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Michigan’s governor says the virus surge in her state may be cresting

In this Oct. 16, 2020 file photo, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer spoke at Beech Woods Recreation Center, in Southfield, Mich.
In this Oct. 16, 2020 file photo, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer spoke at Beech Woods Recreation Center, in Southfield, Mich.Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

Michigan may finally be starting to turn a corner, after enduring more than a month of explosive coronavirus spread, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Sunday.

“We are starting to see the beginning of what could be a slowdown,” Whitmer said on the NBC program “Meet the Press.”

Michigan is still averaging more than 7,600 new cases a day, according to a New York Times database — more than at almost any time during the holiday surge. But that figure hasn’t increased by more than a few hundred for more than a week, suggesting that the current wave may be cresting. Hospitalizations and deaths, which usually lag behind new cases by several weeks, are still rising.

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Whitmer cited the state’s continuing mask mandates, capacity restrictions and her call for a voluntary two-week pause in indoor dining, youth sports and in-person schooling as factors that may have helped combat the surge. She defended her decision to not try to go further, with the kinds of closure and stay-at-home orders imposed early in the pandemic.

“Fifteen months ago, we didn’t know the virus could be contained by the simple act of wearing a mask,” she said Sunday. “We didn’t have the testing or the vaccines. We’re now in a much different position.”

The governor suggested that she probably could not have locked the state down again, in any case. “In the waning months, I have been sued by my Legislature, I have lost in a Republican-controlled Supreme Court, and I don’t have all of the exact same tools,” she said.

“Despite those things, we still have some of the strongest mitigation measures in the country,” she added. “We’re still doing what we can.”

Whitmer lauded the Biden administration for helping the state get more therapeutics and “boots on the ground” to help staff vaccination sites and hospitals. She said she had asked the federal government for even more help.

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She said her state’s initial success in limiting the virus’ spread had, paradoxically, made it more vulnerable to a later surge.

“What we know is that our success at keeping COVID spread down for such a long period of time has left us with vast reservoirs of people who don’t have antibodies,” she said. “That was a good thing until the variants came on stage.”

She said that seasonal travel patterns, notably spring-break vacations and the return of “snowbirds” who spent the winter in warm states like Florida, had also played a role in seeding outbreaks in Michigan.