Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., spoke at Eastern Michigan University’s mass vaccination site on Monday morning about access to vaccines for Washtenaw County residents and plans to address the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Michigan.

Michigan recently became the state with the highest positivity rate and hospitalizations in the country, recording over 45,000 new cases in the last week. In the past month, hospitalizations have grown by 274%. 

Dingell addressed the inequities that have been exacerbated as a result of the pandemic, especially for Black and Latino Americans who have been disproportionately affected. 

“We can’t ignore the very serious health disparities that exist in the Black and Latino communities and how those disparities have put our Black and Latino neighbors and friends at greater risk for COVID-19,” Dingell said. “It’s all important, it’s all connected and it has to be addressed.”

Dingell also announced several new mobile vaccination sites, including ones at the Second Baptist Church in Ypsilanti on April 20, the New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church in Ypsilanti on April 21, Brown Chapel Church in Ypsilanti on April 26, Eastern Michigan University on April 13, and at the Big House in Ann Arbor on several dates next week, noting the sites are important in ensuring that everyone has access to the vaccine.

Whitmer urged Michigan residents to get vaccinated to ensure the safety of the community and to facilitate a return to normalcy.

In recent weeks, Whitmer has been lobbying the Biden administration to surge vaccines to the state as the number of cases has increased. In the past week, the number of Johnson & Johnson vaccines allocated to Michigan has decreased by 88% from 148,000 doses to 17,500 due to an accident at the Emergent BioSolutions facility. 

However, Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Monday that Michigan should not rely on increasing vaccines to stop the surge, but should instead “shut things down” as done last spring.

Michigan has already administered 5.1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines to around 39% of the state’s residents, a number that Whitmer expects to increase exponentially as the state gets more doses of the vaccine.

Whitmer also reminded residents of public health rules that remain in place, including a statewide mask mandate and a limit on indoor gatherings to 25 people or less.

“There is light at the end of this tunnel, but we know we have seen a recent rise in cases and that should serve as a reminder that we are still very much in the tunnel,” Whitmer said at the press conference. “The only way out is if we move forward and together.”

The Washtenaw County Health Department has administered over 55,000 vaccine doses, and 43% of all eligible Washtenaw County residents have received their first dose. Last month, 2,500 doses were provided to areas in the county with a high social vulnerability index by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

WCHD Health Officer Jimena Loveluck spoke at the press conference about Washtenaw County’s efforts to vaccinate the community.

“We’ve seen COVID-19 expose existing racial disparities and we must address the historical and system(atic) inequities that underlie them,” Loveluck said. “Our partners, including faith and community leaders, have worked with us tirelessly and collaboratively to bring services and resources for those needed.”

Larry Davis, pastor of the Christian Tabernacle Baptist Church where a Washtenaw County pop-up vaccine clinic is located, also spoke at the event. He has been working closely with government officials to promote the vaccine. 

“We suggested that in the Black community, as you know, everything has always gone through the church, so we suggested that we’d like to have pop-up vaccines at our church,” Davis said. “Because you know this thing about ‘I can’t trust (the vaccine)’? Well, they trust us.”

Daily Staff Reporter Kate Weiland can be reached at kmwblue@umich.edu.