Mitchell said her research shows that parents increasingly expect them to make decisions about masks and vaccines and that schools remain open as much as possible.

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Whitmer’s decisions during the pandemic will play a huge role in his re-election campaign this year, and Republican challengers opposed his decision early in the pandemic to lock down the state to prevent the virus from spreading.

The cancellation by Michigan’s Whitmer Department of Health and Human Services of the mask recommendation for schools and indoors came as daily cases dipped below 2,200 for the first time in months , and after counties like Ingham, Wayne and Oakland removed local mask mandates.

Statewide mask recommendations had persisted as cases were much higher last fall, but health officials said the availability of vaccines and the milder nature of omicron allow to lift restrictions safely now.

But Whitmer’s decision comes as frustrations over the two-year pandemic mount: A six-day blockade of the Ambassador Bridge to protest Canada’s vaccination mandates has halted traffic — and billions of dollars in international trade – and has also raised millions of dollars from supporters on both sides of the border.

Whitmer and other Democratic governors from Connecticut to California who recently ended restrictions are “bending to the reality of the situation,” Mitchell said.

A total of 18 states at any given time had mask mandates in the 2021-02 school year, and only one, Maryland, was led by a Republican governor.

Unlike many Democratic counterparts, Whitmer ended a mask mandate in June 2021, then leaving the decision on school masks to local counties and school districts.

A spokesperson for Whitmer told Bridge Michigan that the governor followed “the best data and science available” early in the pandemic when she ordered a lockdown that mirrored what most states had done.

“These vital actions bought time for the world’s best scientists to develop safe and effective vaccines which then empowered people to take their own actions to protect themselves and their families,” Bobby Leddy said in an email. .

“Now that everyone has the scientific tools to protect themselves, Michigan has been fully open since the summer of last year, and our state’s economy is booming, with 220,000 jobs added over a period of a year.”

Distance yourself from COVID

Whitmer has spent months walking away from the kind of demands that have sparked controversy and generated protests from Lansing and an alleged plot to remove him, said Adrian Hemond, a political consultant who works with Democrats.

In early 2021, Whitmer hosted monthly COVID updates with reporters.

But after May, when vaccines were widely available, Whitmer’s public discussions of COVID became rarer, though she and her administration regularly urged residents to get vaccinated and inoculated.

In the first eight months of 2021, the Whitmer team issued 32 press releases with the word “COVID” in the title and 34 with the word “jobs”.

In the last four months of the year, seven press releases focused on COVID and 40 on employment. During those months, 580,000 people contracted the virus and 7,700 state residents died from it.

John Sellek, a consultant who once worked for Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, said Whitmer’s decision not to focus on COVID is fortuitous.

He and others point to Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory in the Virginia gubernatorial election in November, which analysts say is largely due to independents being upset over COVID school closures. .

“They (the Whitmer administration) look really smart from a political science standpoint right now,” Sellek said. “She makes moves towards the middle with every move she makes.”

Whitmer did not say that any of his decisions were politically motivated.

As recently as December, Whitmer said she and her team “Follow the Science” a phrase she repeated often throughout the pandemic.

But it’s not like the pandemic was over by September, even though vaccines were rumored for everyone 12 and older.

In fact, cases were steadily increasing as the delta variant began sweeping the state, especially among children.

Since Sept. 1, Michigan has recorded nearly 11,000 deaths from COVID-19, one-third of all deaths from the pandemic, and more than one million confirmed cases, or half of all confirmed cases. About 82% of deaths occurred in unvaccinated since January 2021.

The 13 Republican gubernatorial candidates criticized Whitmer for his COVID policies, including his statewide lockdown at the start of the pandemic and the November 2020 decision to close indoor restaurants for nearly two months.

“It’s on the side to be on,” Mitchell said, saying whoever wins the Republican Party nomination needs to hammer her pandemic performance.

As Whitmer focuses on job creation and economic recovery, his opponent would be wise to tap into residual anger over his past decisions, Mitchell said.

Studies feed the arguments?

The Republican attacks were fueled by a recent study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University who concluded that the lockdowns had “reduced only 0.2% of deaths from COVID-19”.

This study, which analyzed about three dozen other studies, attracted conservative media accolades and disregard for fact checkers who pointed out that it was not peer-reviewed and selected only 34 studies from a pool of over 18,000.

Still, that will be part of the debate over whether the lockdowns — Michigan’s stay-at-home order lasted 70 days starting March 23 — worked.

A University of Michigan health economist, Olga Yakusheva, conducted a similar study, published in December.

He concluded that the closures saved lives, between 866,000 and 1.7 million in the United States alone.

His study compared the impact of lockdowns to a no-intervention scenario. She acknowledged that it fails to take into account that people would have changed their behavior – like staying home, wearing a mask – without being told to do so as cases and deaths increased. .

Since the start of the pandemic, even with shutdowns in most states in the early days, about 929,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States, including more than 31,000 in Michigan.

But Yakusheva’s research team said there was still a high cost beyond the estimated $2.3 trillion in economic downturn: 58,000 to 245,000 people died when they couldn’t seeking care in emergency rooms due to closures, or who have postponed needed care.

These people were generally younger and had more “quality of life” years than those who died of COVID.

The median age of death from COVID-19 is 77. The nationwide life expectancy in 2020 was 78 years.

But Yakusheva said Whitmer and other leaders were right to order lockdowns in March 2020 because there were no vaccines and health officials believed COVID was more contagious and deadlier.

In the first two months of the pandemic in 2020, more than 4,200 people died from COVID-19 in Michigan.

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