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Michigan at ‘dangerous moment’ as virus cases spike

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer warned Wednesday that Michigan on average has more confirmed daily cases of the coronavirus than ever, noting a sharp increase since the state Supreme Court invalidated her sweeping orders earlier this month.

The number of COVID-19 cases had been gradually rising for months prior to the Oct. 2 ruling, from a seven-day average of 119 in June to 984 — as the Democratic governor loosened economic restrictions and allowed schools to reopen. Since the court decision, the seven-day average is up to 1,818 — nearly double — though surrounding states without legal rulings have also seen similarly big spikes over the same time period.

Virus-related hospitalizations, roughly 1,000, are double what they were a month ago but about a quarter of the April peak. The daily death rate has nearly doubled to 20, while remaining well below the high point. The seven-day average of tests coming back positive, 4.64%, was last that high five months ago.

Whitmer, whose administration quickly reinstituted virus measures under a different law amid confusion over the ruling, pleaded with people to wear a mask and maintain distance from others.

“These numbers are moving in the wrong direction,” she said, not indicating whether another lockdown may be necessary. “We are in a dangerous moment where there’s the possibility of it just becoming community spread that becomes out of control. We’re seeing that in a lot of our neighboring states. That’s what we’re trying to avoid.”

For the first time at one of her COVID-19 news conferences, Whitmer kept her mask on while speaking. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, urged people who dine with non-household members to keep their face covering on except to put food in their mouth.


Also Wednesday, a chiropractor in western Michigan challenged the state’s face covering rule, saying Whitmer’s health department has no authority to make it mandatory. It is one of the first lawsuits since the Whitmer administration issued new orders following the defeat at the high court.

The suit, filed in the Court of Claims, claims the health agency can regulate gatherings under state law but cannot order masks, which are widely promoted as a way to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Semlow Peak Performance Chiropractic in Grand Haven. The Ottawa County health department told the clinic that it must follow the state order.

“We live in a representative republic and are not ruled by one person,” owner Kirk Semlow said. “My business is not a health threat to anyone, and we take appropriate precautions in providing our services to patients.”

Patients are told that masks are optional, though most wear them, attorney David Kallman said.

“It’s the principle of it,” Kallman said. “They just can’t take a statute, which gives a narrow scope of authority, and apply it in 15 other different ways. Go to the Legislature and get a law passed that says people need to wear masks.”

Spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin

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The Health 202: Health officials call an anti-lockdown paper ‘dangerous.’ Its authors say they just want the idea debated.

“I suspect if we had a chance to talk with Dr. Collins about what these ideas actually say instead of the misrepresentations, he wouldn’t have that response,” Bhattacharya told me in an interview yesterday.

The Barrington Declaration is triggering a heated and fraught debate over shutdowns as the winter approaches and infections rise.

The paper, co-written by two epidemiologists at Harvard University and the University of Oxford and signed by other academics and scientists, says measures to protect those most vulnerable to the virus should be the central goal of the public health response, rather than current shutdown policies. 

The authors argue that the harm from shuttering schools and businesses is so extensive that it’s not worth trying to limit the virus’s spread among healthy children and non-elderly adults. Targeted protections for the elderly and sick are the best way to minimize mortality and social harm, they wrote.

“The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits … is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk,” the paper says.

Yet the paper has provoked a firestorm within the scientific community — and is exposing fractures in the Trump administration.

The online document, published Wednesday by the medical journal Lancet, acknowledges the shutdowns have been damaging to people and the economy. Yet it rejects the idea that allowing the virus to spread unchecked among low-risk populations – an idea known as gaining herd immunity – would ultimately protect the vulnerable. The authors point to the nation’s already-steep death toll, noting that there could a hundreds of thousands more deaths if the virus is allowed to spread even among healthier Americans.

“This is a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence,” says the memo, co-written by Harvard epidemiologists Bill Hanage and Marc Lipsitch and signed by more than 80 scientists. “Any pandemic management strategy relying upon immunity from natural infections for COVID-19 is flawed.”

Bhattacharya and his co-authors met last week with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who tweeted praise of their ideas afterward. 

Azar tweeted this last week:

But both Collins and Fauci have sharply criticized the declaration as departing from consensus among epidemiologists.

“Anybody who knows anything about epidemiology will tell you that that is nonsense and very dangerous, because … you will have killed a lot of people that would have been avoidable,” Fauci said.

Bhattacharya called the tension provoked by his letter “overwhelming.”

But he feels it sparked a conversation that was ignored up until now. While some have interpreted the declaration as a “let ‘er rip” strategy, he says that is a mischaracterization of the approach he is promoting. While the country will eventually reach herd immunity, the point at which 60 to 70 percent of the country is immune either from being infected or getting vaccinated, his aim is to protect the lives and well-being of the

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