GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — In separate briefings on Tuesday, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and President Joe Biden sounded the alarm over the quickly spreading COVID-19 Omicron variant.
“As we speak, we know that hospitals across our state – and in frankly many states – are stretched thin once again, and that’s putting it lightly,” said Gov. Whitmer Tuesday outside the Hispanic Center in Grand Rapids. “We’re seeing familiar scenes play out all across Michigan. Long lines at testing sites, rising case numbers, nurses and doctors and respiratory therapists who are pushed to the brink.”
With just days until Christmas, Gov. Whitmer and President Biden urged people who’ve yet to receive their vaccine or booster shot to do so as soon as possible.
“For many of you this’ll be the first or second Christmas where you’ll look across the table and there’ll be an empty kitchen chair there,” said Biden from the White House on Tuesday. “Are we going back to March 2020? … That’s what I keep getting asked. The answer is absolutely no, no.”
Biden announced his administration is making 500-million rapid at-home testing kits, free of charge, available to Americans on a new website. He also said he’s mobilizing 1,000 military medical professionals to hospitals that desperately need staffing most.
All around the country, the spread of the Omicron variant is casting a shadow over the quickly-approaching holiday season.
In New York state, reports of new cases jumped 80% in just the last two weeks. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced they’re requiring proof-of-vaccination for some indoor spaces like gyms and restaurants.
And in Washington D.C., where the president delivered his address from Tuesday, the city’s mayor reinstated indoor mask mandates the previous day as the nation’s capital sees three-times the rate of daily infection now versus at the start of the month.
Back in Grand Rapids, health officials joined the governor Tuesday in urging vaccinations for those who’ve not yet received one.
“Since the beginning of this pandemic I have never taken care of a patient dying from the vaccine,” said Dr. Shelley Schmidt, a pulmonary disease specialist with Spectrum Health, who signed the health systems very first COVID-19 death certificate nearly two years ago. “You will have to trust me when you or your relative comes to my intensive care unit and needs to be put on life support. Trust me now. Trust this vaccine.”
In Michigan, more than 6.2-million residents have received a vaccine and over 2-million have received a booster shot, including 64% of eligible seniors.
Neither Whitmer nor Biden announced any new mandates or restrictions on Tuesday.
“Sweeping mandates are less likely to influence and encourage that population to get vaccinated and that’s why it’s an education effort,” said Whitmer. “It is sharing what the experience is; what the real threat is.”