KALAMAZOO — Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech became the first pharmaceutical companies to apply for Emergency Use Authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday.

It marks a landmark step toward closure nearly nine months into a pandemic that’s claimed the lives of nearly 300,000 Americans and 1.3 million worldwide.

“Help is on the way,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert said on the eve of Pfizer’s announcement, adding that it’s too early to abandon masks and other protective measures. “We need to actually double down on the public health measures as we’re waiting for that help to come.”

Pfizer said in a press release it could begin distributing the vaccine to suppliers “within hours” if and when it were to be approved by the FDA. The Michigan-based manufacturer says that can be as early as next month.

Multiple health departments in the northern Michigan region have said they already have been planning to distribute the vaccine when its becomes available.

“We continue to actively engage in planning for receipts and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine,” Lisa Peacock, Health Officer for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan and Benzie Leelanau District Health Department said Thursday. “This is exciting news and we will be ready.”

Pfizer has said it intends to produce its vaccine for global distribution at its Kalamazoo plant, estimating 50 million doses to be made available worldwide by the end of 2020 and 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer applauded Pfizer’s role as a Michigan business in a recent state press conference.

“Michigan has always been on the forefront of innovation,” Whitmer said. “We are thrilled to see Pfizer, a Michigan business and one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world will manufacture that vaccine right here in our great state.”

Local health officials added 228 cases of COVID-19 to the the state’s Traverse City Economic Recovery Region Region, well past its seven-day average of 136 cases per day according to the MI Start Map.

The most cases were in Grand Traverse County with 59 new cases, all of which are residents according to the Grand Traverse County Health Department. The Health Department announced three locations of potential community exposure along with the new set of cases.

  • ACE Hardware, Front Street location, Sunday Nov. 15 10 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.
  • Traverse Area District Library, 610 Woodmere Ave. in Traverse City, Children’s Section, Thursday Nov. 12 from 4:15 to 4:45 p.m.
  • Bible Methodist Church, 7640 U.S. 31 in Grawn, Sunday Nov. 15 9:45 a.m. to noon and 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

“With the number of cases continuing to grow at an accelerated pace, community spread is very prevalent in our area,” the GTC Health Department said in a Facebook post. “Although these locations have been identified, It should be assumed that every venture out is a possible risk.”

All 17 counties in the region had multiple new cases on Friday. In addition to Grand Traverse, Roscommon and Charlevoix counties had more than 20 new cases. Residents of Emmet, Montmorency, Cheboygan, Otsego and Wexford counties died.

Positive reported cases at school districts in the five-county region are decreasing from the rate they were at a week ago, but they have not stopped.

Traverse City Area Public Schools reported three cases Thursday, one at each East Middle School, Traverse City High School and West Senior High School. TCAPS now has 33 cumulative cases since the beginning of the school year, and Superintendent John VanWagoner reported to board of education members Wednesday that nearly 290 students and staff were currently under quarantine orders.

Elk Rapids Public Schools continues to see a spike in cases. Superintendent Julie Brown announced Thursday and Friday that four people at Elk Rapids High School and one person at Cherryland Middle School tested positive for COVID-19. Elk Rapids has 15 cumulative cases, seven of which were found at the high school.

Leland Public Schools announced two new cases Friday, and both Frankfort-Elberta Area Schools and Suttons Bay Public Schools reported one positive case.

Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools did not announce any new cases, but updated numbers show 55 students — 13 middle school, 42 high school — currently in quarantine.

School districts across the state shut down high schools Wednesday through Dec. 8, per public health orders. Some districts have also moved teaching and learning remote for K-8 students, although not required to do so.

Record-Eagle reporter Brendan Quealy and The Associated Press contributed to this report

Follow Andrew Rosenthal on Twitter @ByAndrewR

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