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300 more Michigan National Guard members deployed to help fight COVID-19

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

Lansing — Almost 300 additional members of the Michigan National Guard will be deployed next week to expand COVID-19 vaccination and testing efforts.

The additional soldiers and airmen will assist the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services administer the vaccine and test for coronavirus. Including the new addition, there are now over 600 members of the Michigan National Guard deployed in the state. 

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, adjutant general and director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, said in a news release the deployment "will help reduce the risk and safeguard Michiganders during this pandemic. ...

"The availability of a COVID-19 vaccine is exciting as this allows us to go on the offensive against this ruthless disease,” Rogers said. 

Members of the Michigan National Guard prepare to move beds into the alternative hospital inside the Suburban Collection Showcase in Novi.

The guard members will be deployed in three additional task forces to southwest and southwest Michigan, and the Upper Peninsula, according to the Michigan National Guard. 

As of Saturday the Michigan National Guard has administered almost 32,000 vaccines to residents, the release said.

Vaccination and Testing Teams comprised of one National Guard medic and two support personnel will ensure Michigan health care agencies have the personnel to deliver the vaccine and will help set up mass vaccination clinics.

“We are here to help the state where asked,” Rogers said. “From the city of Detroit to the far reaches of the Upper Peninsula, the Michigan National Guard will continue to assist our communities in this very important mission.”

A Michigan National Guardsman prepares a cubicle for patients in a field hospital at TCF Center In Detroit.

The Michigan National Guard helped set up a temporary field hospital at TCF Center in Detroit and an alternative hospital inside the Suburban Collection Showcase in Novi.

The deployment comes the day after the coronavirus variant, B.1.1.7., first reported in Michigan on Jan. 16, was traced to retail stores in Ann Arbor. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services detected the variant in five Washtenaw County residents and one Wayne County resident.

B.1.1.7. is believed to be more contagious, but there has been no indication that it affects the clinical outcomes or severity of the disease compared to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that has been circulating across the United States for months, the health department said in a press release.

The department said mutations of viruses are expected and people should still get inoculated when the vaccine becomes available and practice safety guidelines such as social distancing, wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings.

"People should understand that this doesn't change the response at this point," said Susan Ringler Cerniglia, a public information officer with the Washtenaw County Health Department. "It doesn't change the recommendations on what you should be doing. We all still need to do our best to prevent the spread of illness," she said.

John McKinnon, a senior doctor in infectious disease at Henry Ford Hospital, said the variant is considered more transmittable because mutations in B.1.1.7. allow it to infect cells easier than the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

"However, it has not been shown to produce a more lethal disease or more severe disease in patients," McKinnon said. 

The vaccine should still be effective because the variant is not expected to produce proteins that it won't recognize, said Joe Eisenberg, a professor and the chair of epidemiology at the University of Michigan. 

"If we get a vaccine our antibodies are primed to identify the coronavirus that comes in. If it can still identify the mutant strain, which we think it can, it still can be effective in stopping infection," Eisenberg said.