News Story

Whitmer Blamed Public, 'Variant' For April COVID Spike, State Now Admits Had No Evidence

Governor also resisted hardline lockdowners at CDC

According to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in April, COVID-19 case rates in Michigan were high because residents weren't cooperating with government requirements and restrictions, and the arrival of a virus "variant." The problem with the claim is the there is no data to support it.

Whitmer was asked in an April press conference why she hadn’t imposed more expansive restrictions in light of a high rate of new “confirmed positive” test results per day.

“You said many times throughout 2020 that you were in the business of saving lives, that these restrictions on movements worked, that they pushed Michigan’s curve down, and Michigan did quite a bit better than other states toward the end of the pandemic,” began one reporter. “And yet it seems like you’re very resistant to bringing back those restrictions. Is it because you think they won’t work this time?”

The governor’s response was to blame residents, and point to a virus “variant” that appears to have played no significant role in Michigan’s coronavirus epidemic experience.

“It’s not the policy problem, it is a variant and compliance problem,” she said.

Despite some of the most extensive lockdowns among the states, the “daily new positive” test results that media and politicians have focused on since the start of the epidemic were nearly 18% of those tested here in April. Similarly, the COVID-related death rate rose sharply from around 15 deaths per day to close to 40. The increase prompted Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to state that the solution to Michigan’s third COVID-19 wave lies in restrictions rather than more vaccinations.

"Really what we need to do in those situations is to shut things down," Walensky said. "If we tried to vaccinate our way out of what is happening in Michigan, we would be disappointed that it took so long for the vaccine to work to actually have the impact."

But Whitmer resisted the pressure from the CDC to lock-down again, asserting more lockdowns were not the answer. Generally pro-lockdown media voices sympathized with the political pressures Whitmer faced, with some blaming Republicans:

“The political resistance Whitmer faces is not difficult to understand. Even as public health experts seek new restrictions, she’s facing calls from Republicans to dial them back,” the HuffPost reported. “The compliance issues are real, too. Increasingly large numbers of people are ignoring Michigan’s mask mandate, which health experts say is likely another significant cause of spread.”

The New York Times ran a similarly sympathetic story.

“[T]here 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,” the piece stated.

But when Michigan Capitol Confidential asked the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services how the state was measuring COVID compliance, the office said it had no information to share.

“After searching in the Public Health Administration, to the best of the Department’s knowledge, information, and belief, this Department does not possess or maintain records under the description you provided or by other names reasonably known to the Department,” MDHHS said in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Michael Van Beek, director of research for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said there's no data to support the governor’s narrative, but there is data that rebuts it.

“Gov. Whitmer provided no evidence that compliance levels in Michigan were low, and the data we do have shows just the opposite,” he said.

The governor’s office did not respond to request for comment.

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.