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Michigan officials request help as COVID-19 cases surge

▶ Watch Video: Michigan becomes COVID epicenter as cases skyrocket

Nowhere is the coronavirus roaring back more fiercely than Michigan. There are an alarming number of cases in the state, nearly as many now as there were during the worst of the pandemic. 

Michigan has the highest new cases per capita in the nation, 72% greater than the next highest state. Michigan’s positivity rate is nearly three times more than the national average. Nearly two dozen hospitals in the state are at least 90% full.

“The situation in Michigan is pretty concerning. It’s as bad as it was over the holidays. The variants are definitely one of the drivers of it,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University School of Public Health. 

There is growing concern about what that could mean for the rest of the U.S. 

State officials are begging the Biden administration for help. “We’re really encouraging them to think about surging vaccines into the state of Michigan,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. 

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more shots may not be the solution. “When you have an acute situation, extraordinary number of cases, like we have in Michigan, the answer is not necessarily to give vaccine. The answer is to go back to where we were last spring, last summer, and to shut things down,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Monday. 

On Monday, Whitmer extended workplace restrictions to allow people to work remotely, if possible, as she urges a two-week pause on indoor dining, in-person learning for high schools and youth sports. But those restrictions are voluntary. High school basketball championships were held over the weekend. 

High school-age kids in the state are far more likely to be infected than any other age group, with more than one in four testing positive, including 15-year-old Niamh O’Connell. 

“When I first got it, I was pretty upset about it. My case was super mild,” O’Connell said. “School is very important to me but it stresses me out sometimes. So the ability to come play sports, and gives my body a chance to relax and just have fun with my friends and to have that break and then go back to my studies.” 

Student-athletes in the state are being tested every week. 

“It puts a burden on us, especially going from school and like then to sports, then back home again. And you’re like wow, this is life now,” Jacob Roman, a high school senior, said. 

The variants that are overtaking Michigan are now spreading across all 50 states, with the B.1.1.7 or the variant first discovered in the U.K., becoming the dominant one. A new study confirms the variant is 35% more transmissible, but researchers say it is not more severe or deadly than the original strain. 

“What’s happening in Michigan today can be happening in other states or other parts of the country tomorrow,” Whitmer warned. 

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