Detroit’s top health official said she’s “pretty concerned” that “it looks like we’re letting our guard down” amid a ramp up of springtime gatherings and a highly transmissible variant of COVID-19.
Detroit’s Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair Razo said only half of the eligible population in the state’s largest city is vaccinated against the virus and her department is urging Detroiters to get tested, vaccinated and boosted.
“I want to remind Detroiters to be cautious. It’s not behind us,” she told BridgeDetroit on Thursday. “It does feel like things are getting back to normal but we’re still in the middle of a pandemic.”
Fair Razo said Detroit, like the rest of Michigan, anticipates an uptick in cases this spring. But said her department’s nursing teams stand ready “to protect citizens of Detroit” by deploying mobile units and boosting vaccination and testing services, if necessary.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reiterated its own call Thursday for residents to be prepared with up-to-date vaccines and boosters, face masks and COVID-19 testing kits to curb the spread of the virus at gatherings including proms and graduations.
State health officials noted the “more transmissible” BA.2 subvariant of omicron is expected to cause a rise in COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks. Southeast Michigan is already seeing it.
“While we wish we could avoid these types of increases in cases, the good news is we have excellent, effective tools to travel safely and gather with loved ones and prevent severe outcomes from COVID-19,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, MDHHS chief medical executive, who urged residents to make a COVID-19 plan for masking, testing and coordinating with a medical professional for treatment options if they do become infected.
Fair Razo said Detroit has continued its outreach and awareness efforts on social media, through webinars and in communities and continues to offer vaccines and testing for COVID-19.
About 50% of Detroiters ages 5 and up are vaccinated for the virus and just 20% of the city’s population eligible for a booster shot has gotten one, which Fair Razo said is “unfortunate.”
“We have a lot of accessibility, but there’s also some confusion out there, and misunderstanding on whether people are eligible for the booster,” she said. “If the question is whether a person should get a booster or not the bottom line is yes, because it’s going to keep them protected.”
The city, she said, has sent out thousands of text message notifications to residents eligible for booster doses. The city is offering a second round of boosters for ages 50 and up and for individuals who are immunocompromised.
Despite a vaccination rate that lags the state as a whole and surrounding counties, Detroit has seen progress.
The rate of community spread in the city remains relatively low. There are about 75 to 100 Detroiters testing positive for the virus each day, down from hundreds per day a few months back, Fair Razo said. A lull at Huntington Place, the city’s largest vaccination site – which went from giving out several hundred vaccine doses per day to about 50 doses per day – led to its March closure.
The city maintains COVID-19 vaccine clinics on the east and west side and is administering about 100 per day. Fair Razo said officials remain committed to a goal of having 70% of the eligible population vaccinated.
“If you come today, there’s no wait. You can schedule (an appointment) or walk in,” she said.
To boost accessibility, the health department will offer COVID-19 vaccines and boosters during a Saturday pediatric immunization fair. The event is being held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Adam Butzel Recreation Center.
The clinic, hosted in partnership with Health Alliance Plan, primarily aims to get immunizations for Detroit’s children up to date. The city’s rate is the lowest in Michigan, Fair Razo said, with 59% of children from birth to three months updated on shots and 43% for those ages 13 to 18. The event also will offer lead testing for children and giveaways.
Detroit’s health Department has distributed more than 200,000 COVID-19 home testing kits in the past several months. Residents who do not have tests can visit the city’s health department or a COVID-19 testing site where results are provided within about an hour, Fair Razo said.
While cases in the state are likely to begin climbing, MDHHS said hospitalizations and deaths are not expected to rise significantly, given the levels of vaccination, boosters and immunity tied to the omicron spike.
Fair Razo noted hospitalizations in Detroit from the virus also are tracking lower, representing about 2% of all in-patients. As of Thursday, the city has recorded 125,690 confirmed cases of the virus and 3,412 deaths since COVID-19 was first detected in Michigan in March 2020.
The city doesn’t have a mask mandate in place, but Fair Razo noted that she continues to wear a mask around crowds both indoors or outdoors and while shopping at the grocery store.
“I want Detroiters to know it is their choice whether they want to mask up or not. However, I hope they make the right decision,” she said. “Collectively, we all need to play our parts in keeping each other safe.”