Duggan: City will offer free regional COVID-19 testing as suburban case ratio exceeds Detroit's

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city is extending free COVID-19 testing to all residents of southeast Michigan as the ratio of positive cases among suburban residents surpasses those in Detroit.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced the testing expansion Wednesday for visitors of the drive-up site at the former Michigan State Fairgrounds, noting the prevalence of cases seen in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties in recent weeks has been higher than the city. 

"We are one region, and unless we beat COVID-19 as a region, we're not really going to wipe it out," said Duggan during a Wednesday news briefing at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters, stressing suburban residents must call (313) 230-0505 and schedule appointments. 

In early May, the rate of infection for Detroiters tested at the fairgrounds was about 12% and it was 8% for suburbanites.

Last week, about 4% of Detroiters — or 1 in 25 — were testing positive. In comparison, he said, the ratio for residents in the tri-county area is closer to 1 in 20 being positive.

Duggan reiterated Wednesday that the city's weekly death totals have steadily continued to decline. There were 255 deaths between April 13 and 19, and 21 from May 18 to 24, he said, citing city a database.

As of Wednesday, Detroit's Health Department logged 10,902 confirmed cases of the virus in the city and a total of 1,349 deaths.

The fairgrounds site has conducted about 40,000 tests to-date and last week began offering free testing to all residents of Detroit, broadening from a prior policy of those with symptoms, prescriptions and essential and city workers. 

The mayor, joined Wednesday by Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield, weighed in on the killings of two African American men making national headlines: Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.

Duggan also noted a "chilling" exchange between a white woman who had been walking her dog off a leash in a New York City park who was asked by a black man to restrain the dog, per park policy. She refused and then called 911 to allege the man, who recorded the interaction, was "threatening her life." 

"If these stories don’t break your heart, you’re not human," he said. "For anybody who thinks there is not a racial problem in this country, think about the way black men are being treated in these very different parts of the country."

Duggan used the cases as the backdrop in making an announcement that the department would be hiring 300 new police officers in the next year. The city, he said, is devoted to having "a department that continues to get built from this community."

Police Chief James Craig, he noted, believes "the more a police department is staffed by people who come from the community, who reflect the community, the fewer of these incidents we have."

Sheffield added: "We also want justice. It must end." 

Detroit's Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair, meanwhile, said the city has tested 2,300 seniors in 36 facilities. The infection rate is about 1%. Separately, a second round of testing for workers and staff at all 26 city nursing homes is wrapping up Thursday, she said. 

The city also provided a brief update Wednesday on efforts to reduce flooding in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood where record-level flooding hit last year.

In 2019, more than 400,000 sandbags were placed in the area to mitigate flooding. This year, the city began installing temporary dams near 350 residential properties along canals and the Detroit River in April. The $2 million installation is set to wrap up next week. 

Sheffield noted Wednesday that her team has provided thousands of masks, gloves and face shields for inmates and workers in Wayne County's three jails. On Wednesday, her office is launching a program that will deliver produce and frozen meals to 200 to 300 seniors at four to six complexes per week.

"It's important that we protect that population," she said. "They are the most vulnerable in our community. We plan to get to every single (senior) building throughout the city of Detroit."