Detroit Gets It Right On Vaccine Rollout

I’ve been plenty critical of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. But credit where credit is due. On COVID testing and vaccine rollout, the city has, after a disastrous spring of 2020, gotten it right. A new effort at Ford Field, where the Lions lose, is being set up as I write this to vaccinate as many as 6,000 people per day. This is partially a product of a new FEMA grant to the city, but it’s also a product of responsible management. Macomb County executive Mark Hackel, of course, isn’t satisfied. But his county currently shows a substantially higher rate of new cases and positivity than either Wayne and Oakland. Perhaps a product of the fact that, well, Trump voters think COVID is a hoax, or whatever? I dunno. Anyway, it’s a welcome improvement after the mayor came under fire for rejecting a shipment of the JNJ vaccine earlier this month.

Michigan’s most populous counties and their respective COVID data. Wayne County is outperforming suburban Oakland and Macomb Counties in terms of infection rates and positive test rates. Data and table from CovidActNow.
Cars leave the vaccine site at TCF Center on Detroit’s Riverfront in February. A clever combination of streets department management and novel technology allows the city to track inbound and outbound traffic. The city can thus better manage demand response in terms of staffing.
Ford Field site

Yesterday, they were taking walk-ins at Ford Field. FEMA and, apparently, some branch of the Armed Forces based on the uniformed persons standing outside, were involved in the coordination of the site, which will issue at least 350,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the coming weeks. It was perhaps the one time I was grateful for an overbuilt parking garage infrastructure– fairly fluid in-and-out traffic flow with virtually no congestion. We missed the walk-ins by about ten minutes, but it seems like we’ll all be vaccinated in the next few weeks. (At this point things might return closer to normal by the summer? Maybe?)

Meanwhile, a setup at the TCF Center (née Cobo, above, pictured in February) utilizes a fairly sophisticated system to track inbound and outbound cars using sensors. The city’s streets department is using this system to be able to appropriately manage demand response as far as site staffing. I drove a friend down and we were in and out within about 20 minutes. We did, however, notice a backup of cars on our way out, having arrived before the scheduled appointment time. The city would appear to be gradually ironing these issues out.

Looking forward

We are, as they say, not out of the woods, with new infection rates increasing substantially across the US (see CovidActNow charts). And vvaccine hesitancy is understandably an issue that remains a tough one. But the successful vaccine rollout is a far better place to be these days after the city’s tragic brush with the first wave last spring.

Highest positivity rates in Michigan’s less populous counties. More testing usually lowers the positivity rate. Data and table from CovidActNow.

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

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