When Kathryn Watkins goes shopping these days, she doesn’t bring her three young children with her. Too many people don’t wear masks in their southern Michigan town of Hillsdale.
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In some stores, “staff no longer even wear them,” said Watkins, who estimates about 30% of shoppers are wearing masks, up from about 70% earlier in the pandemic. “There is a complete disregard for the very real fact that they could infect someone.”
Your state is by far the leader in the number of new cases, a strong upward trend with more than two dozen hospitals in the state serving nearly 90% capacity.
The nation is watching.
Michigan’s outbreak could be an anomaly or a preview of what will happen in the nation if it emerges from the pandemic. Will cases of Covid Denialism and vaccine resistance like the one in Hillsdale – where the local college newspaper issued a statement against the shots – serve as a reservoir for a cunning virus that will resurface to cause outbreaks in nearby cities and states?
“This is now a million dollar question,” said Adriane Casalotti. Chief of Government and Public Affairs for the National Association of County and City Health Officials. “Whatever is going on there could happen in other places, especially if things open up again.”
Some public health experts are alarmed: “In rural or conservative communities, where covid denialism and attendant behavior is associated with vaccine hesitation, you are less likely to get vaccinated and more likely to be things do that spread the virus. ” said Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, the former Executive Director of the Detroit Health Department and now a Senior Fellow at the TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard.
Several factors contributed to Michigan’s outbreak – El-Sayed calls it “a cauldron with poor dynamics”. But its scale is unprecedented, although other states are also seeing gains, partly due to challenges such as pandemic fatigue and political and economic pressures to fully reopen.
Michigan deaths from Covid have increased 219% since March 9, according to weekly state data. Hospital admissions are increasing, affecting a growing number of young people. The positive test rates are at their highest level since last April. Dozens of outbreaks, including youth sports-related clusters, K-12 schools, and colleges, continue. If the news is good, it is that the percentage of deaths among those over 60 is declining, which is due to high vaccination rates in this age group.
Experts say that fueling the Michigan trajectory, first identified in the UK and known as B 1.1.7, is a highly contagious variant. public mobility returns to pre-pandemic levels; and optimism about the introduction of vaccines causing people to drop their guard. Like some others, the state eased restrictions in March, allowing more people in restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues.
Paradoxically, some experts say another factor could be the success previous home stay contracts had from last year, which has helped curb previous spikes – meaning Michigan’s surge may simply signal the state has caught up with other regions.
“We closed things and had fewer cases than neighboring states,” said Josh Petrie, a research fellow at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. “More recently, since March, we’ve seen this steep climb again.”
But those emergency orders, while weighing things down, have also sparked backlash, including a conspiracy by extremists to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic governor who ordered her to kidnap.
Lawsuits from Republican lawmakers last year diluted their power to issue emergency orders. At the national level, dozens of mostly Republican-controlled state legislatures are attempting to curtail the emergency powers of governors, public health officials, or both.
The resistance extends beyond the capital Lansing.
About 70 miles south in Hillsdale County, where Watkins lives, the sharp divisions are making efforts to fight the virus difficult.
In the semi-rural region of 45,000 people, 3,980 cases and 82 deaths have been recorded since the pandemic began. The strictly conservative county voted overwhelmingly for incumbent Donald Trump. National polls have shown that Republicans are more reluctant to get vaccinated than Democrats or Independents.
Nationwide, data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows that Michigan vaccine reluctance is high, although it is not the highest in the country.
In Hillsdale County, an estimated 21% are reluctant, and 8% are severely reluctant, according to federal data.
There, health officials report that around 33% of Hillsdale County’s residents received at least one shot, even though more than 70% of those 65 and over received it. Nationwide, the average total percentage of all adults who had at least one shot is 45%. In the Democratic stronghold of Ann Arbor, where Washtenaw County said 54% had at least one shot, 15% are reluctant to do so and 5% are reluctant to do so.
Vaccine resistance “plays a role,” said Eric Toner, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “We know from research that people’s attitudes towards vaccination are largely influenced by what friends, family and neighbors do.”
Nationwide, younger residents have the lowest vaccination rate. According to the state, almost 20% of 16 to 19-year-olds receive at least one shot and around a quarter of 20-year-olds.
In an opinion piece in the local Hillsdale college newspaper, Hillsdale Collegian, a student editor argued that vaccines are “not worth the risk.” However, this was soon followed by another piece, which was also written by a student and called for the vaccination.
As of September, there have been 323 cumulative cases among the roughly 1,500 students at Hillsdale College and more than 700 staff. Many other universities and colleges in Michigan are also seeing outbreaks, according to state data.
Unfortunately, resistance to vaccination is often accompanied by a refusal to wear a mask. Darrel Scharp, 75, a self-described “strong democrat” who lives in nearby Osseo, said some companies are still “celebrating non-compliance,” such as not asking for masks or breaking rules in other ways. His doctor told him that unfortunately he often “had to argue with his patients about masks”.
Hillsdale Mayor Adam Stockford wrote on his Facebook page in July that he was “angry” that the local health department was warning companies to adhere to state emergency mandates to prevent coverage from spreading. And Hillsdale College held a personal graduation ceremony last summer that violated state law against large gatherings.
With an outbreak in Michigan now in full swing, the Hillsdale Daily News Facebook page is discussing how to deal with the upcoming high school prom. Would it mean an even greater spread of viruses that puts those most at risk at risk?
Oh great, one wrote sarcastically, “Spread Covid like wildfire for a party.”
But another replied, “Let them have their proms and promotions, you haven’t taken enough of them as it is !!!!!”
Politicians across the country face similar divisions. There is pressure from hard-hit business owners to reopen and add to the resentment of a public fed up with the restrictions.
For the past few weeks, Michigan’s governor has been trying to thread the needle. It has stated that a mask mandate will remain in place and there will be expanded capacity limits for restaurants, retail and indoor entertainment in March. Despite resisting any mandatory cut, she has asked residents to voluntarily refrain from eating in restaurants, keep their children away from personal school, and suspend youth activities for two weeks.
That’s tough news. Casalotti said: People are being told, “We’re not going to shut down like we have in the past, but we still want you to change your behavior. The explanation takes four sentences. It’s hard to put these levels of decision-making on people’s shoulders. “
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces extensive journalism on health issues. Alongside Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three most important operational programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a not-for-profit organization that provides health information to the nation.
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