Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan said Friday that she had urged President Biden to surge Covid-19 vaccines into her state, where a worst-in-the-nation outbreak has filled hospitals and forced some schools to close.
“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, describing a Thursday evening call with the president. “Today it’s Michigan and the Midwest. Tomorrow it could be another section of our country.”
Ms. Whitmer, a Democrat whom the president considered as a potential running mate, took pains to praise aspects of Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response at a Friday news conference. But Ms. Whitmer said a rapid influx of shots, particularly the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, was essential to tamping down case numbers even as she resisted additional restrictions on gatherings and businesses. Johnson & Johnson will send 86 percent fewer doses across the United States next week than are currently being allocated, according to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dealing a setback to a national vaccination campaign that has just found its footing.
“The Biden administration does have a strategy and by in large it is working,” Ms. Whitmer said. “As should be expected, though, in an undertaking of this magnitude, there are shortcomings and different points of view.”
About 75 percent of vaccine doses sent to Michigan have been administered, according to federal data, near the middle of the pack nationally.
Jeff Zients, the White House Covid coordinator, said at a news briefing on Friday that the administration does not plan to shift additional vaccine doses to hard-hit states like Michigan.
“There are tens of millions of people across the country in each and every state and county who have not yet been vaccinated, and the fair and equitable way to distribute the vaccine is based on the adult population by state, tribe and territory,” he said. “That’s how it’s been done, and we will continue to do so. The virus is unpredictable. We don’t know where the next increase in cases could occur.”
Ms. Whitmer elevated her national profile last year by taking a tough, unapologetic approach to restrictions despite pushback from the Republicans who control the state’s Legislature. But as cases have risen again this year, she has taken a dramatically different tack.
On Friday, she asked for high schools to voluntarily move classes online for two weeks and asked youth sports organizers to pause games and practices during that period. Ms. Whitmer also suggested, but did not require, that residents avoid eating inside restaurants for two weeks.
“It is less of a policy problem that we have and more of a compliance and variants issue that we are confronting,” Ms. Whitmer said. “Policy change alone won’t change the tide. We need everyone to step up and to take personal responsibility here.”
The outbreak in Michigan is bad and getting worse. Hospitalizations have more than tripled in the last month and cases continue to spike. About 7,200 new cases are being reported each day, a sevenfold increase since late February. And 16 of the 20 metro areas with the country’s highest recent case rates are in Michigan.
Debra Furr-Holden, an epidemiologist at Michigan State University, said before the governor’s announcement on Friday that the state should reimpose restrictions that were loosened just before the most recent surge.
“What it looks like happened is she tried to be fair and meet us in the middle,” said Dr. Furr-Holden, who was appointed last year by Ms. Whitmer to the state’s Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities. “And what I think we’ve learned — and I hope other states will get the message — is that there really isn’t a lot of middle ground here. We just have to tighten up and hold tight.”
But there is also a sense — articulated by Ms. Whitmer, politicians from both parties and even some public health officials — that pandemic fatigue and partisanship have limited the effectiveness that any new state mandates might have.
“It’s been a long time,” said Mayor Pauline Repp of Port Huron, where case rates are among the highest in the country. “It’s a long time to be restrictive and you get to the point where you kind of think, ‘Will life ever go back to normal?’”