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Detroit Leases TCF Center Garage, Will Start Vaccinating 20,000 Seniors Wednesday

January 7, 2021

The city of Detroit plans Monday to start scheduling 20,000 COVID-19 vaccination appointments for senior citizens in a drive-up system at the downtown TCF Center.

Mayor Mike Duggan and other officials laid out details Thursday on their strategy to disseminate thousands of vaccine doses to front-line workers, residents over 65 years old, and those in long-term care settings like nursing homes.

The city is paying approximately $45,000 a month to use the convention center’s parking garage for vaccinations starting Wednesday for those age 75 and older — as well as 65 and older if you’re driving a senior, according to Duggan and Hakim Berry, the city’s chief operating officer who is running the TCF Center operation.

Like with the city’s COVID-19 testing operations, the Dan Gilbert-owned Rock Connections LLC will be operating a call center where those eligible for vaccination can set up an appointment.

The city has paid Rock Connections $1.91 million so far for its call center services during the pandemic. Terms of the increased service were not immediately clear.

The appointment phone number is (313) 235-0505. Those getting vaccinated will drive up, turn off their cars, chat with medical staff, and get the procedure done from their cars.

Detroit has 40,000 residents over 75 years old. The city expects to vaccinate 5,000 people per week over the next month. Duggan said he wants to ramp it up to 5,000 a day and aim to get vaccines to all adults who want them by April or May, but that all depends on availability.

Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair will simultaneously run a health department operation vaccinating homeless shelter residents and people in senior living facilities, with help from Wayne State University students.

The city’s plans follow in line with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s announcement Wednesday that vaccinations can start Monday for teachers, child care providers, prison guards, police officers, and people over age 65.

Gov. Whitmer said state officials will be working “as swiftly as we can” to get local health departments and hospital groups the vaccine doses. Michigan’s vaccine rollout has been slow, but improving in the first week of the new year.

The move comes as the state was sitting on a surplus of nearly 380,000 doses of the vaccine, plus an additional 185,100 that were reserved for nursing home vaccinations, Crain’s reported Wednesday. The surplus has continued to increase, which means Michigan’s vaccinations aren’t going as fast as it is getting doses.

Asked about the slow start to the vaccine rollout — with Detroit among the slowest areas in the state — Duggan said all he can do is make sure this coming phase goes smoothly. But he did call out the federal government for what he said was a lack of a distribution plan.

“My place isn’t to criticize,” he said. “The early phase was to put it out through the hospitals and the pharmacies and given the fact that health care workers were in the first phase that made sense. But it was clear to me that was never going to work on a large scale. So by Wednesday the largest single vaccination site in the state of Michigan will be operated in the city of Detroit, and that’s how we’ll deal with the inequities, is we organize better and more efficiently and make it more accessible.”

*Originally published in Crain’s Detroit Business.