Mar 18, 2021
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer COVID-19 Press Conference at Ford Field Transcript March 18
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s March 18, 2021 coronavirus press conference at the Ford Field mass vaccination clinic. Read the full transcript of her COVID-19 news briefing speech with updates on vaccine distribution here.
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Rod Wood: (01:17)
Good morning, and thank you for joining us today. We have very exciting news to share with you. I am Rod Wood, team president and CEO of the Detroit Lions. Ford Field is a great venue for sports and music and entertainment, having hosted many major events, including the Superbowl, Final Four, and others. Today, though, we are announcing maybe the most important event we’ve ever hosted. Over the next eight weeks, Ford Field will become not just the home of the Detroit Lions, not one of America’s great concert venues and entertainment venues, but will be transformed into Michigan’s largest onsite inoculation clinic.
Rod Wood: (02:02)
We are very proud that Ford Field has been selected as a site where we will build one of the nation’s first community vaccination sites to service the entire Southeast Michigan region. It’s hard to talk with a mask on. The vaccination clinic we are hosting is a great demonstration of partnership amongst federal, state, and local government. Equally important, this is a partnership with the private sector, with the involvement of our partners at Henry Ford Health Systems and Meyer. We are privileged to work alongside them and be part of this.
Rod Wood: (02:42)
Game day at Ford Field was not the same last season without our fans. We know the passion of the sports fans in Detroit and they are eager to be able to root for their teams in person and do so safely. We plan to be ready for football and fans in the fall, and we are committed to do whatever we can to support the vaccination efforts to make that possible. Thank you very much. Now, it is my honor to introduce the lieutenant governor of the great state of Michigan, Mr. Garlin Gilchrist II. Lieutenant Governor.
Garlin Gilchrist II: (03:30)
Thank you, Mr. President. It is an honor to be here today. It’s an exciting and important day for the state of Michigan. I want to thank our Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who I’ll be turning the podium over to after a few brief remarks. I also want to thank all of the partners who came together to make this day and to make this vaccination site possible. Partnership will pave our pathway through this pandemic. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Detroit was one of America’s epicenters for cases and deaths. As a Detroiter, I felt this personally, having said goodbye to 27 people due to this virus. The virus hit our city hard, but Michiganders are tough. We’re tough, and we can come together to combat COVID-19. We pushed down our curve and we stepped up to help one another. Today, right here at Ford Field, Southeast Michigan becomes a symbol of hope.
Garlin Gilchrist II: (04:43)
The mass vaccination center is a sizeable step forward towards Michiganders returning to some sense of normalcy while actively saving lives. This project that Ford Field will mark the largest on-site inoculation effort in the state of Michigan. That is something that Governor Whitmer and I are extremely proud of. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been honored to chair the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities. Here in the city of Detroit, the Racial Disparities Task Force was very focused on increasing mobile testing and access to masks. We wanted testing to be simple and an accessible process for anyone in need. Because of the task force’s work, 1,000 vaccine doses per day will be allocated from this site to mobile vaccine units that will literally take vaccines to people in communities throughout Southeast Michigan. Governor Whitmer and I are taking every step possible to ensure that everyone who wants a vaccine in Michigan will have access to a vaccine without any hoops to jump through.
Garlin Gilchrist II: (05:57)
The work that has been done through the task force, it helped lay the groundwork for this project that we’re announcing today. Ford Field was selected using the CDC’s priority tool, which ensures that our most vulnerable populations have close access to receiving a vaccine. By selecting this location, we are breaking down barriers to vaccines. Please, sign up for your vaccine appointment today by texting END COVID to 75049. Throughout this pandemic, we’ve seen everyone come together, from businesses to community members. This operation again is a great example of how when we work together, we can reach our highest heights. I especially want to thank the Detroit Lions, the Ford family, Meyer, the city of Detroit, Henry Ford Health System, Wayne County, and our federal partners at FEMA. Your bold partnership is allowing us to distribute these vaccines equitably and fairly in Southeast Michigan. All of this would not have been possible without the Biden-Harris administration. President Biden and Vice President Harris have been incredible partners and leaders, and Michiganders are in a much better position to get through this pandemic because of their leadership.
Garlin Gilchrist II: (07:23)
The Protect Michigan Commission, which I’m also humbled to co-chair, has been a critical part of this effort as well. The commission comprises of a diverse group of leaders from across the state of Michigan who are working hard to make sure that every Michigan resident has the most up-to-date information and resources about the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. The commission remains focused on protecting Michigan residents’ health and safety by educating communities about the effectiveness of all approved COVID-19 vaccines to eradicate the spread of this coronavirus. I continue to have conversations with family members, with friends, with neighbors, about the vaccine, about its safety and about its effectiveness. People have questions. It’s okay to have questions. We must also recognize that those questions have answers and we are doing everything we can to get people those answers from resources and from people who they trust. We have plans to invest in ensuring that we address and eliminate disparities in vaccine uptake, building upon the work of the Racial Disparities Task Force that we’ve been leading for the last 11 months.
Garlin Gilchrist II: (08:44)
To everyone watching at home, or here in person with us today, I want you to keep standing tall for your community and for the state of Michigan, because together, we will overcome COVID-19. Overcoming is what we do as Michiganders and as Detroiters.
Garlin Gilchrist II: (09:02)
… we do as Michiganders and as Detroiters. To my fellow Detroiters, to help us overcome, we need you to become a vaccine ambassador. You are the best messenger to the people in your life to get them to make the choice to get vaccinated. Because when we see obstacles, we overcome them. When we see challenges, we overcome them. We invent, we innovate, we partner, and we overcome. This vaccination program is a testament to how when we all come together for the common good and with a common purpose, we can make things happen in real time. Thank you so much for being here today, and I look forward to everyone being vaccinated here at this site. And it is now my honor to pass this podium to the governor of the state of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer
Gretchen Whitmer: (10:04)
All right. Well thank you, Lieutenant Governor Gillcrest. I am so pleased to be here. Good morning, everyone. This is a great day, and this is a fantastic announcement with our partners here at Ford Field, the city of Detroit, Wayne County, all of the counties surrounding the area. This is going to be a huge moment for us. So thank you for hosting us, and thank you for joining us in this important effort to the whole state of Michigan. As Lieutenant Governor said, this Ford Field site will administer 6,000 shots a day starting March 24th, and it’ll continue for eight weeks. That’s 6,000 extra shots a day, totaling over 335,000 additional doses over the next eight weeks. This site will build on the incredible progress that we are making statewide. To date, over three million doses have been administered, and that number is literally growing as we speak. Six in 10 Michiganders who are 65 and up have been inoculated. And one in four Michiganders over the age of 16 have received their first doses, including right here in metro Detroit. As I’ve said before, the vaccination process is like a locomotive, right? It is slow and cumbersome and frustrating at the beginning, but it is picking up speed and getting smoother. And we are rolling here in Michigan.
Gretchen Whitmer: (11:38)
The vaccine train has officially left the station and it’s moving toward our shared destination of vaccinating 70% of Michiganders, 16 and older. So our work continues, but we’re doing better every single day. And this announcement is going to be an important part of our mutual success. I’m really thrilled that Ford Field was selected to be one of the first federal community vaccination sites in the country. State government can’t tackle this pandemic and the vaccination drive alone, which is why we’re so grateful for partnerships that make this site possible.
Gretchen Whitmer: (12:17)
First let’s applaud the heroic effort of our frontline healthcare workers and volunteers here at Ford Field and statewide. We should applaud our Michigan National Guards women and men who also are helping statewide. We’re administering tens of thousands of vaccines every single day in Michigan. And I want to thank the Detroit Lions and their incredible leadership team. We are so grateful for your partnership as well. Now the Lieutenant Governor mentioned recognizing Meyer. Now we all know Meyer is a staple of daily life in Michigan for many of us. We appreciate their help on the vaccination drives here, and in their stores across the state. And when I was reviewing my remarks this morning, I went online and signed up my 17 year old, so that she’s officially in the queue, when she as an asthmatic, can get inoculated starting next week. And I encourage everyone else to do so, it’s incredibly easy.
Gretchen Whitmer: (13:26)
I have to express my gratitude to Henry Ford Health Systems as a critical partner in our efforts to date, and of course, with this announcement today. And this is complementing the efforts that are already being undertaken in Wayne County with the leadership of Warren Evans. In McComb with the leadership of Mark Hackel. And Oakland, with the leadership of Dave Culture. And obviously here in the city of Detroit with Mayor Duggan. But we know that we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have real partnership from the federal level as well. And that’s what we are so thrilled about, with President Biden’s leadership in the White House and the ambitious goal of 100 million shots in 100 days, already achieved well into this, the third month of his administration. So 100 million shots in arms and checks to over 100 million families is what the Biden administration has delivered on, and we are grateful.
Gretchen Whitmer: (14:22)
So we continue to ramp up vaccinations. And I know that the goal of being together for 4th of July, having a barbecue, celebrating the independence of our nation, is a realistic goal where we can get together. And that’s one I am certainly looking forward to. So the way to get there is to continue doing what we’re doing, ramping up vaccinations, being smart in the interim by wearing our masks, social distancing, washing our hands. We know that three safe, effective COVID vaccines, two of which have a presence already in Michigan in terms being developed here in Michigan, this is the key to our ultimate success. So if we want to get back to normal, which I know we’re unanimous on that front, we all need to get vaccinated and encourage our loved ones and friends and coworkers, neighbors to do so as well.
Gretchen Whitmer: (15:15)
So to use some sports analogies, I can’t help myself being in Ford Field. We are in the fourth quarter of this fight against the vaccine. It’s not over yet. It is no time to spike the football. It is time for us to grit our teeth and keep doing the work we need to do, until the last second of this event plays out. We have incredible partners, and we are going to be successful. So I am thrilled to thank FEMA for your incredible work here. The partnership that you see, Meyer and Henry Ford and Ford Field, we’re so grateful. We’ll continue to work together and we’re going to get this done. So with that, I would love to turn this over to our great federal partner from FEMA region five, acting regional administrator, Kevin Sly, Sr.
Kevin Sly Sr.: (16:11)
So good morning. Thank you for joining us as we update you on the opening of the Ford Field Vaccination Center, and provide some important information about the site’s operations starting next week. This site wouldn’t be possible without every level of government, along with key private sector partners, working together towards a common goal of increasing COVID-19 vaccine access to Michiganders who need it the most. I want to thank the Department of Defense and our federal inter-agency partners, such as HHS and the CDC, Governor Whitmer, Lieutenant Governor Gillcrest, as well as our partners at the Michigan State Police, most notably captain Kevin Sweeney, Wayne County, and the city of Detroit. And thank you to the Detroit Lions team President and CEO, Rod Wood, and the entire Lions organization. Meyer CEO Ricky Keys and his team, and CEO, [inaudible 00:17:17] Lasseter, and the Henry Ford Health System staff for their critical role in making this vaccination center a reality.
Kevin Sly Sr.: (17:25)
The opening of the center reflects a truly successful public/private partnership. The federal government is committed to the equitable distribution of vaccines. The decision where to locate this site and accompanying mobile units included local input and public health data, such as the CDC’s social vulnerability index. Other census data and localized considerations, such as the existing deployment of resources and feedback from the state’s public health experts. Ford Field not only provides the necessary…
Kevin Sly Sr.: (18:03)
… experts. Ford Field not only provides the necessary space and structure to administer up to 6,000 doses a day, but is also a prominent facility within the Detroit area, uniquely suited to support the disadvantaged and medically underserved populations here in the city, while accessible using numerous transportation options. To get the facility ready, the Lions organization has utilized the concourse areas, which will be set up with vaccination stations or pods, registration areas, and waiting areas. The setup will allow for an easy flow of individuals through the process, starting with check-in and ending in the observation stations.
Kevin Sly Sr.: (18:47)
FEMA will be coordinating federal personnel and providing financial assistance, equipment, and supplies for the site at 100% federal cost share. In addition to other medical and nonmedical staffing, a 222-person, type one team from the United States Air Force will provide vaccination support. These medical and support personnel will be a key part of this operation, and we’re grateful, totally grateful for their assistance. Vaccines for this center and mobile operations are also being provided to the state above and beyond the regular allocations, and will not affect the supply of ongoing vaccine distribution efforts in Michigan.
Kevin Sly Sr.: (19:36)
This past year has been devastating and difficult for our entire nation. The battle against this virus has made us all weary, but there is hope, hope that we can very soon put this pandemic behind us and move forward. The key to that brighter future is the vaccine.
Kevin Sly Sr.: (19:56)
Now, I’m going to deviate a little bit from my prepared remarks. I want to add a little bit of a personal note. As an African American here in the United States, my grandmother, my mother, my twin sister, my uncle, and several of my cousins over the past year have contracted COVID-19. It was a trying time for the family. We were lucky. Every last one of them made it through it, but it made me think, as an African American myself with three co-morbidities, to really think hard about getting a vaccine. Well, I chose to get the vaccine. I got the vaccine in January and February, back in Chicago, where we’re based out of. I chose to live when I made that decision. We all need to make the choice. We all need to get beyond the pandemic, and hopefully everyone will get the vaccine, especially our disadvantaged populations and our medically underserved communities.
Kevin Sly Sr.: (21:04)
I will now turn it over to Meijer President and CEO, Rick Keyes. Thank you.
Rick Keyes: (21:18)
Thank you, Kevin, and thank you for your support and your powerful message. On behalf of Meijer and our 75,000 team members, I’m very proud to be here for such an important announcement. In early January, we were honored to be named a Federal Retail Pharmacy Partner to the State of Michigan by Governor Whitmer. This action allowed us to quickly mobilize our teams and begin this immensely important mission. The state’s message was very clear to us: Move fast. Since then, our Meijer pharmacy and store teams have administered more than 225,000 COVID-19 vaccines to Michiganders, and a total of 350,000 vaccines to people in communities we serve throughout the Midwest.
Rick Keyes: (22:08)
We’ve been able to do that by leveraging an online registration system that to date has allowed us to register more than 1.8 million people for vaccines. We’re excited to bring that technology as well as our pharmacy and IT teams to support the State of Michigan and FEMA in this critical and ambitious effort here at Ford Field.
Rick Keyes: (22:32)
Our call to action is simple. Register. By simply texting “End COVID” to 75049, people can quickly register to attend a vaccine clinic right here at the home of the Detroit Lions. People can also register online by visiting clinic.meijer.com. Again, it is a very simple process, and I was happy to hear that that went well for you this morning as well. We look forward to vaccinating your daughter. In fact, we registered 40,000 people in the first 24 hours after opening the registration process earlier this week for these clinics. And as of this morning, that number has increased to 65,000 registrations. Those numbers are very encouraging.
Rick Keyes: (23:23)
Now, if someone has already registered to get a vaccine at a Meijer Supercenter, but they want to sign up for the Ford Field clinics, they will need to register a second time, because it’s a separate registration list. The good news is, they won’t be bumped out of the general Meijer registration bank, and they can choose the first appointment that becomes available.
Rick Keyes: (23:43)
As a Michigan-based company with stores throughout the Midwest, our goal is to utilize our stores, our teams, and our resources to enrich lives in the communities that we serve. Our teams have come together to lend a hand during this challenging time, but the work is not done yet. Through this continued partnership with the state and FEMA, we’ll be able to register, schedule, and process tens of thousands of Michiganders for vaccines in the coming weeks. We are very pleased to be able to be doing our part to finally put an end to this pandemic.
Rick Keyes: (24:17)
Thank you very much. We appreciate your trust and we look forward to serving our role in this clinic. Now let’s hear from our friend at Henry Ford Health System, President and CEO, Wright Lassiter.
Wright Lassiter: (24:32)
Thank you, Rick. Good morning, everyone. Henry Ford Health System is excited to serve as the health system partner for this mass vaccination clinic at Ford Field, and joining with our local, our state and federal partners to accelerate Michigan’s efforts in getting vaccinations in people’s arms, and moving closer to ending this pandemic. I certainly want to express our thanks to the Lions organization and to the Ford family, to Governor Whitmer, Lieutenant Governor, to our FEMA representative, and to our partner at Meijers for their efforts thus far.
Wright Lassiter: (25:21)
As the official Medical Director for the site and a trusted healthcare leader, we bring to this partnership highly skilled expertise in disease management, in infectious diseases, and in vaccine management. We were one of the early users of steroids to treat patients, and that treatment made a critical difference in patient outcomes for Michiganders. We’ve also documented proficiency and command for standing up mass vaccination sites of our own, and we’ve been operating multiple vaccination sites throughout the region for the past couple of months. Our sites are operating with seamless proficiency and have the combined capacity to vaccinate between 4,000 and 5,000 people each day, based on vaccine availability.
Wright Lassiter: (26:15)
We’re sharing our best practices here with our support partners to ensure that people who come to Ford Field have a safe and seamless vaccination experience. Henry Ford’s skill at mobilization, at operations and logistics, was also displayed in a similar leadership role with a TCF relief hospital between April and June of last year, making Henry Ford an ideal partner to meet the needs and demands of what will be required here at Ford Field.
Wright Lassiter: (26:48)
At this time, I’d like to acknowledge and thank members of our Henry Ford Health System team, who are serving in leadership roles for this vaccination site and this community outreach effort. I’d like to acknowledge Dr. Steven Rakoff, who was the-
Wright Lassiter: (27:03)
I’d like to acknowledge Dr. Steven Rokoff, who is the Service Chief of Emergency Medicine at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital. I’d like to acknowledge Valerie Gunn, Director of Regional Ambulatory Operations for Henry Ford Health System. I’d like to acknowledge Rox Gatia, Director of Pharmacy Services at Henry Ford Hospital. And last, but certainly not least, I’d like to recognize Dr. Usamah Mossallam. Dr. Mossallam is the Vice President and Medical Director for Henry Ford’s international initiatives. He also serves as the incident command leader for our vaccination incident command center. Dr. Mossallam and Rox have been instrumental in planning and executing our vaccination program at Henry Ford Health System. Join me in thanking them briefly.
Wright Lassiter: (27:51)
Thank you. With the capacity to administer 6,000 doses of vaccines per day, the Ford field site can make a significant difference in vaccinating our most vulnerable and underserved populations who were hardest hit by COVID-19. When the pandemic hit and there were no FDA approved treatments for COVID-19, Henry Ford made it our mission to use our experience and our expertise in research to identify the most effective care strategies. As such, we were especially proud to, excuse me, to work as a study site for testing the efficacy and the effectiveness of two of the three vaccines that were ultimately approved under emergency use authorization by the FDA, the Moderna vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. For each of those clinical trials, Henry Ford was successful in enrolling the largest number of people of color of any study site, and now those same vaccines are being administered here in the state of Michigan.
Wright Lassiter: (28:55)
Since the start of our vaccination program on December 17th, we’ve administered about 170,000 doses of vaccine, and more than 73,000 people have been fully vaccinated as a result of our team members efforts. We expect that number to increase exponentially as more vaccine supply becomes available to the state of Michigan in the coming weeks. As part of our robust vaccinate vaccination program, we’re administering vaccinations at multiple sites across southeast Michigan each week through partnerships with places of worship, community organizations and schools. Our mobile vaccination efforts are serving communities of color with vaccine hesitancy as well as essential workers and populations that may have technology barriers and other barriers to access and schedule appointments.
Wright Lassiter: (29:45)
In closing, as we see the light at the end of the tunnel in this dark pandemic period, we must remain vigilant with our safety measures for just a bit longer, as the governor said. When you become eligible, please register to get your vaccination and encourage your family members to do the same, and also please continue to adhere to our CDC guidelines regarding mask wearing social distancing and avoid large gatherings and frequent hand-washing. If you need a mask, I think the Detroit Lions organization has pretty cool masks available for you, and if you don’t have Lions mask, you can always defer to a Henry Ford Health System mask. Thank you very much.
Wright Lassiter: (30:29)
It’s now my pleasure to hand off the podium to Kerry Ebersole-Singh with the Project Michigan Commission. Kerry. Thank you very much.
Kerry Ebersole-Singh: (30:48)
Well, I have the great honor of wrapping us up today. But as you can see, today’s event is a symbol of the team that has to come together to defeat COVID. It’s tremendously exciting as we start to turn the bend on getting vaccines in arms across the state.
Kerry Ebersole-Singh: (31:06)
The Protect Michigan Commission was appointed by the governor. We have about 97 members, a ton of work groups, and we’re working across communities to raise awareness about the vaccine, dispel any myths, and help educate folks on where the access points are in their community to get vaccinated. I can say we are picking up steam every day and this Ford Field community clinic is going to be an important part of us continuing to do so. We have had actually 33 days of the last six weeks with over 50,000 shots in arms a day, which is our initial goal to hit that per day, so that’s tremendous. March 11th, we hit 90,000 shots in arms on a single day, which is amazing. And we’re just going to keep at this until we get all Michiganders 16 and above vaccinated. My last thing, positive news, Meyer, right at 11:00, is sending out the first appointments to be scheduled based on the registrations today at 11:00. Those invites are going out. I just want to remind folks, for viewers at home, answer your phone. Some of you selected that you want to schedule by phone. People will be calling you and it may be from an unidentified number, so pick up those calls, don’t screen. We are calling to get your vaccination appointments scheduled.
Kerry Ebersole-Singh: (32:33)
Again, I think this is an amazing opportunity and just so exciting for our state. I got to tell, the governor likes to tease me every now and then about some of the projects I get to be a part of, but I can definitely tell you, this is the most important work of my career. It’s an honor to be a part of it, and we got to build the team across the state to get this done together. Thank you all. For media, we will have several folks being able to handle questions on a one-and-one basis.
Kerry Ebersole-Singh: (33:02)
At this point, that concludes our program, so thank you.