Duggan sounds alarm over Detroit’s COVID-19 surge, says incentivizing residents to get shots possible

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — COVID-19 infections in the city are continuing to climb and Mayor Mike Duggan warned the city is particularly vulnerable because of its low COVID-19 vaccination rate, noting there are "intense efforts being made" to have "trusted voices" encourage Detroiters to get vaccinated and ongoing talks over the potential of incentivizing residents to do so.

The latest surge began with a hotspot in rural areas in the tip of the Thumb, Duggan said Wednesday, and "it's spreading toward us."

"Our lower vaccine rate is leaving our neighbors vulnerable in a terrible way," Duggan said during a news conference at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters. "The worst is still ahead of us. There is no doubt that that wave is going to continue to spread down into our city and we have got to protect ourselves."

Duggan on Wednesday laid out the city's plan to ramp up vaccination awareness in Detroit with community forums, a door-knocking campaign and virtual tools to locate the closest of 24 citywide vaccine sites as vaccinations lag surrounding counties and the positivity rate has soared to nearly 21% from just 3.5% in late March.

Detroit's Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair noted about 700 more people are testing positive for COVID-19 each day. 

Duggan said 419 people are currently hospitalized in Detroit. Of those, 125 are in intensive care and 79 are on ventilators, he said. 

"I can guarantee you, those 79 people on ventilators, struggling for their lives, have one thing in common: they did not get vaccinated," he added. "At every one of the funerals going forward, we're going to have to ask ourselves as a community, 'Could we have done more to care for our neighbors?'"

The mayor said companies are offering to pair giveaways with vaccination days in Detroit and a research team is currently looking at how that's being done in other cities. 

"At the moment, I think there is a 50/50 division on Denise Fair's team as to whether to do it, but we'll be making a decision one way or another on that next week," he said. "I appreciate the generosity of a number of companies who have come forward and said 'If you want us to do giveaways and incentivize, we'll be willing to do that.' We're just trying to figure out if that would be helpful or not."

Duggan said the city will be calling on high-profile figures to publicly support Detroit's vaccination campaign to convince more residents to get a vaccine.

"There's intense efforts being made on what you would call trusted voices right now and we'll be talking about that next week," he added. 

Fair joined with Duggan Wednesday to detail the new outreach strategies to boost the number of Detroiters getting vaccines for the respiratory virus attributed to the deaths of more than 1,900 city residents since March 2020.

Duggan warned that the racial healthcare gap in the region will widen should Detroit hospitals be overwhelmed with suburban residents suburbanites. 

He urged the 128,000 Detroiters who've already been vaccinated to share their stories with friends and neighbors to encourage more participation. There are 24 vaccine sites in each corner of the city available on the city's website. And residents can text their address to (313) 217-3732 to immediately be provided the three closest locations to get vaccinated. 

"We are going to continue to make it easier and easier," he said. "We know right now our biggest enemy right now is a lack of information and a lack of misinformation."

The city's percentage of residents with at least one dose of vaccine lags the state average and surrounding counties.

The rollout of additional resources comes as the city gears up for a door-to-door canvassing effort to reach residents in Detroit's most vulnerable neighborhoods and one day after the state halted use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine amid reports of a potential risk of a rare blood clot.

Duggan said Tuesday that the city doesn't expect the pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which he initially turned down, will slow Detroit's progress. 

"We are not missing a beat from the Johnson & Johnson pause," Duggan said Wednesday. 

The city, he said, will press ahead with its existing strategy of vaccinating the majority of its residents with the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines. 

About six weeks ago, Duggan gained national attention on March 2 over his controversial decision to turn down 6,200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

At the time, he noted Johnson & Johnson was "very good," but Detroit wanted to focus instead on Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that are "the best" in the market.

Roughly 98% of the city's administered vaccines, or about 246,000, have been Moderna or Pfizer. The city has administered 5,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine out of the 11,600 overall doses it has received from the state.

The city's remaining Johnson & Johnson vaccines remain in storage and if and when the federal government lifts the pause, Duggan said Detroit will go back to offering them.

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.

Nearly 24% of Detroiters 16 and older have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. In Macomb County, 38.5% of residents have at least one shot; in outer-Wayne County, 44% of residents have at least one shot; in Oakland County it's 47%; and in Washtenaw County it's 48%. More than 42% of residents statewide have at least one shot. 

Separately, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday depicted the state's situation as "very serious."

Whitmer outlined her own initiatives to combat increasing cases. Among them, making additional doses of monoclonal antibodies available to providers and requesting that providers expand the number of infusion sites in the state. The laboratory-produced molecules can restore, enhance or mimic the immune system's attack on cells, according to the governor's office.

In Detroit, more than 20% of Detroit's COVID-19 tests are coming back positive, higher than the state average of about 18%.

"We've been in this pandemic for over a year and I know you are tired," Fair said. "We cannot let our guard down."

Detroit's City Council approved a $1.2 million contract last week that will cover the cost of recruiting nonprofit organizations to knock on 220,000 doors in Detroit at least once, to encourage residents to get vaccinated.

Officials anticipated groups will be selected for the work next week and the effort will launch on April 28.