As the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations steadily rise in Michigan, business and health care advocates say getting more people vaccinated remains paramount to ending the pandemic and avoiding further economic damage.
Nearly one in five members that the Small Business Association of Michigan surveyed in June doubted that their business would survive the pandemic that has killed more than 20,000 people in the state. More than three-quarters said the pandemic hurt their business in 2020, while nearly two-thirds reported that negative effects are ongoing.
“For our economy to be fully open again without capacity limitations, without further restrictions, we know that vaccinations are going to make a difference,” SBAM CEO Rob Fowler said during a media briefing last week when he and others urged people who are unvaccinated to get a vaccine. “Vaccination really is one thing that people can do that will make a very positive difference for small businesses in their community. If we are going to heal this economy and get back to a thriving economy for small business, we know that vaccinations are really going to make a difference.”
As of late last week, about 66 percent of Michigan residents 16 and older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a state dashboard that shows the vaccination rate has been largely stagnant through the summer. The state has set a goal for 70 percent of the population 16 and older to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
Last week’s push by business and health care advocates came on the same day that President Biden announced sweeping rules to get as many as 100 million Americans vaccinated. The rules would require employers with more than 100 workers to have them vaccinated or subjected to weekly testing. Workers at health care facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid would also have to be vaccinated.
Officials with SBAM and the Michigan Health & Hospital Association worry that rising COVID-19 caseloads with the delta variant could lead to new restrictions or capacity limits that would hurt the state’s economic recovery. Worries also persist over how a rise in cases will affect schools and childcare centers and the ability of parents to work each day if their children are at home.
Although he respects that an individual decision to get vaccinated is a “personal one,” Fowler urged employers to encourage and offer incentives for unvaccinated employees to get a vaccine.
“What small businesses need is our schools to be open so parents can go back to work without worrying about whether their children are learning in a virtual environment. We need childcare centers to be opened so that young parents can not worry about their children’s safety while they’re at work,” Fowler said. “We need customers to feel safe to go back into our stores and our restaurants and our service providers knowing that it is a safe place to be. We need employees to feel safe in their own workplace.”
The stress that workers with children have felt during the pandemic has resulted in lower productivity, said Bill Kimble, the chair of SBAM’s board and president of Grand Rapids-based architecture and engineering firm C2AE Inc., which has five offices in Michigan and two in New York.
“When you don’t know whether your children are going to be in school or not, whether you’re going to have to be home with them to make sure that they’re doing what they need to do remotely, that’s a big challenge,” Kimble said. “That adds a lot of stress to our employees’ lives.”
C2AE has “highly encouraged staff to get vaccinated,” he said. “We have not required it and we are not asking whether they are vaccinated, but we continue to stress the proven fact that vaccines work and are our best defense against this pandemic.”
Meanwhile, Michigan’s economy is expected to feel the effects of the delta variant through the rest of 2021, according to a recent outlook from University of Michigan economists.
The updated economic outlook from the university’s Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics issued late last month says the state’s economy “shifted into a higher gear” during June and July with the addition of 458,000 jobs. That growth followed “three months in which the state’s job count did not grow.”
“Unfortunately, we expect the Delta wave of the COVID-19 pandemic to delay some economic growth into next year,” University of Michigan economists wrote in the outlook.
Since the pandemic began 18 months ago, nearly 20,500 people in Michigan have died from COVID-19. The state has recorded nearly 695,000 confirmed cases.
Physicians from hospitals who participated in last week’s media briefing cited stories from COVID-19 patients who are mistrustful of the science or have a general mistrust of medicine.
A doctor at an Upper Peninsula hospital discussed a COVID-19 patient who was unvaccinated, dying and regretted her choice to not get a vaccine. The hospital last week was arranging hospice care for the patient, said Dr. Nicole Linder, chief hospitalist at OSF St. Francis Hospital & Medical Group in Escanaba.
At OSF St. Francis, “nearly all of the (COVID) patients that we’re caring for made the choice to not be vaccinated, and we’ve seen very few vaccinated patients — less than I can count on one hand — (and) none of them have been very critically ill,” Linder said.
Some COVID-19 patients at Henry Ford Health System in Southeast Michigan “remained convinced” that they were healthy enough to beat the virus, said Dr. Geneva Tatem.
“Too many people, unfortunately, continue to rely on misinformation and disinformation that we’ve seen has drastic and deadly consequences,” said Tatem, program director of the Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Fellowship Program at Henry Ford.
“I’m also heartbroken and discouraged by patients who continue to remain unvaccinated because they thought they could outrun the disease,” Tatem said. “We can end this pandemic once and for all through vaccination.”