Coronavirus in Detroit: what you need to know

Coronavirus in Detroit: what you need to know

Updated Friday, March 13

It’s official: 
12 COVID-19 cases are now confirmed in 7 Michigan counties, as the coronavirus strain spreads around the U.S, reaching pandemic status and prompting President Donald Trump to enact a travel ban for non-citizens flying from European countries. 

The cases include:

  • An adult female from Ingham County with history of travel on a cruise.
  • Two adult females from Kent County and one adult male, all with history of international travel.
  • An adult female from Montcalm with history of international travel.
  • Two adult males from Oakland County; one with no travel history and one with domestic travel.
  • An adult male from St. Clair County with history of domestic travel.
  • One adult female and one adult male from Washtenaw County; one with history of domestic travel and one with history of international travel.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced late Thursday evening that all K-12 schools will be forced to close in Michigan through April 5. Earlier in the week, she also declared a state of emergency. 

Coronavirus has been affecting Detroiters indirectly for the past several weeks, as employers restrict travel and economic concerns bubble, particularly for the auto industry. But the threat of contracting the virus is now a more pressing concern, and we’re just starting to see how institutions respond, and how it will affect daily life. Here’s what we know so far.

The latest: 
As of Friday morning, 135people in Michigan had met the criteria for testing for coronavirus. Tests were negative for 120 people, and results were pending for 26 others. The U.S. Center for Disease Control awarded Michigan $14.5 million to respond to the outbreak. 

Want to get tested? Call your doctor before you go. But know there’s no guarantee at the moment that you’ll get tested, even if your doctor requests it. NPR reports there is still a big gap â€œbetween what the federal government is promising and what state and local labs can deliver.” 

How to protect yourself:
Don’t panic, but take precautions. Don’t get too close to people. Do wash your hands, thoroughly and often. Try your hardest not to touch your face. Some of it’s pretty straightforward, but we’re going to hand you off to the CDC for the latest about the virus, risk factorspreventative measuressymptoms and what to do if you think you might be sick

You can also keep an eye on local response at the state coronavirus site and the Detroit Health Department

City Hall:
The Health Department is in the midst of preparing for the outbreak. Mayor Mike Duggan said Wednesday that the city has partially opened an emergency operation center: while there are no COVID-19 cases in Detroit currently, Duggan said it was “likely a matter of days” before there are.

He added that while City Hall can’t shut down, HR will make exceptions for employees who are sick but don’t have leave time and allow them to stay home. They’re also setting up a medical response team within City Hall, run by the Health Department and staffed by EMTs.

Water access: 
When the top piece of advice is “wash your hands,” it seems pretty essential that people have access to running water. Combine that with thousands of homes that have had their water shut off, and you see the problem. 

A state-funded program to help low-income Detroiters get their water turned back on in light of the virus began Wednesday. For one month, households will pay nothing, and then their bills will be $25 a month until the outbreak is over. As of the first day, the water department is sending crews out to restore service to 139 homes, and another 261 customers who had received shutoff notices are now on payment plans.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

If you feel sick… stay home! That’s the message at some workplaces, and one Whitmer urged employers to take up. In-state and nationally, coronavirus has raised the issue of paid sick leave — without requiring employers to offer it, the workers at the restaurants you frequent often can’t afford to skip a shift, even when they’re sick

At Quicken companies, they’re working on their contingency plans, with several teams working from home this week “to test their connectivity and preparedness – ensuring there is no lapse in client service,” Rock Ventures spokesman Aaron Walker told Detour in a statement. 

General Motors banned company travel to certain countries and now requires visitors to fill out health screening questionnaires.  

Detroit coworking space TechTown (Detour is a member) is closing to visitors Friday through May 1, limiting hours for tenants and coworkers, suspending food vendors and switching to disposable flatware. 

(Meanwhile: furniture retailer Art Van, which just filed for bankruptcy, reportedly told employees to stop calling in sick as its stores hold liquidation sales.)

Wayne State has extended their spring break, canceling all classes until March 23. In the interim, they’re planning for a shift to online instruction to limit in-person contact. Student housing is open, but the university is encouraging students not to be on campus if they can avoid it. They’re also canceling any events with 100 or more people — details on commencement TBD — and discouraging smaller events as well.  

Oakland University, Michigan State, University of Michigan and other campuses are also canceling classes and switching to virtual instruction. 

Prisons: On Friday, the Michigan Department of Corrections announced that it was halting all prison visits across the state. Prison staff will be asked a series of screening questions and tested for fevers before being allowed inside to work.

“This was not a decision we arrived at lightly, as we understand and recognize the importance of family contact with the prison population,” said MDOC Director Heidi Washington. “Our primary concern has to be public safety and reducing the number of people who enter our facilities is a key factor in limiting the potential spread of this illness into our prisoner population.”

Whatever you were planning to attend in the next week or two, there’s a decent chance your plans have been canceled — or that you should go ahead and cancel them yourself. Whitmer advised Wednesday that all events with over 100 attendees be avoided.  As of Friday, most religious services are being cancelled.

That definitely applies to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which would have squeezed large crowds into Corktown streets this Sunday but is now canceled.

The NBA has suspended its season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus. Utah played in Detroit last Saturday. NCAA has banned fans, meaning empty stadiums for March Madness college basketball playoff games. Locally, the NCAA Frozen Four hockey tournament will be played at the LCA in April to an empty arena. Also on the ice, the NHL has officially suspended their season, one day following the decision of the NBA.

Large conferences with traveling guests have been among the first events to go nationally, so there may be more cancellations coming. Michigan Press Association cancelled their convention. The Detroit Food 2020 summit has been postponed until fall. A voting participation rally with Michelle Obama scheduled for March 27 has been cancelled, as well as a range of art openings, panels, fundraisers and more

Eastern Market — which brings thousands of shoppers shoulder-to-shoulder in the sheds — was planning to continue the Saturday market as of Wednesday morning. However, that was before Whitmer and Duggan both stressed the importance of avoiding large events. Market president Dan Carmody told Eater that they’re adding hand washing stations, signage and additional restroom cleanings. 

Beyond March, things get hazier. Event prep is well underway for top attractions like Movement (Memorial Day Weekend) and the auto show (June 7-20). For now, those events are moving forward, but even the suggestion of potential cancellations or limited attendance has sparked concerns from some businesses that rely on the brief but big burst of tourist dollars. 

The Wall Street Journal predicts the IRS will push back the April 15 deadline for the majority of Americans. Silver linings, people!

Health and fitness:
While many fitness studios and gyms are staying open, they are taking precautions to ensure health spaces are routinely disinfected and cancelling classes with large numbers of students. The Detroit Body Garage will provide online workouts if classes are cancelled, and says it will suspend memberships for quarantined customers. Citizen Yoga has cancelled free community classes and will only conduct yoga classes with 15 students or less.

What else:
We’ll be watching in particular to see how coronavirus affects people who are food insecure; workers in the service industry and gig economy; and seniors in nursing homes and care facilities.

Your turn:
Are you dealing with coronavirus in your home, social or work life? Have a question about how it affects life in Detroit? Email me–Kate Abbey-Lambertz

Ashley Woods Branch is the founder and CEO of Detour Media, a local journalism startup that builds community, spotlights neighborhood issues and curates Detroit news through an equitable perspective. Ashley leads Detour’s audience growth strategies, community partnerships, revenue operations and strategic planning. She’s also a sought-after consultant for digital newsrooms and has worked with more than 100 news outlets across America. Ashley previously led consumer experience and digital strategy at the Detroit Free Press and was the editor of HuffPost’s Detroit bureau, as well as a reporter and editor focused on Detroit culture and development for MLive, Real Detroit Weekly and Model D. She was a 2019 Marshall Memorial Fellow and a 2018 Visiting Nieman Journalism Fellow at Harvard University. Follow her on Twitter: @ash_detroit