Fauci to Michigan: 'Hold off for a bit' on lifting COVID restrictions

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Dr. Anthony Fauci says Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer should "hold off for a bit" when it comes to easing COVID-19 restrictions amid rising infection rates and the push to vaccinate more residents.

During an appearance on CNN Thursday night, key President Joe Biden COVID-19 adviser Fauci said Whitmer is a "really good governor," but state officials should "pull back gradually" on limitations aimed at stemming the spread of the virus.

"I think she's done some really good things," Fauci said of Whitmer. "But I am telling them just hold off for a bit. When you get the overwhelming majority of your population vaccinated, the chances of there being a surge are minuscule. Just hang in there. Don't turn the switch on and off."

Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,  appeared on the show "Cuomo Prime Time" with host Chris Cuomo, who brought up Michigan's increasing case numbers and asked if Fauci was telling state officials to "slow down" on reopening.

Last week, Michigan reported 11,383 new infections, a seven-week high. The 5.2% positivity rate — the percentage of diagnostic tests bringing positive results — marked a six-week high.

Michigan now has the fourth highest new case rate per population over the last seven days among U.S. states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The increases came after promising downward trends in January and February prompted Whitmer's administration to allow restaurants to reopen indoor dining on Feb. 1, push for schools to offer in-person learning by March 1 and further ease restrictions on restaurants and public gatherings on March 5.

Fauci said it's understandable that people want COVID-19 restrictions relaxed a year into the pandemic.

"They just are tired of being kept down, of not being able to do the things that are normal in life. It's an understandable feeling," he said. "And we counter by saying we understand that. We really do. But just hang on a little longer until you get the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated."

As of Thursday, 1.2 million Michigan residents, 15% of the adult population, had received their complete vaccinations.

Whitmer announced an updated epidemic order Friday to allow crowds of up to 20% of capacity limits at outdoor stadiums. The previous limit had been 1,000 people. The Democratic governor has been a supporter of Fauci. She has previously appeared on TV with a pillow featuring his face in the background.

During a Friday press briefing, Whitmer said the state has the tools needed to fight the virus and health officials expected case numbers to increase when restrictions were eased.

"That’s what we’re seeing," the governor said. "The difference is right now we know a lot more about this virus, and we are ramping up our vaccinations. But we’re going to watch it closely."

cmauger@detroitnews.com