Michigan had the worst COVID lockdowns, yet more deaths than other states

Gov. Whitmer shut down the economy and schools more than Indiana, Ohio or Wisconsin

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer claimed the extraordinary measures she took in shutting down businesses and schools and forcing people to stay home were worth it because of the lives saved. But an analysis of the data two and a half years after the COVID-19 pandemic hit Michigan calls that claim into question.

Compared to the rest of the country and its neighboring states, Michigan endured the most restrictions on private activity while also experiencing far more COVID deaths, worse job losses, a weaker recovery, and substantial learning losses for kids.


Michigan has significantly more COVID deaths per capita than any other state in the Midwest.

The latest numbers from the CDC show that Michigan has 39,092 deaths as of Oct. 19, 2022, which is 9th-highest in the United States after controlling for population differences.

Michigan’s rate of COVID deaths per 100,000 people (391) is higher than that of Indiana (369), Ohio (342) and Illinois (314). The difference between the Wolverine State and its neighbor across the lake is the starkest: People in Michigan died of COVID-19 at a 48% higher rate than people in Wisconsin (264).


Using unilateral control afforded governors for extraordinary emergencies, Whitmer imposed the broadest shutdowns on businesses in the country.

Some 32% of Michigan businesses, a higher portion than those in any other state, were subject to a government-mandated closure, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national average was 19%. Far more businesses were closed in Michigan than in neighboring states of Indiana (15%), Wisconsin (17%) and Ohio (19.5%).

If shuttering businesses saved lives, one would expect Michigan to have a lower COVID-19 death rate than most states. It didn’t.


Michigan is still down 94,500 jobs since COVID-19 hit, a net loss of 2.1%. That’s the 7th-worst percentage among the state, and 23 states have fully recovered the jobs they lost during the pandemic.


Whitmer did not recommend that schools return to in-person instruction until March 2021. When she made that announcement, 23% of Michigan schools were fully in person, compared with 47% in Ohio, 54% in Wisconsin, and 76% in Indiana.

Some of the largest school districts in the state offered only virtual instruction for almost an entire academic year. According to the data service Burbio, which tracked school openings throughout the pandemic, Michigan was 33rd nationally when it came to offering in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year.

School closures during the pandemic are generally associated with more learning loss for students. Along with most of the rest of the nation, the state and national test scores of Michigan students dropped enormously during the pandemic. Catholic schools, which were almost entirely open throughout the pandemic, saw no change in math or reading scores compared to where they were pre-pandemic. 

As for Michigan’s state standardized tests, the M-STEP, every racial group at every grade in every age group tested saw a drop in achievement compared to where students were before the pandemic.

The public school districts in Flint and Detroit were among those closed for in-person instruction the longest. Minority students saw the largest drops in test scores, with the percentage of Black third-graders meeting or exceeding math proficiency standards falling by more than one-third.

On the national test known as the NAEP, the scores of Michigan students also dropped in every category. Fourth-grade reading fell to a 30-year low. And in Detroit, students in the public school district have long scored the worst in the nation in reading and math for 4th and 8th grade students. Their test scores still dropped sharply during COVID.

Michigan’s governor used extraordinary measures to control many aspects of people’s lives during the pandemic. She shutdown nearly one-third of Michigan businesses, prevented people from traveling or seeing friends and allowed schools to stay closed to in-person learning for more than a year.

Despite all these interventions, there is little real-world evidence these actions saved lives. Indeed, Michigan has one of the highest COVID-19 deaths rates in the country, and significantly more than was seen in surrounding states.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.