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Detroit to activate TCF Center garage, expand vaccinations to elderly, homeless

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan announced Thursday the city will be expanding access to the COVID-19 vaccine to the most vulnerable - seniors and people who are homeless - and repurposing the TCF Center garage as a public vaccination site.

Starting Monday, the city will begin scheduling 20,000 appointments for seniors at the TCF Center garage over the next four weeks, based on the supply of vaccines from the state, Duggan said.

The city's expansion follows Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s announcement Wednesday that the state will expand vaccinations to all Michigan residents over the age of 65, to front-line workers and teachers beginning Monday.

Detroit is starting with vaccinating residents over the age of 75 and any "good neighbor" driver, above the age of 65, who accompanies them to the TCF Center, as well as essential workers including K-12 teachers and childcare workers.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan on Thursday lays out the COVID-19 vaccination plan for Detroit residents that will begin at the TCF Center garage next week.

"Tomorrow, I am going to have a Zoom call with a lot of the ministers in this town. I think churches can play a role in this," Duggan said. "I want to get 65-year-old good neighbors partnered with somebody in your church who's 78 or 80 or 85 who can't get out. And if you will drive them, we will vaccinate all of you."

Duggan also announced plans to ramp up vaccinations of the city's critical workers including police officers and bus drivers.

The city's three-step approach starts Friday with police officers and DDOT bus drivers. Theywill receive vaccinations precinct-by-precinct at the Detroit Fire Department's Walter Harris training facility after the end of their shifts. After the departments are finished, other essential city employees will be scheduled. The workers will also receive an extra hour of pay for being vaccinated, but getting vaccinated is not mandatory, Duggan said.

"I think 40% of Detroiters want it tomorrow, 40% think they should get it but don't want to be in the first wave, and about 20% are never going to get it because they don't trust anything that's been said," Duggan said. "Even for the 200,000 Detroiters that want the vaccine tomorrow, we are going to have to work really hard to get those folks in."

Starting Wednesday, the city plans to distribute 400 vaccines through the TCF Center, 600 Thursday, 800 on Friday, and 1,000 each day the week following.

"We will ramp up as fast as the federal government sends this vaccine," he said. Duggan said he believes the city could administer as many 5,000 vaccines a day "... if the vaccines are delivered."

Also Friday, the city health department will vaccinate residents and staff at Boulevard Manor, the only nursing home in the city without an existing vaccination plan through a private provider. Starting next week, the health department, in partnership with Wayne State University Medical School nursing and pharmacy students, will begin vaccinating people at 60 senior citizen buildings and 29 homeless shelters in the city.

Denise Fair, Detroit's chief public health officer, anticipates all vaccinations at homeless shelters and senior citizen apartment buildings will be completed by the end of February.

"Our outreach strategy is to go directly to those seniors to homeless shelters and bring the vaccine directly to them," Fair said. "And as the state continues to roll out this COVID-19 strategy, we will ensure that the vaccine is available to everyone who wants it."

From left, Detroit Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair encourages everyone to wear their masks as she joins Mayor Mike Duggan, Detroit Police Department Chief James Craig and Detroit Police Lieutenants and Sergeants Association President Lt. Mark Young during a press conference Thursday.

Renting the TCF Center garage is costing the city $45,000 a month and the city has signed a lease for several months, Detroit Chief Operating Officer Hakim Berry said.

Berry expects the vaccination effort will operate as seamlessly as the State Fairground's testing, and "if we get up to 5,000 vaccines a day, we could have a team of up to 155 people out there to assist," he said.

"As we expand and have better weather, we can expand to some of the garages that are available through the Ilitch properties," Berry said.

As of Wednesday, Detroit has tallied 26,373 cases and 1,703 deaths from the virus. Nursing homes account for 379 of the deaths, according to its database.

The city has about 40,000 people over the age of 75 and one-third of its coronavirus-related deaths were Detroiters between 65 to 75 years old, Duggan said.

"We cannot afford to be distracted because the stakes for the residents of this city are life and death," Duggan said. "Numbers continue to show, African Americans who get COVID are three times more likely to die. The city of Detroit continues to lead this state in the lowest or near the lowest infection rate every day."

Michigan added 15,124 cases and 496 deaths from the virus so far this week. 

The city, in partnership with Henry Ford Health System, began deploying the first round of Moderna vaccines during the last week of December. First in line were 1,200 medical first responders who work for the Detroit Fire Department, 30 city health care workers so they can vaccinate others and 450 home health care workers.

During the city’s last press conference, Duggan, Fair and Henry Ford Health System CEO Wright Lassiter received the Pfizer vaccine.

The officials said no employee will be reprimanded for opting out of receiving the vaccine.

The state reported administering a total of about 152,000 vaccine doses, Whitmer said Wednesday. A total of 520,000 vaccines have been distributed to hospitals and health departments as of Monday, meaning most of those have not been given to patients yet.

The state has instructed hospitals and health departments that Michigan's goal is to distribute 90% of its vaccines within seven days.

The city health department has been allocated 2,000 vaccines and an additional 50,000 doses have been widely distributed to hospitals and pharmacies in the city, Fair said.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who battled the virus last year, said at one point, the department had more than 600 officers quarantining. Five members of the police department and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon died due to complications from the virus.

"This virus continues at times to attack... For me, the key to overcoming this disease was to continue to move and never give up. Many of our members, face the same challenge," Craig said. "While we have itlargely under control we currently have 39 sworn members in quarantine and 29othermembers whose last test result was positive. However, over 1,400 members have returned to full duty status."

Mark Young, president of the Detroit Police Officers Association, said he's excited to receive the vaccine because "I need my people to. They've earned their retirements and I want them to see it out. I want their families safe, I want this community safe. There's no such thing as social distancing and policing."

Still, healthcare officials report some people initially eligible for inoculation are holding off.

As of Tuesday, 16,000 employees of Henry Ford Health System have received the first dose of the vaccine or have an appointment to do so. More than 6,000 employees have declined vaccination, representing about 19% of its total workforce, spokesman David Olejarz told The Detroit News.

Approximately 8,400 employees have not yet responded to invitations to be vaccinated. 

"This may be because they were not scheduled to work since the invitation went out and have not seen the invitation, or they have not yet made a decision as to whether they wish to receive the vaccine," Olejarz said. "We do not have a category of employees who are listed as 'deferred.' They have either received or made an appointment to be vaccinated, declined the invitation, or have not yet responded."

How to schedule an appointment 

Starting Monday, Detroit residents age 75 and older and their "good neighbor" drivers 65 and over, will be able to call (313) 230-0505 to schedule an appointment at the TCF Center garage. The first appointments will take place on Wednesday.

Two appointment dates, one for each shot, will be scheduled. The second shot will be either three weeks or four weeks later.

As additional independent vaccination sites at pharmacies and other locations come online in the city, a map of locations will be added to the city's website at detroitmi.gov.

Anyone who receives the vaccine will be asked to provide identification, sign a consent form and will be asked to remain in their vehicles for 15 minutes to make sure they are not experiencing any side effects. 

"I don't want to say this has no risk. Anytime you have a vaccine, there's some degree of risk," Duggan said. "If you look at the fatality rate and the long-term implications of COVID, in my judgment, the risk of a vaccine is minimal compared to the risk of COVID... We're going to have medical staff on-site if you do have an allergic reaction, we'll have people there."

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_