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Duggan: Detroit's COVID recovery hinges on vaccines

City of Detroit

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan says the city’s ability to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic depends on how swiftly it can vaccinate residents—and receive help from the federal government.

Duggan laid out his plans in the mayor’s annual State of the City address Tuesday night. The event was mostly virtual—Duggan spoke from the new Stellantis plant on the city’s east side to just a handful of people.

Duggan said the key thing is getting as many Detroiters as possible vaccinated against COVID-19, and fast.

Detroit led this country in dropping the COVID infection rate,” Duggan said. ”We are not leading this country in getting vaccinated. And if we are going to drive the comeback of the city, it's going to be important.”

To that end, Duggan said Detroit will set up a second mass vaccination site at the Northwest Activities Center sometime later this month. That site will only administer the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The city has been providing the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines at the TCF Center. But Detroit still lags behind the surrounding area and the state in vaccine coverage, with only around 12% of Detroiters getting the first dose of the vaccine so far.

Duggan also made a point of further backtracking on some previous comments he made disparaging the efficacy of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It was my fault for not having done more research than I should have,” he said. “But after having done that research, it's obvious that the record Johnson & Johnson has at the height of the pandemic, and operating in South Africa and South America and Britain, that it is a highly effective shot.

Duggan said all Detroiters over 50 will be able to get vaccinated starting March 22. In April, he hopes to open up eligibility to those with chronic medical conditions, and people required to go work in person. By May, Duggan said he hopes that every Detroiter who wants a vaccine can get one.

Duggan also said President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan would also offer Detroit a financial lifeline if it’s passed.

Detroit is poised to receive more than $800 million in aid from the package. Duggan said he hopes to get $100 million to help prevent a wave of evictions.

“I’m telling you, if we don’t land a large amount of eviction prevention funding, I’m not sure what happens in 36th district court,” Duggan said. “It’s going to be a tragedy. And that’s why we are going to fight tooth and nail to get a large support.”

Duggan acknowledged that Detroit, like many other U.S. cities, has seen a spike in violent crime over the past year. He blamed that on the pandemic effectively “shutting down” the criminal justice system, and said Detroit and Wayne County courts are prepared to focus on gun cases to reduce a backlog.

I want you to know this court system is going to reopen,” Duggan said. “There is going to be accountability, and we will get this violence under control.”

But Duggan reiterated that recovery as a whole hinges on vaccination: “If we want people back to work, we want people not being afraid of being evicted, we want to get the criminal justice system going, we want to get the restaurants going, we have to get vaccinated faster.”

*Clarification: An earlier version of this story stated that 12% of Detroiters have been vaccinated. State data indicates about 5% of Detroiters have received a second dose of the vaccine and 12% have received the first dose. The rate still lags statewide percentages.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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