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Detroit adds COVID vaccination sites for seniors, transportation options

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — To reach residents most vulnerable to COVID-19, the city has partnered with two prominent churches to expand vaccination sites for Detroit seniors.

The Detroit Health Department will host vaccination fairs for Detroiters ages 65 and up inside two of the city's largest churches — Fellowship Chapel on the city's west side and Second Ebenezer on the east side — beginning Saturday, Mayor Mike Duggan said. 

The effort, coined "Senior Saturdays," is expected to vaccinate about 1,000 seniors in a single day, he said. 

"The people in this community 65 and up are most at risk," Duggan said during a Tuesday news conference at Detroit's Public Safety Headquarters. "When I see our seniors continuing to get sick, I see us continuing to lose them, these losses are unnecessary. If you dial the number, we will get you in."

Detroit's latest push to vaccinate its most vulnerable residents comes as the city has detected its first two cases of the highly contagious new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7. 

"We aren't seeing it spread in the city of Detroit, largely because Detroiters are so committed to social distancing and wearing face masks," the mayor said. "But every place else this British variant has shown up we've seen surges in infections and surges in hospitalizations. We know our seniors are even more at risk now than they were two weeks ago."

Duggan said more than 70% of the deaths Detroit has seen from the virus have been in residents over 65. In the last two weeks, he added, 16 Detroiters have died, 15 of whom were older than 65. 

To further boost access, Detroit is now offering low-cost transportation services to the city's TCF Center vaccination site downtown for seniors and other vaccine-eligible Detroiters.

Residents can schedule rides when setting up vaccination appointments at the TCF Center as long as they call at least 24 hours in advance of their appointment. The discounted fares with IntelliRide are $2 for a round trip, he noted. 

"We're going to pick you up, we're going to get you vaccinated, we're going to drop you back off at your door," he added.

City churches will be hosting vaccination fairs each Saturday for at least the next four weeks, vaccinating 1,000 seniors each weekend. Until Tuesday, the city's vaccination efforts had been confined to the TCF Center parking garage. 

The city, Duggan said Tuesday, also will distribute 2,500 vaccines at two Meijer stores in the city. The stores, he said, are prepared to begin offering vaccines to staff and eligible customers beginning Friday. 

The mayor noted that 5% of Detroiters have been vaccinated while 13% of the people in the state have been vaccinated. "We continue to lag," he said.

As of Tuesday, the city has received 54,550 doses of vaccine and had administered 32,579 doses, or about 60%, by the end of the day on Monday. 

Michigan has administered about 1.3 million of the 2 million doses of vaccines it has received.

Duggan said the city has talked with Henry Ford and DMC health care systems, both of which are prepared to open community vaccine centers in Detroit. He said he's communicating to the state and federal government that Detroit is ready to ramp up from 15,000 vaccine doses per week to 25,000 per week. 

Detroit intends to open up more church sites going forward in other parts of the city.

"We want to put a stop to this COVID crisis and chaos that has taken our community by storm," said Bishop Edgar Vann of Second Ebenezer Church. "It's our opportunity and our privilege to open up our churches along with our other partners to make sure that there is no excuse."

The city's allotment of the vaccine tripled last week to 15,000 doses. Prior to that, inoculation efforts in the state had slowed due to a nationwide shortage.

The city has recorded 29,240 confirmed cases of the virus and 1,813 deaths since March, according to Tuesday data from the Detroit Health Department. 

On Friday, the mayor added restaurant employees, grocery store workers, security guards and janitorial employees of any age who live or work in the city to Detroit's vaccination eligibility list.

Others already eligible before Wednesday include any "good neighbor" drivers, 65 or older, who bring older residents to the center, essential workers including K-12 teachers, child care workers and federal and state employees who are working in the city, and clergy and mortuary workers.

Detroit's Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair said Tuesday the city has vaccinated 1,300 staff and residents at 22 senior apartments and 826 staff and residents at 18 Detroit homeless shelters. 

Appointments for those eligible can be scheduled by calling (313) 230-0505 between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Vaccination times are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Fellowship Chapel and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Second Ebenezer.

Duggan on Tuesday also noted the second round of applications are being accepted for the federal Paycheck Protection Program. The first round resulted in $650 million was distributed to 5,400 Detroit businesses. 

Applications for the latest round of the program are being accepted through March 31 at Detroitmeansbusiness.org.

cferretti@detroitnews.com