Oakland County cites progress in COVID-19 vaccinations

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News
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 Oakland County Executive David Coulter and county health officials touted progress in getting residents vaccinated against COVID-19 but said there's lots of work ahead to reach a goal of inoculating 70% of the county's population later this year.

At a virtual town hall for senior citizens, officials said 500,000 of the county's 1.2 million residents have registered for the vaccine, with just over 250,000 doses administered so far.

Officials stressed even those vaccinated need to continue to mask, preferably in multiple layers, and adhere to social distancing practices including frequent hand-washing.

Oakland County Executive David Coulter is seen inside a conference room in front of the county's flag at the Oakland County Executive office building.

“We need to be patient and keep doing all the things known to keep numbers down,” Coulter said. “It’s the only way we are going to beat this (virus).”

The majority of 20 senior citizens with questions sought advice on how they can best register for the vaccine and why it was taking so long. Others just wanted to know about possible side effects, how soon they could travel or hug their grandchildren. One wanted to know how safe it is to consume a drink from a popular coffee shop.

Those who participated were only required to provide their first names. Several, like 91-year-old Robert of Novi, said they felt they were being left behind because they were without computers.

Coulter repeatedly stressed to callers with similar concerns that the county health department’s Nurses On Call servicer (1-800-848-5533) would register them on the county’s Save Your Spot list for a future appointment, when available.

“The (Covid positive) numbers are going down but I know everyone is anxious on how to get the vaccine,” said Coulter. “One of our challenges is we don’t know how many vaccines we are going to receive on any given week so it is impossible to predict when that might take place.”

“I’m optimistic with reports that more vaccines being produced, we will be receiving more,” he said. “But I would encourage anyone to also contact your local health provider, or one of our partners and get on as many lists as possible to improve your chances of getting an appointment.”

In Oakland County, partners include Pontiac-based Honor Community Health, Henry Ford West  Bloomfield Hospital, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, Meijer and pharmacies including Walgreens and Rite Aid.

County Health Director Leigh-Anne Stafford said any delays in vaccinating the public is a “supply and demand issue” and she concurred with Coulter’s advice to register with as many providers as possible.

Leigh-Anne Stafford, Health officer, talks about the vaccination program.   1,250 Oakland County residents and or people who work in the county are scheduled to receive COVID-19 vaccinations Sunday in Madison Heights as the Oakland County Health Division. Madison Heights, Mich, January 31, 2021, (Clarence Tabb, Jr./The Detroit News)

Stafford said about 82 COVID-19 cases are being reported daily in the county, down from an average of 809 in November. She said no deaths have been reported in Oakland County in the past week but there have been 1,572 deaths reported countywide during the pandemic. There have been 63,339 closed cases in the county.

The county said more than 253,000 vaccination doses have been administered to Oakland County residents and workers, 55,000 of them given by the health division. The initial priority, per the federal Centers for Disease Control, is vaccinating health care workers, long-term care residents 65 or over, first-line responders like law enforcement and essential workers. An estimated 117,000 doses have been provided to people older than 65.

“We need to be patient and keep doing all the things known to keep numbers down,” Coulter said.

Oakland County blindly “robocalled” county senior citizens Wednesday and gave them an option of asking officials a COVID-related question. Some sounded desperate, like Linda of Commerce Township, whose 72-year-old husband is “high risk, on kidney dialysis and immune suppressed."

Stafford said “we will get to everyone who is eligible once there are enough vaccines.”

Stafford said the health division is working on a mobile vaccination program that they hope to put in operation soon.

Delores of Madison Heights worried about how much time should lapse after her vaccination for her to get a needed mammogram. She was advised to consult her health provider or the county’s Nurses on Call program.

Diane of West Bloomfield is over 65 and obtained her vaccines but wanted to know if it was safe for her to travel. She was told she should mask and follow safety protocol, including staying home in quarantine for seven days to watch for symptoms.

Some seniors expressed concern about restaurants, which have been permitted to reopen by the state but limited to 25% of normal occupancy.

Anita of West Bloomfield worried that baristas at her local coffee shop place plastic covers on her “to-go” coffee with ungloved hands and that doing so could transmit the virus.

Stafford said all businesses providing food or drink have adopted safe practices, including frequent hand washing, and “we have not seen transmission by touching.”

“If they are not ill and wearing masks and following precautions, the likelihood of transmission is low,” Stafford said.

Coulter added: “If you go to a retail establishment, don’t be afraid of expressing your concerns that something is making you uncomfortable and if you don’t get an acceptable explanation, leave. Don’t patronize the business.”

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319

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