Duggan: Detroit residents age 60+ can get free COVID-19 tests

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Detroit is expanding free COVID-19 testing to seniors age 60 and up who are city residents — with no prescription required — at the former state fairgrounds, Mayor Mike Duggan said Wednesday. 

The testing expansion starts Thursday, and proof of residency will be required, such as a driver's license, state or city identification or a document showing your city address such as a utility bill, pay stub, lease agreement or credit card statement, Duggan said. 

"We are the first place in the state of Michigan who on a large-scale basis just says, 'Come on in,'" Duggan said, noting the fairgrounds site will be testing 2,000 people a day by next week. 

The expansion in testing is targeted at seniors because they are at the highest risk for complications and death from COVID-19, the mayor said.

About 84% of the city's 78 deaths since May 1 have been people age 60 and older, Duggan said. After getting through this high-risk group of seniors, Duggan said the site will lower the age limit for the expanded testing to 50 and so on, he said. 

Residents seeking to be tested at the drive-thru site should call (313) 230-0505 for an appointment, including those without a car who need a ride, Duggan said.

After testing nursing homes and long-term care facilities, the Detroit Health Department and partners will be testing 75 of the city's 100 senior apartment buildings over five weeks, targeting 75 buildings with known COVID cases.

So far, 700 residents in a dozen buildings have been tested with an infection rate of 2%, Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair said. 

"This is really encouraging," Fair said, noting the infection rate is a lot lower that what health officials found in other seniors living in congregate settings, probably because so many seniors are living in apartments alone. 

The city on Wednesday reported over 10,001 known cases of COVID-19 and at least 1,220 deaths, which is five deaths more than Tuesday's total.

Duggan noted how much the weekly death rate has fallen — from 285 the first week in April to 44 deaths last week. Testing at the fairgrounds is showing about 1 in 12 city residents to be infectious, though some aren't exhibiting symptoms, he said.

"As we look at the progress we're making, Detroit is dropping faster than anybody in the country and it’s because our residents are wearing masks and social distancing," Duggan said. 

"You drive around the region, and there is no city that's committed to masks and social distancing like Detroit is, and the numbers continue to show it." 

Duggan stressed that "everybody" should be wearing masks outside of the house, likely through the end of the year.

"When I see someone without a mask, it's not just rude. it's completely disregarding the health of your neighbors. Most people who have COVID-19 in Detroit right now don't know it," he said. 

"If you are interacting with other people and not wearing a mask, you are potentially spreading a life-threatening disease." 

Asked about Michigan protesters opposing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-home restrictions, Duggan said he doesn't "get it." He said he understands that in Clare, Michigan, where there's not much COVID-19, businesses might wonder why they're shut down. 

"But if the governor tomorrow said Clare is now open for business, people in southeast Michigan would empty out and head up there. And now you'd have these areas of the state widely infected," Duggan said. 

"What the governor is doing is so obviously right and protecting the areas that aren't infected. I really don't get it," he added.

"But down here, I'm lucky to be the mayor of Detroit. This city has been united from Day 1 in fighting this virus, so I haven't had to deal with the kind of nonsense the governor has."

The mayor said hazard pay will continue for city employees through phase three of Whitmer's reopening plan, noting only 1.2% of employees are testing positive for COVID-19. 

"We'll probably continue it two to three weeks longer than there's really a hazard but we started it later than we should have," Duggan said, adding that employees will get a lump sum check some time in early summer. 

Duggan said two-thirds of the city's workforce is back on the job, with Detroit bringing back 150 to 200 workers over the next week as the state continues to lift some stay-home restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus. 

He said city employees who test positive will have the option of bringing in members of their household to be promptly tested on the quick-result Abbott machines. 

The fourth phase of reopening the state will include many retail businesses, though it's unclear if that will include dentist offices, barber shops and salons, Duggan said. 

When those businesses do reopen, the city will make available its quick-result Abbot machines on Sunday and Monday for staff for free COVID testing to reassure themselves and customers that they have been recently tested, he said. 

"One stylist could potentially spread this disease to lot of different in the course of a week. It's a high-risk business. You are also being exposed to a lot of different people," Duggan said.  

Less than half or 755 of the 1,700 small businesses in the city who applied for grants through the city's COVID relief program received money to help stabilize them until customers can return, said Kevin Johnson, president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. 

Criteria for program eligibility included that the business be based in Detroit, having been in business for at least a year with at least two employees. They also had to show a profit loss due to the pandemic, Johnson said. 

Officials said 81% of the small businesses who received the grants were entrepreneurs of color; 59% were women-owned; and 47% were owned by city residents.