Detroit to hire workers to go door-to-door to convince residents to get COVID-19 vaccines

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city is gearing up to recruit nonprofit groups to knock on doors across the city to encourage residents to get vaccinated for COVID-19. 

Detroit's City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a $1.2 million contract to hire Detroit Employment Solutions Corp. to coordinate the effort that officials anticipate will get underway by the end of April.

People fill out their application to receive a vaccine shot at the walk-in clinic at the TFC Center in Detroit, Monday, April 5, 2020.

"We're going to knock on every residential door in the city, making sure every Detroiter knows how to make an appointment," said Vicky Kovari, an executive assistant to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan who headed the city's 2020 census outreach campaign.

The initiative is expected to employ 50 to 55 people with a strategy similar to what Detroit undertook last spring to promote the census. The team will work to ensure eligible residents ages 16 and up are aware of the avenues to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine and how to sign up, Kovari told The Detroit News. 

The canvass groups will spend six to seven weeks conducting an initial round of outreach in all of the seven City Council districts. In Detroit's lowest-income areas, Kovari added, the teams will make a second or third pass, concluding by mid-September.

Kovari said the lowest response rates are concentrated in Detroit's most impoverished areas with high renter turnover, multi-family apartment buildings and a lack of internet access. 

Approval for the plan comes a day after Duggan announced that eight new vaccination sites will be offered next week in neighborhoods and pressed residents to sign up amid a continued climb in the city's positivity rate for the virus.

City officials have partnered with Detroit Public Schools Community District and the Islamic Center of Detroit to expand vaccine distribution, noting next week there will be one or more sites operating daily in each council district. The ramp-up to get Detroiters vaccinated coincides with the public school district's pause of in-person learning this week as caseloads are expected to rise following spring break.

The state recorded 8,413 new cases of the virus Saturday, the largest daily case total in four months. The city has a coronavirus testing positivity rate of 16.3%, an increase from 2.6% four weeks ago, Duggan and Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair noted Monday. 

In comparison, the state's positivity rate is at 15%, Oakland County is at 14.8%, Wayne County is at 16.6% and Macomb County is at 22.2% positivity.

"The only way that we're going to beat COVID-19 is to significantly expand our vaccination efforts," Fair said during a Monday news conference. "This is the only city in the entire country where it is so easy to get a vaccine."

The new vaccine sites are being added to the city's COVID-19 vaccination strategy after Duggan announced last week that Detroit will boost daily vaccinations from 5,000 to 8,000 at the TCF Center downtown and add a walk-up option on TCF's rooftop garage.

Duggan said Monday that 263 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, a figure that's tripled from the last week of March when there were 91 hospitalizations in Detroit for the virus. Those hospitalized, he added, are primarily people in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

As of Sunday, nearly 20% of Detroit residents had at least one shot, compared to 38% of outer Wayne County and Oakland County, 31.5% of Macomb County, 41% of Washtenaw County and 35.5% of Michigan.

Kovari said Tuesday that the next step in launching the canvassing program is putting out a request for proposals by the end of the week. Officials expect to have nonprofits selected and teams out on the streets by the end of April.

The outreach plan has been in the works since January. Last year, census teams mobilized to knock on 400,000 doors to encourage Detroiters to participate. 

The outreach will be paid for with state funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Kovari said. 

The city already has been using some grant funding to canvass in some Detroit neighborhoods near churches and Detroit's existing vaccination clinics, Kovari said.

"But now, we want to step it up and do a more intensive canvass citywide," she added. 

Prior to moving the contract out of a council subcommittee on Monday, Detroit City Councilman Scott Benson noted the effort will help ensure Detroiters get the facts.

"We want to make sure everyone is educated and that they know about each of the facilities for them to obtain that vaccination," he said. "We just want to make sure that all Detroiters are making themselves aware and avail themselves to these opportunities."

 Appointments for all locations can be made at (313) 230-0505.