Duggan restarts Huntington Place drive-thru to boost Detroit's COVID-19 testing

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan ramped up efforts Wednesday for residents to get tested for COVID-19 amid a surge of omicron variant cases, including reactivating the city's largest drive-thru center.

In the first press conference of the new year, Duggan was joined by Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair Razo and Dr. Robert Dunn, the city's acting medical director, at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters. The city officials expressed concern as Southeast Michigan's proportion of positive COVID-19 tests has soared to 33.3% over the last three weeks.

"Across Southeast Michigan, one out of three people who go in to get tested come back positive," Duggan said. "After six months, you were seeing the effectiveness of the vaccine wearing out and...began breakthrough cases from those who had not gotten a booster, but cases tended to be mild with a small chance of hospitalizations. ... My thought was that by January, we'd be talking about COVID in the rearview mirror."

The Huntington Place in Detroit is being reactivated by city officials for drive-thru COVID-19 testing.

While the earlier delta variant remains prevalent in Michigan, it is now diminishing as the omicron variant is believed to be more transmissible.

In response, the city has opened two rapid testing centers for residents to get same-day results. The Joseph Walker Williams Center, located at 8431 Rosa Parks Blvd., is open with PCR testing from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Tests are being administered indoors this week but the center will be converted to a drive-thru next week. 

Duggan said the Huntington Place convention center is being reactivated as a drive-thru testing center providing antigen tests from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The city expects to operate with 1,000 appointments daily between the two sites.

The soonest appointments available on Wednesday afternoon were on Friday at both centers.  

The Detroit Health Department has supplied 41 nursing homes and 10 homeless shelters with 8,000 rapid tests. The city is also operating 12 vaccine/booster centers, Duggan said.

Residents must show they work or live in the city to schedule a test, vaccine or booster. They can make appointments by calling (313) 230-0505. 

The city has an ample supply of tests, despite a national shortage, Duggan said.

"We have a supply of 4,500 tests weekly," Duggan said. "We're good and if we need to get to 1,200 or 1,400 a day, our problem isn't the number of tests. Our problem is getting the staff out to do it."

Over the last seven days, 36% of tests are returning positive in the city, compared to 30% of tests returning positive in the state.

Since March 2020, the city has tallied 96,201 confirmed cases, resulting in 2,747 deaths.

About 81% of Detroit's hospital inpatient beds are occupied, and 17%, or 469, hold COVID-19 patients.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Wednesday the Joseph Walker Williams Center is open for indoor COVID-19 PCR testing now and will be converted to drive-thru testing next week.  The Huntington Place convention center has reopened as a drive-thru testing center. The city expects to operate with 1,000 appointments daily between the two sites, Monday through Friday.

Those who test positive and have symptoms should isolate until 24 hours after the symptoms are gone and get a second COVID test to confirm, Dunn said.

"We are really encouraging people to get a test to confirm they are no longer contagious," Dunn said. "We have testing resources available and that is absolutely the safest method. If you test positive and have no symptoms, which can happen 25% of the time, people need to isolate for five days ... and get a second test to confirm you're not contagious after the five days."

Omicron is evading the cloth masks, said Fair Razo, who is encouraging residents to wear KN95 or surgical masks for protection.

"We know that cloth masks worked for a while, but they don't work any longer, and we want you to stay protected," she said. "The cloth masks absorb moisture too quickly, which lessens the protection against omicron, which we know is three times as contagious."

The state, as of Tuesday, has confirmed 289 cases of omicron by genetic sequencing at the Michigan Bureau of Laboratories in Lansing. But experts say a greater number of people are likely infected because only a small percentage of samples of the virus are sequenced. As of Tuesday, roughly 95% of cases of COVID-19 in the country are caused by the omicron variant, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 63.5%, or 6.3 million, residents have received their first doses of a vaccine, as of Monday. So far, more than 172,000 children ages 5 to 11 in Michigan, or 21%, have received their first dose of the vaccine.

In 2021, the then-TCF Center was used as a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination clinic by Detroit officials. They are reactivating the renamed Huntington Place for COVID testing.

Detroit lags that number, as less than 45% of the city's population has received one dose of vaccine.

"My job is to give Detroiters options. There is no place in the country where it is easier to get a test or a vaccine," Duggan said when asked about lagging vaccinations. "This arrogant 'I don't need a vaccine' thing changes when you're gasping for breath on a ventilator, but all I can do is make vaccines easy and available."

The mayor said he thinks residents who have gotten their booster and are following protocols can live a reasonably normal life.

"I don't see a need for any kind of shutdown," Duggan said, adding the situation could change in the next two weeks.

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_