As COVID-19 cases skyrocket across Michigan and the flu season promises to exacerbate the strain on local health systems, Detroit’s infection rate has remained lower, with 21 daily cases per 100,000 people as of Saturday, compared to 63 cases per 100,000 people statewide.
But cases and hospitalizations are still climbing, and the city can’t get comfortable, Mayor Mike Duggan said at a Monday press conference where he detailed how the city will carry out the latest epidemic order announced by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Sunday.
“I think we’re probably looking at a three-month fight here,” Duggan said. “People in the city of Detroit ought not to take comfort in this 6.8% rate [of positive cases]… Given the fact that African Americans die of COVID more often than Caucasians, the city of Detroit can’t just do what the rest of the state is doing. We’ve got to go farther.”
Hospitalizations in Detroit have been doubling every two to three weeks, with 146 people hospitalized on Sunday, Duggan said.
How Detroit is responding to the statewide epidemic order
Duggan defended Whitmer’s new set of restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19, codified in a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services epidemic order that goes into effect at midnight on Wednesday. Those new rules include ending indoor service at bars and restaurants, closing casinos, prohibiting in-person high school classes and limiting residential, indoor in-person gatherings to 10 people of no more than two households. The order expires on Dec. 8.
Duggan encouraged Detroiters to follow those rules. But the city’s response adds a few things, including proactive enforcement at local businesses with more surprise inspections from health department officers, ramping up free testing and encouraging residents to report businesses that aren’t following rules or where people aren’t wearing masks.
Duggan acknowledged frustrations coming from Detroit casinos and restaurants about the economic toll of closures and said that overwhelmingly, residents and business owners have been doing their part to keep people safe.
“Detroit businesses are being shut down now because of irresponsible behavior in surrounding communities,” he said, but if they remained open, “we would have been the magnet for all of the highly infected groups in the state to come here.”
COVID-19 testing is free for metro Detroit residents — so take advantage, officials advise
The city is offering free COVID-19 testing to all residents, whether or not they have a prescription or symptoms. Detroiters — as well as residents of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties — can get a next-day appointment at Joseph Walker Williams Community Center, open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and receive results within 48 hours. There will be drive-up cars for people with symptoms or mobility issues, and other people will be tested inside. Get more info here or schedule an appointment by calling 313-230-0505.
“In Detroit we’ve got that testing capacity,” Duggan said, encouraging people to get tested anytime they think they might have been exposed. “Please take advantage of it.”
Dr. Robert Dunne, COVID-19 chief medical consultant for the city, said people weren’t getting tested as often as they should be. He advised Detroiters to get tested immediately if they experience symptoms. If someone thinks they may have been exposed, they should stay home for 14 days and social distance from people in their households. If they never get symptoms, they should still get tested five to seven days after the potential exposure in case they are asymptomatic.
The city is currently working with hospitals to anticipate needs as flu season continues and to expand capacity (including staffing) on-site. Duggan said that he and local hospital leaders were in agreement that “figuring out how to add every possible bed to hospitals is the way to go” for now, rather than reopening a field hospital at TCF Center, a “last resort.”
He and Detroit Health Department Director Denise Fair echoed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s warning that the coronavirus is spreading in homes and indoor events, reminding people to wear masks even at small, private gatherings.
How Detroit is enforcing COVID-19 rules at businesses and schools
Health Department officials have been sworn in to write tickets, and the city will rely on surprise visits to compel enforcement at businesses and schools, where there are currently four outbreaks. School staff members could be given a $200 fine if they’re found not in compliance with masking and other restrictions. Business owners face potential $1,000 fines and being shut down if they aren’t following rules.
Fair encouraged residents to anonymously report businesses where people aren’t wearing masks, following social distancing guidelines or otherwise being unsafe. Reports can be made online or by calling 313-876-4000. Updated guidance for Detroit businesses is available here.
The Health Department is concentrating on nursing homes as a potential concern, working with Henry Ford Health System to test residents and staff at all nursing homes in the city in the next two weeks. They will also be conducting regular testing at homeless shelters.
Celebrating Thanksgiving safely
Both Fair and Duggan touched on Thanksgiving and urged Detroiters to make the tough choice to cancel or downsize holiday gatherings, which under the statewide order can only include people from two households, with a max of 10 total, if held indoors.
“This still brings risk and everyone should still remain cautious,” Fair said. “We cannot allow mental fatigue from this virus to set in or just get too comfortable.”