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Detroit Opens Vaccine Eligibility To All Amid Spiking Cases

Box of COVID-19 vaccine bottles
Scott Pohl

Detroit on Monday immediately expanded COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all residents 16 and older, a week earlier than planned, as Michigan continued to confront spiking infection rates that rank third-highest in the country.

Mayor Mike Duggan said the seven-day testing positivity rate in the state’s largest city doubled in 10 days, to 10.3%. Hospitalizations also doubled over that period but, unlike during the second wave of cases last fall, involve younger people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.

A similar trend is occurring statewide, according to the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, which warned recently that confirmed adult coronavirus hospitalizations could top 2,500 this week — to about two-thirds of past peaks. As of Monday, they they had tripled, to more than 2,100, in 4 1/2 weeks.

“The younger people are getting infected. The younger people are being hospitalized. We have got to start to get them vaccinated,” Duggan said.

“I’m very concerned,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, tweeted Sunday after working a shift in a Detroit emergency room the night before. She told people to wear masks, be tested, avoid indoor maskless venues and get vaccinated “ASAP.”

Detroit also said nonresidents who work in the city can get a shot. Vaccine eligibility will open to Michigan’s entire age 16-plus population on April 5. About one-third have received a dose; 19% are fully vaccinated. The state wants to inoculate 70%.

While vaccinations might “lower the ceiling” of total virus-related hospitalizations, “the rate and how fast we’re growing in our hospitalizations is alarming,” said Jim Lee, vice president of data policy and analytics at the hospital association. “It is just as bad if not worse than what we fall in the fall surge.”

The good news, he said, is younger patients are less likely to end up in intensive care units or on ventilators. But a variant first identified in Britain and now spreading in Michigan causes more severe illness and is more transmissible, he said.

“It could be that people are just tired of following social distancing guidelines and wearing a mask and things of that nature. But I also believe that it’s the variant that causing an impact,” Lee said.

Duggan urged Detroit Tigers fans without tickets to opening day to not visit Thursday, saying 50% capacity limits in bars and restaurants will be strictly enforced. Police will not permit tailgaters to flout mask and social-distancing laws, he said.

One in every 306 people in the state was diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past week, a rate that trailed only New York and New Jersey.

Also Monday, a state commission announced plans to ensure that people without transportation are vaccinated. Public transit systems will provide free rides to appointments.

“This very much is a race against the (virus) variants,” said Kerry Ebersole Singh, director of the Protect Michigan Commission. She cited increased hospitalizations but noted patients’ average age is lower, showing vaccines work. Two-thirds of residents age 65 and up have gotten a shot.

“We’re getting more supply into the state, and eligibility is opening up,” she said. “So hope is on its way.”

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