Experts say mistrust of authority and misinformation is fueling COVID-19 in Michigan

Apr 12, 2021 at 11:22 am
click to enlarge As one Twitter user quipped, "Michigan’s COVID map looking like it slammed its whole thumb in the car door." - The New York Times
As one Twitter user quipped, "Michigan’s COVID map looking like it slammed its whole thumb in the car door."

Last week, while addressing Michigan's dubious distinction as becoming, once again, one of the nation's top COVID-19 hotspots, Governor Gretchen Whitmer said she would not impose additional restrictions, instead calling on people to "voluntarily" abstain from activities that could help the virus spread, like dining indoors, youth sports, and in-person classes at high schools.

Well, good luck with that. Plenty of people aren't following the state's COVID-19 rules and guidelines, anyway. One of the best accounts of WTF is going on with the coronavirus in Michigan comes from MLive, in an article with the headline, “Many of Michigan’s Thumb residents are done with COVID-19 pandemic, even as virus rages like ‘wildfire.’”

On Friday, five of the nation’s top 15 counties in per-capita COVID-19 cases were in Michigan’s Thumb, including St. Clair, Huron, Sanilac, Tuscola, and Lapeer, which collectively reported 3,167 new cases in the past seven days, a per-capita daily rate of 1,216 cases per million residents, or six times the national average — and, staggeringly, eight times the benchmark for the state’s highest risk level of 150 cases per million residents. The region also has a 32% positivity rate on coronavirus diagnostic tests for the past seven days, more than six times the level considered safe.

As one Twitter user quipped, "Michigan’s COVID map looking like it slammed its whole thumb in the car door."

People in the Thumb thumb their noses at authority, where disdain for it is fueling widespread noncompliance with COVID-19 guidelines and Plandemic-style paranoia and conspiracy theories.

Troy Tank, the owner of Sandusky Family Diner, a former Big Boy restaurant that had its franchise terminated after violating state’s the indoor dining ban, says he doesn’t enforce the state’s mask mandate.

“I didn’t sign up to be the mask police,” he told MLive, while also “casually mention[ing] one worker is home quarantining after a positive COVID test.” At a nearby Walmart, Tank estimates mask-wearing has been “50/50,” even though that store was closed for multiple days last week due to an outbreak among workers. Tank also espoused a number of conspiracy theories, including calling Whitmer “extremely power hungry,” believing she’s using the pandemic as an excuse to exert more control, and says he also believes the election was stolen from Trump, despite the lack of any credible evidence.

It might come as no surprise that 67% of voters here cast their ballots for Donald Trump, who has promoted the above conspiracy theories, in 2020. In Sanilac County, the number was 72%, one of the highest percentages in the state.

“There’s been a defiance towards masks, and I think it was because it got so political at the beginning of the pandemic,” Bryant Wilke, Sanilac County public health director, told MLive. “People said, ‘We don’t trust this. We never had to do it before,’ even though it's been proven that it is a protective factor. People haven’t gotten over the hump to say, ‘We need to do this,’ and now we’re seeing the causation of not doing it and that’s the skyrocketing numbers in cases.”

Wilke added, “I compare us to a potential wildfire. You’ve got fuel out there and the virus hadn’t hit us that bad yet. Now it’s hitting us and we’re dealing with the U.K. variant, and it’s just moving through the population rapidly.”

The Thumb isn't the only place in Michigan where COVID-19 is exploding. During a press conference last week, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan acknowledged that the city was no longer a leader in fighting back the virus.

"Everything that we were so proud of for the last nine months, being a leader ... We are not a national model right now," he said. "... And I'm hoping we will pull together as we did a year ago and beat this thing as a community."

On Friday, the city's positivity rate was nearly 20%, a steady rise from 2-4% in early March. And not only are cases rising, but vaccination rates are lagging in Detroit, as well. Only about 20% of Detroiters have received at least one dose of the available vaccines, compared to 33% of residents in Macomb County, 40% in suburban Wayne County, 41% in Oakland and Washtenaw counties, and about 37% statewide.

The Detroit News reported that the gap in Detroit is likely caused in part by vaccine hesitancy, fueled by misinformation spreading on social media — which is fueled by mistrust of government. Thanks a lot, decades of systemic racism.

Negus Vu, a community organizer and president of the Detroit nonprofit People's Action, told the paper that people under 40 tend to be skeptical of the vaccines. "Young people think we got it a little too fast," Vu said. "We're also in the age of YouTube, and there's a lot of conspiracy theories."

Meanwhile, some older people reference the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study, in which hundreds of African American men who had syphilis participated in a government study in exchange for what they were told was free health care, but were never treated.

"We hear that a lot," Dongelo Moore, president of Detroit nonprofit Better Men Outreach, told the paper. "Especially from the elderly."

A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey from March found Wayne County residents have the highest vaccine hesitancy in metro Detroit at 29%, compared with 26% in Macomb County, 21% in Oakland County, and 20% in Washtenaw County.

Other factors contributing to Detroit's rising COVID-19 rates are societal barriers for getting vaccines, including a lack of clinics in neighborhoods. To address that, Detroit is opening more community vaccination sites to reach people where they live, instead of asking them to go to retail pharmacies in the suburbs or large vaccination sites like the one at Ford Field.

The initiative starts April 12 with "Neighborhood Vaccine Week," which will bring one-dose shots to eight community centers, including local high schools. The city also now allows walk-ins at the site at TCF Center.

More information, including the locations and dates of the Neighborhood Vaccine Week sites, is available by contacting the city's COVID-19 vaccination hotline at 313-230-0505 or by visiting

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