Amid an exponential rise in COVID-19 cases, Detroit and state officials are focusing on vaccinations instead of restrictions to mitigate the spread.
So far, less than a quarter of Detroiters has received the inoculations, one of the lowest rates in metro Detroit. The city’s vaccination rate is 25% compared to 39% in Macomb and 48% in Oakland County. About 128,000 residents have received at least one shot this year, according to Mayor Mike Duggan.
Representatives from the city’s health department say every day, about 700 more people are testing positive for the coronavirus in Detroit.
The number of patients hospitalized, admitted into intensive care and put on ventilators has also increased. As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Detroit surge, Mayor Mike Duggan said Wednesday at a news conference “the worst is still ahead.” Currently, more than 400 people are hospitalized with coronavirus in Detroit, with about one in five requiring a ventilator to breathe. Nearly 130 are in intensive care.
City officials are asking residents to urge their family members and peers to get the shots, while Detroit’s health department is considering incentives to encourage people to get the vaccine.
“We’ve had a number of companies offer to pay our giveaways with vaccination days. We have a research team looking into how that’s being done in other cities,” Duggan said. “At the moment I think there is a 50/50 division in Denise Fair’s team about whether to do it. But we will make a decision one way or another on that.”
Detroit Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair points to a racial disparity in treatment.
“Black and brown communities are two to three times more likely to get COVID-19 and to die from it,” Fair said. “And I can speak as a Black woman that there has been and continues to be mistrust in our community.”
The city is increasing educational outreach to curb vaccine hesitancy. City officials say there are two dozen sites around the city that will offer walk-in vaccination appointments next week.
Whitmer: It’s a Not Policy Problem But a Variant and Compliance Problem
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended the state go into a lockdown to slow the spread of new infections, but local officials are reluctant to do so.
“Instead of mandating that we’re closing things down, we are encouraging people to do what we know works,” Whitmer said Wednesday, adding that the state does not intend to impose lockdown restrictions like those put in place last spring and summer, relying on guidance such as mask wearing and social distancing.
Duggan is following the governor’s lead, despite anticipating a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the city, pointing to other factors like private gatherings and vaccine hesitancy as the drivers for new infections in Detroit.
“There is no evidence of widespread COVID infections from restaurants or gyms,” he said.
According to the Michigan Health Department, there was a 60% rise in outbreaks reported in restaurants last week. Overall, there are nearly 250 new outbreaks throughout the state.
There are many factors at play to explain the state’s spike in cases and hospitalizations, according to state officials, like more-contagious coronavirus variants and people who don’t follow recommendations.
“We have variants that are very present here in Michigan and greater numbers than other states are seeing. Then we have exhaustion, the fatigue where people are dropping their guard,” Whitmer said. “And that’s precisely why instead of mandating that we’re closing things down, we are encouraging people to do what we know works.”
Whitmer announced that additional doses of monoclonal antibodies — and other COVID-19 treatments — will be given to hospitals and other providers to help slow hospitalizations.
Michigan has more people hospitalized now than at any other time during the pandemic.
The state health department has announced nearly 17,000 new COVID-19 infections over the past two days — and currently — there are over 4,000 people hospitalized in Michigan with the disease.
Health Director Under Scrutiny for Spring Break Trip
In addition to dealing with a third wave of the pandemic, Whitmer is dealing with a scandal with her new state health department director.
MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel made a trip to Alabama last week — despite her own department asking people to limit their travel.
Whitmer denied there were ever travel restrictions, only guidance.
“I’m not going to get distracted by partisan hit jobs on my team. There have never been travel restrictions in Michigan, there just haven’t been. What we have done is to ask people to be smart,” she said.
That statement is not true. For much of last spring people were not allowed to travel between homes they own in Michigan or to vacation rentals.
A health department statement said Hertel had been vaccinated - but the Associate Press reports she had not received her second shot when she made the trip. Hertel took over as health director after Robert Gordon abruptly resigned over a policy dispute with Whitmer.