Michigan recently experienced its deadliest COVID-19 wave, which started late last summer and lasted through March. Hospitalizations hit an all-time high and more than 15,000 people died in this fourth wave. Did you notice?
There were no school closures, business lockdowns, stay-at-home orders or broad mask mandates. It appears state officials have given up on these policies, which were once marketed as moral obligations. Perhaps they’ve finally recognized that the severe harm these unprecedented edicts cause outweighs their potential benefits. Or maybe they now believe these policies do not limit the spread of an easily transmissible virus. Regardless, it appears we’re on our own now.
This is odd. The state once boasted of its powers to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer promised Michigan would “beat the damn virus” in March of last year, but now state and public health officials have adopted a modest approach, aimed at educating the public on the danger of COVID-19 and leaving the details of managing its risks up to us.
Although Gov. Whitmer abandoned her command of the state’s response, she is still fighting to preserve the extraordinary powers she used when the pandemic first arrived. Her administration, through Attorney General Dana Nessel, recently asked the Michigan Supreme Court to reverse its 2020 decision against the governor’s executive orders, in a case the Mackinac Center brought. The court rejected the request, fortunately.
There are multiple layers of irony in this. First, the governor seeks to restore the powers she claims are necessary for protecting public health even as she refrains from actively combatting the pandemic’s deadliest wave. Second, the strategy the state settled on after waging war on the coronavirus is the very strategy public health officials recommended in the state’s pre-COVID pandemic response plans. Gov. Whitmer threw these plans out the window in 2020 and made up her own strategy on the fly.
Would the people of Michigan have been better off if officials had stuck with the original plans, avoiding lockdowns and all that came with them? We’ll never know. We can’t have a do-over, and nobody would want one. But these policies have already fallen out of favor among politicians who once championed them, and this suggests it is not necessary to upend society to deal with a public health emergency. Let’s hope public officials learn this lesson for the next pandemic.