Dean's Update

February 12, 2021 - Aron Sousa, MD


I have to admit to growing optimism about our overall progress in confronting the pandemic.

The vaccines have been very safe and many of them are remarkably effective. The more people we can vaccinate quickly, the better our chances of really pushing down the pandemic. I have to temper my optimism, however, because it looks like the B.1.351 variant (swept South Africa) limits the effectiveness of some vaccines. In fact, there has been a delay in implementation of the AstraZeneca vaccine program in South Africa because of concerns about its effectiveness against the B.1.351 variant.

There are still some holes in the data, but it appears that even though a few vaccinated people get COVID-19, on the whole, vaccinated people do not get hospitalized or die of the disease. The variants may be a problem because some mutations, like those in B.1.351, appear to allow mild to moderate illness in people who have been vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine and those who have been sick with the standard variant strains. We do not know about the ability of the vaccine to prevent serious disease because there was not enough serious disease in the placebo portion of the trial to compare to the vaccinated people. (The trial was dominated by young people whose rate of serious disease was pretty low.) New versions of the vaccines will help, and based on lab evaluations, it could be that other vaccines will be more effective against these mutations. 

In other news this week:

  • The Department of Family Medicine sent me names for the chair search committee, and I hope to get the committee set next week.
  • Check out Black Men in White Coats including the group’s founder, Dr. Dale Okorodudu, and CHM’s own MS2, Trey Williams, in an event sponsored by Spectrum Health and CHM on February 17.
  • We continue implementation meetings with Henry Ford Health System with progress on the creation of research work groups including more than 50 faculty. The governance committees are nearly formed, and meetings will soon be scheduled. You can check out a summary of the agreement and structures from a recent Town Hall. You can read the agreement and find out about the partnership here.

This is Black History Month, and last week I wrote about Madam C.J. Walker and a bit about Indianapolis and its thriving Black neighborhoods in the 1920s. It turns out that Madame Walker owned property in Idlewild, Michigan, which was one of the few resort areas that allowed African Americans to own property until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Daniel Hale Williams, the first surgeon to successfully do open heart surgery and the inspiration of our own Williams Learning Society, also owned property in Idlewild.

In 1912, Idlewild was started when a group of white developers saw a market selling real estate to a growing number of Midwestern African Americans of means. As the land was sold, more and more Black owned businesses started in the region, train companies ran special runs to bring people from midwestern cites to the nearby town of Baldwin, and people came to enjoy the Northwestern Lower Peninsula every summer by the thousands. From the founding through the 1960s and 1970s when the resort area pretty well shut down, Idlewild was one of a few resort areas where Black families could gather in the summer safely and could own vacation property and businesses.

The sleeper trains and directed runs to the region were important, because many cities between Chicago or Detroit were “sundown towns,” where it was difficult for African Americans to find safe food and lodging. In addition to trains, Blacks used “The Green Book” to find Black-owned and otherwise safe places to eat and stay especially in the north. As an example, if you look at the Michigan section (pages 17 and 18) of the 1940 “The Negro Motorist Green Book," you will find about a dozen entries for Idlewild, only four houses and no hotels in Lansing, and no entries for Grand Rapids. Of course, sundown towns or places like them still exist right under our feet. (Disclaimer, I am married to Alice Dreger, who is on the byline of those last two pieces.)

And, remember to wear your mask, spatially distance, do not go to work if you are sick, and get vaccinated when you get the chance.

Serving the people with you,


Aron Sousa, MD
Interim Dean

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