Detroit expands testing for senior facilities; city deaths near 950

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

After deadly outbreaks ravaged Detroit nursing homes, a $400,000 donation from a benefactor will be used to test residents and staff for COVID-19 at 130 long-term care facilities in Detroit, such as adult day cares and skilled nursing facilities, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Monday. 

"What we will be doing is testing basically 200 people a day in different senior settings and getting that back, so we don't have the same kind of high infection rate that we saw at the nursing homes," Duggan said. 

The donation from Dr. Raj Vattikuti, CEO of Altimetrik and the Vattikuti Foundation, will provide for 10,000 mobile tests administered by teams from Henry Ford Health System on site to high-density facilities housing Detroit seniors and other populations that are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. 

"We​​​​ need to be aggressive like we were with the nursing homes and get started, so we are now in the process of prioritizing based upon the number of cases," said Denise Fair, the city's chief public health officer. 

"Ultimately, if COVID-19 is not addressed in these entities, it could not only adversely impact our residents, but also our staff, the neighbors, our friends, our families, of course, and each other."

Quick-result testing of the city's 2,030 nursing home residents across 26 facilities has been completed, said city officials, who on Monday published the names of facilities with outbreaks, as well as the number of deaths and positive cases at each site. 

At least 187 nursing home residents have died, according to the new data.

"I ask every day, did I do enough early enough? This country has lost 56,000 of our citizens — more than twice as many as any other country, even though it started in Asia and Europe," Duggan said.

"The thing that will always affect me are the 200 deaths at the nursing homes." 

Detroit is also now requiring all nursing home staff to be tested by May 11, even if they had a previous negative test, Fair said. 

The city has confirmed more than 8,687 cases of coronavirus and 947 deaths as of Monday, city health department figures show.

That includes 30 new deaths reported Monday and 96 over the weekend, though some of the deaths occurred weeks ago, Duggan said. 

Ten days ago, coronavirus deaths in Detroit hit a plateau, he noted, and Detroit Health Department data show deaths are on a downward slope, in addition to fewer hospitalizations. 

Last week, the city lost 127 people to the virus — down from 246 two weeks ago.

"It is still far too high, but this is why Detroit is attracting national attention — the speed at which we leveled this off," Duggan said. 

He credited some of the reduction to controlling the spread of infections at nursing homes, but is now looking to improve social distancing and other protocols at grocery stores and testing grocery workers, he said. 

"I don't think we're going to need any order. We have to sit down cooperatively in the coming days and agree on a set of protocols, and we will evaluate the grocery stores from there," Duggan said.

"If there isn't cooperation, we will go to our enforcement level, but based on what I'm hearing, we have a lot of dedicated business owners who want to keep their employees and their customers safe."

Duggan also unveiled new workplace standards issued for when city employees return to work, including testing everyone coming back on the job, temperature checks and other health screening, workplace distancing, increased work site cleaning, as well as requiring masks to be worn. 

"We're going to start announcing tomorrow the different Detroit operations that are going to come back to work," Duggan said. 

"We're doing it in full consultation with the unions, making sure everybody feels good about this. I want to have a reputation that the city of Detroit has the strictest medical protocols and the country for bringing people back to work."

The mayor also announced an $8 million program launched Monday by the Wayne Metro Community Action Agency using federal stimulus funds to help low-income residents in the city with assistance with needs such as food, utility bills, rent and property tax payments. 

About $3 million will go toward a $250 Detroit water-service credit to cover $50 a month for five months of certain residents' bills to help them stay current on their payment plans. 

"We don't want to be in a situation when the pandemic is over that people weren't able to keep up on their plans, and now we have to start another round of water shutoffs," Duggan said.

About $1 million is set aside for rent and mortgage assistance, and the group can provide up to $1,500 toward funeral expenses, CEO Louis Piszker said. 

"It goes beyond food. It has diapers, wipes, formula, hygiene kits and anything else a family might need," Piszker said.

"We are using the existing food distribution network in the city. We have partnerships with 16 major nonprofits and we are also working with 30 neighborhood-based groups."

The agency aims to get the money out in the next 90 to 120 days, and its call center is at (313) 388-9799, he said. 

Duggan has urged more testing to get a better picture of the spread of the virus. He said he expects testing at the State Fairgrounds to potentially double from 1,000 to 2,000 people a day until ultimately everyone in Detroit is tested. 

The city last week became the first in Michigan to offer drive-up testing for city staff and workers of essential city businesses without COVID-19 symptoms or prescriptions for testing.