Gov. Gretchen Whitmer anounces expanded antibody therapy treatment for COVID-19

During a press conference on Wednesday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gave an update on the state's efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 which included an expansion of treatments for COVID-19.

Michigan has the country's largest infection rate and has surpassed its December hospitalization capacity, even as it worked to distribute vaccines as quickly as possible. 

Whitmer has been under pressure from the federal government as the state's cases climb. Whitmer has argued for more vaccines but the CDC has said that the state can't vaccinate its way out of the problem and that she'll need to enforce closures. 

The governor has still not issued new orders but on Wednesday announced the expansion of therapeutic access for Monoclonal antibodies (mAb) for people with COVID-19.

"We are using every mitigation strategy, every medication, and every treatment option to fight the virus here in Michigan," said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. "These antibody treatments could keep you out of the hospital and save your life, and my administration and I will continue working with the federal government to make sure we are using all the tools in our toolbox to keep you and your family safe and get back to normal sooner." 

What are Monoclonal antibodies?

Monoclonal antibodies (mAb) are molecules made in laboratories that can restore, enhance, or mimic the immune system's attack on cells. mAb targets parts of the virus and prevents it from bonding with cells in the body, effectively neutralizing it.

According to the governor's office, clinical trials have shown promising data that the therapy works for the treatment of COVID-19 with patients who are at high risk for progressing to severe symptoms or hospitalization.

Whitmer said that the treatments have been used on more than 6,600 Michigan residents with 65% of them feeling better within two days of treatment and less than 5% requiring hospitalization following treatment.

mAb from Eli Lilly and Regeneron were approved by the FDA for emergency use in November of 2020.

The governor said mAb was used when former President Donald Trump was ill with COVID-19 in 2020 and said it likely saved his life.

The country's highest infection rate

The New York Times has a map tracking coronavirus infection across the country. Most of the map is yellow with a few red and maroon spots. But not on its glove. 

There, it's deep purpose in almost the entire lower peninsula and especially dark in the thumb. It's the starkest example yet of what followed Michigan's loosening of restrictions earlier in February.

Kids went back to school and sports, restaurants reopened, and more people began traveling. Several other states also loosened their rules. In Texas, the governor even lifted its mask mandate. 

But Michigan appears to be suffering the worst from its reopening measures. So far, 4,205 people have been or are suspected of being hospitalized with COVID-19. That's a rate nearing Michigan's peak in April of 2020 when 4,365 people occupied beds because of the pandemic. 

The ICU admittance rate isn't as high as it once was and neither is the death rate. That's likely due in part to the makeup of those in hospitals. Adults in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are a larger piece of the pie compared to last year when older people were suffering worse symptoms as a result of the virus. 

On Tuesday, the state reported another 8,867 cases of coronavirus.

No new restrictions

But the governor has opted to not lock the state back down. The second wave of restrictions placed an economic burden on businesses like restaurants and event space. As Michigan worked to push its curve back down in December, the state reached a seven-day average of cases comparable to rates in October 2020.

But the honeymoon didn't last long. With cold weather making outdoor activities like eating and participating in sports difficult, people didn't go outside as they did after the first wave.

Throughout March, Whitmer has said it was unlikely she would be implementing new restrictions, even as cases surged. The state has pushed vaccinations as hard as it could, successfully inoculating much of the state's older population.

But the rate of vaccinations hasn't been able to keep up with new infections. So far, about 27% of the state has been fully vaccinated and 41.7% have gotten at least one shot.

Last week, Whitmer addressed the spike for the first time, asking residents to avoid going to restaurants and asking schools to return to virtual settings. Some districts like Detroit have, and don't plan to return to in-person settings for at least another week.

But Whitmer's request rather than mandate brought pushback from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who said the only way the state was going to get out of its infection was with more lockdown measures. 

Extended workplace protections

There is one field of industry that did see adjustments in protections. The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration extended workplace restrictions until mid-October.

For any business that does resume in-person work, they'll need:

  1. A written COVID-19 preparedness and response plan and provide thorough training to employees that covers workplace infection-control practices
  2. The proper use of personal protection equipment
  3. Steps workers must take to notify the business of COVID-19 symptoms or a suspected or confirmed diagnosis
  4. Steps on how to report unsafe working conditions

MIOSHA says there have been more than a thousand workplace outbreaks in restaurants, manufacturing, construction, retail, personal care, and office settings.

"It’s important to note that the emergency rules implement workplace safeguards for all Michigan businesses," MIOSHA Director Bart Pickelman said. "The rules also include requirements for specific industries, including manufacturing, construction, retail, health care, exercise facilities, restaurants and bars."   

The extension is until Oct. 14, but that could be adjusted if the number of cases changes.

Johnson and Johnson's pause

Whitmer will be joined by Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, her chief medical executive during the press conference. 

The two are likely to address the Food and Drug Administration's pause on new Johson & Johnson vaccine doses, over concerns of blood clotting in six people who received the vaccine. So far one person has died from the rare side effect, which still has yet to be explicitly connected to the vaccine.

Which is why the FDA's move was meant only as a precaution that could last only a "matter of days."

That has still thrown a wrench in the vaccine rollout plans in Michigan, which had hoped to use the one-shot dose to inoculate residents with less access to shots. That includes poor areas like Detroit and hard-to-reach areas in rural counties around the state.