Detroit to ramp up testing, enforcement to fight COVID-19

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan announced Monday the city will reinstitute testing sites, inspections and enforcement to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The Midwest is covered in COVID-19, Duggan said, and because officials can't place walls around the city, it's time to take action "because this is the reality we're dealing with."

The mayor's briefing comes amid a record-breaking surge in cases that prompted the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, at the behest of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, to order a temporary pause on in-person learning for high schools and colleges, the suspension of in-person dining at restaurants and bars, and the closure of bowling alleys, movie theaters and casinos.

The order, which goes into effect Wednesday, also limits indoor residential gatherings to two households at any one time. It runs through Dec. 8.

Duggan said he was unhappy with some of the reaction to Whitmer's announcement of the new restrictions, including a tweet from White House COVID-19 official Dr. Scott Atlas, who called for residents to "rise up" against the orders.

"She had absolutely no choice. It’s extremely disappointing to see the president’s medical adviser attack her for it," Duggan said.

On Oct. 21, the seven-day positive infection rate was low in Detroit at 2.5%, compared with Wayne County, 5.4%; Oakland County, 5.7%; and Macomb County at 8%.

Rates have more than doubled since: Detroit, 6.8%; Wayne County, 12.6%; Oakland County, 13.1%; and Macomb at 17%.

Duggan said the city is affected by the higher infection rates in surrounding communities, and thus by Whitmer's decision to tighten restrictions.

"She has to treat us as a region. City of Detroit businesses are being shut down because of irresponsible behaviors of surrounding communities with ridiculous infection rates," Duggan said. "If Detroit's open, we would be the magnet for all the highly infected groups to come here. While I know it doesn’t seem fair for the casino operators and restaurants who have done an outstanding job, there is not a wall around Detroit."

The mayor and Detroit's Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair have noted in recent weeks that the number of daily cases and hospitalizations in the city was on the rise.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan discusses the region's rising rate of COVID-19 infection at a news conference Monday, Nov. 16, 2020.

Detroit has logged 17,203 confirmed cases of the virus overall since spring and 1,563 deaths, according to the most recent Detroit Health Department data from Saturday. 

The city has 146 patients hospitalized with rates doubling every two to three weeks, which could lead to 600 hospitalizations by Christmas.

"We know that 1 out of 10 people who goes into the hospital on average dies," Duggan said. "And we know for African Americans, that fatality rate is higher than it is for caucasians. Odds are with 146 people in the hospital a day, 14 of our neighbors who are there are going to die. If this trend doesn’t change in another two weeks, we’re going to be at 302 a week and after that, we’re going to be at 600 (hospitalizations)."

The city is going to need more health care capacity and is looking into opening another field hospital or adding capacity to existing medical centers, Duggan said.

"Right now, the suburban hospitals are largely fallen; they're having to send some suburban patients down to Detroit, where we still have the capacity," he said. "Within a few weeks, it's very likely that there won't be capacity in southeastern Michigan."

The city is reinstituting testing for all Detroiters, regardless of insurance.

Call (313) 230-0505 for a next-day appointment at the Williams Recreation Center, 8431 Rosa Parks. The center will operate Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Results are returned in 24-48 hours.

The Detroit Health Department is partnering with Henry Ford Health System to begin rapid testing staff and residents at all Detroit nursing homes in the next two weeks, Fair said.

The department will also conduct frequent testing at all homeless shelters, warming centers and K-8 schools.

The K-8 schools will remain open for in-person learning if the school chooses. All schools are required to inform the health department within 24 hours if there is a positive case. The city has four outbreaks in Detroit schools with the majority of cases related to staff members, Fair said.

"When we're notified, the health department immediately sends out inspectors and they conduct a facility investigation," Fair said. "As a proactive measure beginning today, the health department inspectors will now conduct unannounced school visits; whether the school has a confirmed case or not, staff who are found to be non-compliant will have to pay a $200 fine."

The Health Department asks the public to report businesses that are not complying with new state-issued restrictions; fines up to $1,000 are possible.

Fair and city's medical adviser Dr. Robert Dunne urged families of more than two households not to gather for Thanksgiving. Dunne said anyone with symptoms should get tested immediately and even residents without symptoms should be tested five to seven days after exposure because they could be at risk for spreading the disease.

"Some people never have symptoms," Dunne said. "Often as many as 30% of people never get a symptom and are still contagious. If you got exposed yesterday, a test today isn't going to help you, because it takes at least three to five days before you're going to have enough virus inside of you that we can actually test for it."

Detroit was among the hardest-hit cities when the virus first swept across the state this spring. Overall, Detroit has faced $410 million in losses tied to COVID, sustaining major blows to its wagering and income tax collections. 

Whitmer, a Democrat, announced the state's newest order during a Sunday night press conference, just days after she told reporters she was exploring "next steps" to battle the virus.

Michigan shattered its weekly coronavirus case record last week with a total of 44,019 new cases reported, the fifth consecutive record week for confirmed infections.

About 3,220 adults were hospitalized statewide with COVID-19 on Friday, compared with 999 COVID inpatients a month earlier on Oct. 13, according to state data.