ve been on the front line. And, I mean, I can’t imagine how exhausted and frustrated they are, as well.

The issue of what we are confronting is, sadly, not unique. Many Midwest states right now have got high COVID numbers. It’s getting cold. We’re going inside, with the holidays upon us, I am concerned about what it’s going to mean. But the fact of the matter is we right now have the tools that we can avail ourselves of to stay safe and that’s the very different spot than where we were a year ago. COVID vaccines are easy to get. They’re free; they’re incredibly effective. And now anyone 5 years old and up is eligible.

And so our work around educating and encouraging and persuading and cajoling, incentivizing people to get vaccinated is the most important thing we can do to keep everyone safe. So I hear the frustration. I feel it myself at this juncture in the pandemic, which soon will be more epidemic. We’ve got to encourage people to make their decision to get vaccinated and stay out of hospital for the sake of everyone.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer takes the Pfizer vaccination at Ford Field | Ken Coleman photo

: But Michigan has hit the most COVID cases of any state in the country right now. So with this fourth wave hitting Michigan hard, has it been a mistake not to issue a school mask mandate like you did last year, for instance?

Whitmer: Well, the fact of the matter is 60% of schools did have a mask mandate at the beginning of the school year. Many are now struggling with COVID cases. The fact that we’ve got 5- to 11-year-olds that are now eligible is a great tool for parents to keep their kids safe and keep them in school. Masks work. So between vaccines and masks, we can do this, but it is dependent on people doing their part to keep themselves safe, but also keep all our kids in school.

And so, I think that mandates at the beginning of the pandemic were crucial because we didn’t have these tools and we didn’t know how to control this spread that was going so fast. We now know, we now have tools, and that’s why it’s incumbent on individuals to do their part for the collective good and their own personal health.

: You hinted that there might be additional COVID guidance. Do you want to share what that might be?

Whitmer: Yeah. again, it’s nothing that’s going to surprise you, Susan — I know how closely you pay attention. But just to reinforce for people that this virus is still a very real and present danger. Those that are vaccinated are in a much safer position. But if you are six months out from your second shot, you are eligible to get a booster. And now is a great time to do that.

If you’ve got children who haven’t yet been vaccinated, but are eligible, we’re encouraging people to do that. And if you’re combining households and you’re inside for prolonged periods of time, we encourage people to wear masks unless everyone there has been vaccinated and has been boosted and is in a safe position. 

But if you are congregating indoors, masks are still really an important additional tool to stay safe and to keep from spreading COVID. If you have got the protection, like those of us who’ve gotten our boosters already, you can still carry the virus. And so we encourage everyone to keep doing what we know works and masks and vaccines are crucial.

The workforce in our hospitals is exhausted and stressed out. They’ve been on the front line. And, I mean, I can’t imagine how exhausted and frustrated they are, as well.

– Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

: So are you planning to issue a formal advisory at some point outlining these points?

Whitmer: Yes. And the Department Health and Human Services is continuing that, as well.

: Would Michigan’s vaccination rate be higher if GOP leaders would partner with you on messaging and get vaccinated themselves?

Whitmer: I suspect it would go a long way toward giving additional confidence in the vaccines. Yes, I think it would be really helpful. I’ve been really advocating for that and encouraging leadership to take the politics out of this moment. We’ve got access to these phenomenal vaccines. They work. And the politics around the public health crisis has done all of us a disservice. 

If more folks on both sides of the aisle would promote the efficacy of these great vaccines, I think it would go a long way toward getting more people vaccinated.



authored by Susan J. Demas
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2021%2F11%2F24%2Fnew-whitmer-says-may-cdc-mask-guidance-was-infuriating-and-a-mistake%2F

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