Duggan calls for 'more tools' to combat coronavirus: 'It is not getting solved'

By Christine Ferretti and Mark Hicks

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan on Monday said the state “should have a lot more tools” to fight the coronavirus.

Michigan is weeks away from the level of testing it needs to bring the pandemic under control, the mayor said.

“We’re largely flying blind because we don’t know which of our citizens have the disease,” he said during an afternoon news conference at City Hall downtown. “The country was not prepared. There’s no doubt about it at all. I’m not sure the federal health officials would dispute that. Right now, we’ve got to get it fixed.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan

The mayor also announced that the city’s most vulnerable residents, its homeless population, will be the focus of a series of medical screenings for potential symptoms of the coronavirus.

Duggan told reporters that five out of six tests are negative, but the state has the capacity to test only about 120 people a day. Duggan said 20 tests a day are positive statewide, “so we are taking every precaution because the coronavirus is far more prevalent than those numbers would indicate.”

“If this were being done properly, we’d be testing 2,000 or 3,000 people a day, we would know who the COVID-19 patients were and separate them quickly,” Duggan said.

The lack of testing equipment and supplies is making the results of testing numbers “not mean very much,” he said.

“You see there’s 53 people testing positive in Michigan,” Duggan said before another case was announced Monday. “The number is dramatically higher than that.”

South Korea tested 12,000 people a day and knocked the pandemic down quickly, the mayor said. Duggan said he and colleagues in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties need large scale testing sites, for example, at the former state fairgrounds and other locations.

But there’s no point, he said, “if nobody can process the test.”

The state is probably two or three weeks away from having enough testing capacity to justify setting up the regional testing sites, Duggan said.

“There’s no doubt that this is a problem and it is not getting solved,” he said. “I know the governor is all over getting the testing resources.”

Hospital systems, he said, need to get their own labs. “If we could be doing 2,000 or 3,000 tests a day right now, we could knock this pandemic down,” Duggan said. "And we need to get to that point."

The mayor said he was not aware of any city workers testing positive for the virus and acknowledged "we’ve got five or six people in the city between a couple different departments who are in the short term quarantine," awaiting results.

Duggan said more attention was being directed at the city’s estimated 2,200 homeless population, about half of which are in shelters.

The city’s effort will direct nurses to screen the individuals at about 31 shelters and warming centers and separate them into other facilities, if needed, for proper treatment.

The mayor added that there is a shelter bed for all who need one. “There is a bed open tonight for everybody,” he said.

Arthur Jemison, group executive for Housing, Planning and Development, said the city has worked over the last three to four days to identify more shelter capacity that would allow for those experiencing symptoms, such as fever, to be separated.

“If anyone is showing symptoms, they will be transported immediately to a separate location for treatment,” the mayor said during an evening news conference. “All of our homeless should be seeing our medical staff tonight and tomorrow.”

Jemison said how the city approaches further efforts would depend on the conditions staffers find in their evaluation. "I think we’ve got to go on the basis of evidence we get. Right now we’re in the evidence gathering process."

Meanwhile, Duggan also addressed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signing a wide-ranging executive order to stem the spread of COVID-19, closing places where people gather, including restaurants, bars, cafes, movie theaters, exercise facilities and casinos by 3 p.m. Monday.

The closures are planned through March 30, according to Whitmer's order.

But the order specifically says restaurants can provide delivery and takeout options for customers. Restaurants may allow five people inside at a time to pick up orders, so long as they stay six feet apart from each other, according to a press release.

Duggan said Monday “we want to support our business owners in the city as best as we can.” He urged people to get carry-out food orders, “even if you can’t sit down inside.”

On Tuesday, there will be a link on the city’s webpage allowing businesses to petition for curb-side pickup zones, so customers won’t be ticketed, Duggan said.

He also called congregation at local bars over the weekend ahead of Monday’s shutdown announcement by Whitmer “unfortunate” but not the fault of businesses or their employees.

Duggan praised Wayne County County Treasurer Eric Sabree, saying his office won't foreclose on any properties this year because of the coronavirus outbreak and 36th District Court announcing an immediate moratorium on evictions.

"We don’t need people being put out in the middle of this," he said.

Denise Fair, chief public health officer at the Detroit Health Department, called on residents to remember officials' recommendations such as frequent hand-washing, covering coughs and staying home when sick.

"This advice may sound redundant, but it’s the best defense that we have now," she said. 

Amid the pandemic, the mayor also noted the need for residents to fill out the 2020 Census. Invitations to complete the form started arriving last week, coinciding with its availability online. The city has postponed door-knocking and more than 100 outreach events planned to promote the 2020 Census.

Duggan stressed the importance of boosting participating to secure federal funding for everything from school lunches to health care.

"in 2010, Detroit had the lowest return rate in America. And we lost probably $300 million in the last decade," he said. "How much would have that meant to us? We can't afford for our children and our most vulnerable to lose that in this decade."