Michigan Vs. New York: How 2 States Are Handling The Coronavirus After The Lockdown

Aug 4, 2020
Originally published on August 4, 2020 1:36 pm
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STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

In early April, the coronavirus was killing more than 700 New Yorkers every day. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced those spiking death tolls but added a note of hope - shutdown and social distancing were working.

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ANDREW CUOMO: We are flattening the curve by what we're doing, and we're flattening the curve so far.

VANEK SMITH: That trend continued. And today New York is one of the few states to have successfully reined in the virus. Michigan saw a similar trajectory to New York - an early spike in cases and deaths, followed by a flattening of the curve. But then in mid-June, Michigan's case numbers started going up again. They've been rising pretty steadily ever since. So why do the two states look so different today? For answers, we have Kate Wells at Michigan Radio and Fred Mogul at WNYC here in New York.

Hi, guys.

KATE WELLS, BYLINE: Hey.

FRED MOGUL, BYLINE: Hi there, Stacey.

VANEK SMITH: So, Fred, let's start with you. Back in March and April, we were talking a lot about New York, particularly New York City, as a place where coronavirus was just raging out of control. Now it has one of the lowest infection rates among all the states. So what did the city and the state do to turn things around so dramatically?

MOGUL: Well, New York got off to a somewhat slow start phasing in its lockdown around March 16. That's partly how the disease came to rage out of control, as you say. But by the time stay-at-home orders took full effect a few days later, closing businesses and schools and limiting mass transit, I think you saw some of the most stringently enforced isolation rules in the country.

But one of the main things that's made a difference is what New York didn't do, I think. It didn't open back up very quickly. In early May, Gov. Cuomo released a 150-page plan dividing New York into 10 regions that then began opening slowly a couple weeks later industry by industry. You've seen a very, very gradual opening, especially here in New York City, where about half the state's population lives and where most of the disease had been concentrated. Even now, gatherings remain very limited. Resuming indoor restaurant dining has been postponed indefinitely. And bars, for instance, can only open outside only if they serve food and only stay open until 11 p.m.

VANEK SMITH: And, Kate, in Michigan, the high daily number of cases in April dropped by nearly 90% by mid-June. What happened there?

WELLS: Yeah, well, a similar story to New York - you know, the Detroit area here particularly was hit really, really hard in April. You saw our governor, Gretchen Whitmer, put the state on a lockdown in March. I mean, it was a lockdown that lasted 70 days. Basically everything except, like, grocery stores and pharmacies was closed. And at least the available data shows that people actually did a pretty good job of staying home, and that is what has brought down these hospitalizations and case numbers so dramatically.

VANEK SMITH: So, Kate, Fred mentioned that here in New York, things are opening very gradually. The people here still can't sit down inside of restaurants and bars. How does that compare to Michigan?

WELLS: You can sit down in restaurants inside here. You know, for most of Michigan, that stay-at-home order ended on June 1. And then a few weeks after that, restaurants, bars, hair salons started reopening indoors statewide. And then a few weeks after that, that's when we start seeing these cases tick up, although I should say, you know, even now, this is still nowhere near where we were during the first surge in the spring. It's nothing like what places in Texas and Mississippi are experiencing. But we are seeing dozens of new outbreaks throughout the state each week, often in nursing homes, social gatherings, workplaces, restaurants and just a plain old jump in community spread across the state.

VANEK SMITH: Both Michigan and New York have Democratic governors, but they're operating in really different political climates. Fred, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not really faced much pushback here.

MOGUL: No. Republicans have grumbled some about the pace of reopening. There actually is a fairly broad swath of New York that did vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Many of them probably will again. But in the 2018 midterm elections, the GOP lost control of the state Senate, its last lever of power. So there is a very weakened Republican presence here, not a lot of pushback.

WELLS: Yeah, whereas here in Michigan, things have been much more heated and still is pretty heated going into the fall and the election, with Michigan, of course, being a key swing state. And during the shutdown, you know, you saw those armed protests at the Capitol in Lansing. The state health department says they are still seeing a lot of pushback about the mask mandate.

And you see conservative groups in the state have really mobilized around this. You know, they see it as this hypocritical overreach. Like, at this rally last week in Grand Haven, there were a few hundred people who came out - very clearly not social distancing - for this thing called Freedom Fest. They put a video up on YouTube. And apparently, a police officer showed up and said, hey, you know, the health department would like people to disband, which they were not happy about.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And I say no. We become a protest then because if you are protesting, you don't have to go home.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You only go home when you're here celebrating your freedom.

WELLS: But, of course, you know, the increase in cases here is not because of political rallies, mostly. It's just that people really are not social distancing as much, and these outbreaks have been popping up.

VANEK SMITH: And, Fred, what is the situation like on the ground here in New York?

MOGUL: Right. In a state of 20 million people, you have about 500 new cases daily and about that number total hospitalized. And this week so far, we've seen a three-day average of three deaths. So it's difficult to imagine going much lower.

VANEK SMITH: So no second wave to speak of here in New York. But is the state bracing for one?

MOGUL: Absolutely. I don't want to give the impression this is a mask-compliance social distancing paradise. You have seen big parties, large-scale bar crawls, raves. The other day, a party boat, a booze cruise, took off with 170 passengers around New York Harbor. And here's what Gov. Cuomo had to say about it.

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CUOMO: What if one of those people on that cruise gets sick and dies? What if one of those people on that cruise gets sick and go homes - goes home and gives it to a parent who dies? I mean, it is just really reckless, rude, irresponsible and illegal.

MOGUL: Cuomo says the state police, the state liquor authority have been working double time to enforce laws. They're giving out hundreds of citations. But he's calling on local officials and local police departments to do more. He says they have to do a better job busting violators.

VANEK SMITH: And what about in Michigan, Kate? What has the response been as cases have started increasing again?

WELLS: Yeah, so on the government side, there are some increasingly strict reporting and testing requirements around nursing homes, agriculture workers, processing plants. Bars aren't allowed to do indoor service anymore. Some individual counties have taken some stricter measures, but it's nothing like the shutdown that we saw in the spring.

And one of the key differences, then, is who is getting sick now as opposed to the first surge. Right now, it is largely people under the age of 30 - even big jump in kids between the ages of 10 and 19. And I guess the good news with that is that experts say that that is why our death rate has stayed so low. It's down to an average of six deaths a day from 150 a day back in April at our peak.

But I'm also hearing two major frustrations from local health officials - one, contact tracers are having a much harder time reaching younger people. They are not calling back as often. Sometimes they don't want to cooperate - and two, more and more frustration around testing delays and shortages in some parts of this state. You know, the national labs are swamped. They're taking as long as three weeks. And some of these local and regional labs are also just inundated with demand. And of course, a big part of the plan to go back to school in the fall is to get people tested.

VANEK SMITH: That's Kate Wells at Michigan Radio and Fred Mogul at WNYC in New York.

Thank you both for joining me.

WELLS: Thank you, Stacey.

MOGUL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.