LANSING, Mich. (AP) — All people ages 16 and older in Michigan became eligible for COVID-19 vaccines on Monday, as the state passed the halfway point in its goal of inoculating 70% of that population by year's end.
More than 36% of roughly 8.1 million residents had received at least one shot as of Sunday, a share that has tripled in two months. Federal regulators have not authorized vaccinations of children ages 15 and below, though clinical trials are underway.
Michigan continues to confront a surging coronavirus case rate that was the country's highest over the last two weeks.
In the Lansing area, health officials strongly recommended that middle and high schools suspend in-person learning when instruction resumes next week after spring break. The pause should be combined with rapid COVID-19 testing of students who traveled, said Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail.
"I am deeply concerned,” she said, citing alarming countywide metrics such as a 15% positivity rate, the highest in a year. “That said, looking at our vaccination rates I am really hopeful."
Detroit's K-12 district, the biggest in the state, said all students will learn online this week and next week following spring break.
Mayor Mike Duggan predicted dire consequences if more residents do not get vaccinated. He announced plans to give shots next week at numerous neighborhood locations in addition to the major vaccine sites at Ford Field and TCF Center.
Roughly 21% of eligible Detroiters have been vaccinated so far — “really disappointing,” said Duggan, who added that the city had a 16.2% virus positivity rate last week compared to 2.2% in October.
Detroit health officer Denise Fair, noting a spike among people between 20 and 40, said she was alarmed when she spoke recently with customers at the Brass Rail Pizza Bar.
“There were a few people who just said they don’t want the vaccine, they don’t need it, they were healthy and they had no interest,” Fair said. “For me, it is the indifference that is unsettling.”
Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, senior public health physician at the state Department of Health and Human Services, attributed Michigan's third wave to coronavirus variants, outbreaks associated with youth sports and pandemic fatigue. Rising case numbers initially were driven by the 10-19 age group, she said.
“I don't think we were releasing transmission in classrooms or even so much on the playing field. What we were seeing is social gatherings in and around youth sports — people getting together for dinner after a win or a sleepover. That's where transmission seemed to be occurring more,” she said, citing conservations with local case investigators. “This is not just one or two stories. This is something we're hearing over and over again.”
A state requirement that took effect Friday requires teen athletes in contact sports to be tested regularly — once a week if they wear a mask and up to three times weekly if face coverings cannot be worn. The state implemented a similar program in December so athletes in three fall sports could finish state tournaments in January despite a monthslong ban on contact sports, which was lifted in February.
Testing was made available but not mandated, however, for winter sports except wrestling.
“People didn't really want to test. A lot of the outbreaks were happening in sports where testing was mandated, in sports like basketball," Bagdasarian said. “We now know, based on our data, that testing is a fantastic tool to help reduce this type of transmission from occurring. It helps prevent outbreaks from happening.”
A group that opposes sports restrictions, Let Them Play Michigan, and some parents have sued in an attempt to stop the requirement.
Associated Press writer Ed White in Detroit contributed to this report.
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