Watch live: Former Oxford school board leaders set to outline safety issues with district

Police Chief Craig recovers from COVID-19, urges Detroiters to 'fight to survive'

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Police Chief James Craig has a message for Detroiters who have fallen ill to COVID-19: "Fight to survive."

Craig returned to work Thursday following a weekslong battle with the respiratory illness and shared his recovery story. 

"I've heard countless stories of some of our residents who are home, bedridden. Get up, move around," said Craig, during a Thursday media briefing, noting he's always had an avid fitness regimen. "I knew in order to overcome this deadly virus, I needed to punch back."

"This unknown enemy that we fight is real," he said. "It wants to consume you."

Craig's return to duty comes as Mayor Mike Duggan announced two more city employees — a Department of Public Works staffer and water department field technician — died from the virus since Wednesday. 

Duggan, meanwhile, characterized the situation in the city's nursing homes as a "crisis," saying of 420 tests done, about 35% were positive for COVID-19. The city is testing one to two nursing homes daily and "finding deeper problems," including staff not having adequate protective equipment, he said. 

"Right now, our biggest concern on coronavirus in this city are our patients in the nursing homes," the mayor said Thursday. "We're going to do everything possible to protect them."

Duggan has called the state's reporting system for COVID-19 unreliable and reiterated that position on Thursday, noting the latest surge in recorded deaths is "disturbing" at first look. But 36 of the newest fatalities came from "an intense state review of old death certificates," he said. Some of them date back to March 25. 

As of Thursday, Detroit's Health Department reported 538 deaths in Detroit from COVID-19. There have been 7,387 confirmed cases in the city overall. The first positive case was reported in the city just over a month ago. 

The newest city statistics reflected 69 more deaths from the virus over the day prior.

In a similar scenario, the city logged 45 deaths on Wednesday, about a dozen of which were reflective of older cases that "we finally caught up on," the mayor said. 

Duggan noted Thursday that Michigan's Chief Medical Executive Joneigh Khaldun has been dealing with the data concerns and efforts to ensure backlogs are cleared.

"In this state, we have not had a process for the hospitals to be committed to timely report this information," he said. "Dr. Khaldun has been fighting this every step of the way."

Now that things are easing with area hospitals, he added, Khaldun has secured commitments that medical facilities will commit more staff to ensure timely updates.

"It's been a hard thing to get his cleaned up," he said. "But I think Dr. Khaldun has it largely solved and expect it to be significantly better going forward."

Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said in a Wednesday email to The Detroit News that the office has noted reported case counts might reflect a reduction in the amount of laboratory testing performed over the weekend. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, right, and Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair.

Although data to compare is limited, Sutfin wrote, previous testing reports have shown consistent Sunday decreases in tests. 

"As far as reliability, the data the state is able to output is dependent on accuracy and completeness of the data that is inputted" into a state surveillance system," she said. 

Duggan has maintained that Detroit is "bending the curve" in its battle against the virus. The rate of deaths had been doubling every three or four days. Now, they double every 10 to 12 days.

Detroit's Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair said people, like Craig, are recovering from the virus every day. 

"Many have mild symptoms and are able to recover right at home without a lot of medical care," she said. "Chief Craig is an example that COVID-19 can be beaten."

Duggan said the city will be organizing a memorial to celebrate the hundreds of lives lost to the virus since restrictions to stop the spread have prevented families from grieving in a traditional way.