Bankole: Reopening Detroit for business? Not so fast, mayor

Bankole Thompson

Mayor Mike Duggan said last Monday that Detroit was ready to open for business  while many in the city have yet to be fully tested for the coronavirus. In the same week, the mayor announced that he was offering free COVID-19 testing to the entire city. That's welcome news, but long overdue — that measure should have been implemented from day one of the pandemic.

Instead, the mayor defended the prescription requirement for testing earlier on: "You get your prescription from your doctor. They aren’t that hard; we’ve got 4,000 appointments already. Somebody telling you it’s hard to get a prescription — it is not — but you do have to have symptoms,” Duggan said during one of his briefings at the onset of the crisis.

Duggan is privileged and has his own doctor. But that may not be true for many Detroiters who barely have health insurance.

It was unwarranted for the administration to require prescription before anyone could be tested at the State Fairgrounds testing site that was set up as a response to the virus. I recall several listeners called into my radio show complaining about the heavy-handed approach of the administration in their move to contain the spread of the virus.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan puts on his mask and leaves after a press conference on Detroiters and the coronavirus at Shed 5 in Eastern Market in Detroit, Michigan on April 17, 2020.

But news of free testing for Detroiters is only coming weeks after Detroit recorded 1,260 coronavirus deaths out of 10,368 confirmed cases. Because there are seemingly no new deaths or cases being reported right now, Duggan is saying the city is in stage four of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s state mandated reopening plan, which requires virus decline in cases and deaths.

But in his rush to reopen the city, Duggan sidesteps an important question: How many people are out there who have the virus but have not yet been tested? We won’t know the answer until the free testing goes into effect.  

Another issue Duggan must fully address is the Food and Drug Administration’s recent alert about the coronavirus testing made by Abbott Laboratories, which has been used to test 8,000 Detroiters. The reliability of its rapid testing came under serious questioning after it was revealed that the machine misses 48% of infections in certain instances.

In securing Abbott, the mayor said in the Washington Post that he woke up Miles White, the outgoing CEO of Abbott Laboratories on a Sunday morning and begged for a test for Detroiters because, according to Duggan, the entire country would soon be calling White’s company.

After news of Abbot’s partially faulty COVID-19 test became public, Duggan defended the use of the test, a disturbing pattern by a mayor who doesn’t like to admit mistakes.

Reopening the city’s economy should not be guided by a business imperative, but rather by sound public health judgement.

“There’s no doubt we are in Phase 4 as it’s been defined,” Duggan said happily last week. The administration has even released an online booklet it said was approved by its chief medical consultant, Dr. Robert Dunne, for small businesses on how to reopen including testing of each employee.

If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s not to put our faith in politicians.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which broadcasts at 11 a.m. weekdays on 910AM.