Coronavirus spreading faster in Detroit than nearly anywhere in United States

Detroit has one of the highest rates of coronavirus infection in the nation. Experts attribute the prevalence to swift testing but also underlying health issues.

Update: As coronavirus bears down, Detroit enters a grim new phase

DETROIT — The coronavirus pandemic is ravaging the poorest big city in the nation, prompting concerns about whether a municipality still recovering from bankruptcy can provide services to its most vulnerable residents.

Michigan’s surging infection rates are propelled by a startling number of cases in Detroit, which has a per capita infection rate that is among the nation’s highest, exceeded only by New York and its surrounding counties and New Orleans.

Detroit’s challenges are particularly acute because 1 in 3 residents are impoverished and have high rates of diabetes and other ailments that increase the severity of the virus.

As of Wednesday, 12 of the state’s 43 deaths were Detroit residents, while the pandemic has quarantined nearly 300 city police officers and firefighters and led to a one-day stoppage of a public transit system.

The city is the “epicenter” of Michigan infection because of its vulnerable populations, and it’s “scary” how fast it is spreading, said Dr. Teena Chopra, an infectious disease expert at Detroit Medical Center. 

Nearly a third of Michigan’s cases, 705 of 2,295 as of Wednesday, are from Detroit, even though the city has less than 10 percent of the state’s population.


“It’s been real scary,” said Tammara Howard, a resident of the city’s east side who is CEO and founder of a nonprofit known as What About Us, Inc.

The group is a hub for neighborhood gatherings, and Howard said many still underestimate the seriousness of the virus, despite Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order that residents stay at home until at least April 13.

“They knock on the door, and you don't want to be rude, but the virus is out there,” said Howard, who has high blood pressure and diabetes. 

On Wednesday, Mayor Mike Duggan announced the city is ramping up testing and hopes to provide them to 400 people a day, six days a week for the next six weeks.

“We haven’t hit the peak,” said Duggan, who added that “four people connected to me have died in the past 48 hours.”


We haven’t hit the peak. Four people connected to me have died in the past 48 hours."

—Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan

“The idea that you would just go on with life and survival of the fittest, that is not what this country is about,” he said.

‘Rapid acceleration’

Detroit’s coronavirus rate, 83 cases per 100,000 residents as of earlier this week, is nearly five times the statewide rate and more than double the next highest rate, Oakland County. Nationwide, Wayne County, including Detroit, has the 13th highest per capita rate. Oakland County is 25th.

“We’re on the rapid acceleration of the growth curve,” Dr. Betty Chu, associate chief clinical officer at Henry Ford Health System, said on Wednesday. 

Dr. Marcus Zervos, a specialist in infectious diseases at Henry Ford, is working with Detroit health officials and said Michigan “has done a better job of testing than other states.”

“It’s good that we have higher numbers,” Zervos said. “It’s important. If we know who’s positive, we can implement control measures.”

Chopra, the Detroit Medical Center doctor, sad Detroiters are vulnerable because so many have underlying health conditions. Cases that in other areas are mild may instead hospitalize Detroiters or worse, she said.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, the city’s former health director, said city and state officials have “done their best given the circumstances.” 

The city is full of people who are poor and marginalized. It’s the densest part of Michigan, and Detroiters in general are less healthy.”

--Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, former city health director

“The city is full of people who are poor and marginalized. It’s the densest part of Michigan, and Detroiters in general are less healthy,” said El-Sayed, who ran against Whitmer for governor in 2018.

When Duggan appointed him to run the health department in 2015, it had five staffers. Today, there are 110, but about a third of them focus on animal control, according to the city’s budget.

Overall, Michigan ranks near the bottom of the nation, 43rd, on public health funding, according to America’s Health Rankings, an annual report by United Health Foundation, a Minnesota-based nonprofit.“This is what happens when you create a system built on austerity,” El-Sayed said. 

“Folks are working really hard now. But they’re working from their back foot. Catching up amid a pandemic is not how you want to do it.”

Help is ‘not enough’

Amid the crisis, Detroit is ramping up efforts to provide essentials. Three of Detroit’s 11 recreation centers, which are otherwise closed until at least April 13, are repurposed to provide breakfast and lunch for children on weekdays.

“That’s helping to alleviate some of the stress of being able to have the children inside your homes fed,” said Jeremy Thomas, communications and marketing manager for the city’s parks and recreation division.

Posted hours are 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., but Farwell Recreation Center on the east side usually runs out of its 1,200 meals by 11 a.m., said staffer Terence Mercer.

“It’s not enough,” said a staffer outside the Adams Butzel Recreation Center on the west side who wasn’t able to share his name. Food at Butzel was gone by noon on a Tuesday, but “people are still coming.”

In one case, a woman said she had a household with 20 children, which was “hard to believe,” Mercer said. But when staffers drove the food over to her place, the house indeed looked full of kids.

More recreation centers will be deployed for food assistance next week, the city said, picking up from the Detroit public school system as it pares down its food delivery system from 58 to 17 locations. 


Duggan said the initial model had provided 18,000 meals to children per week, and the new one will triple capacity. Two dozen charter schools are also providing 10,000 meals a week to children.

City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield said the city also may try to transform other recreation centers so homeless people can stay in them, relieving overcrowding at shelters during the stay-home order.

Detroit also is working to restore some 3,000 homes that have been without water for several months due to an aggressive collections campaign. 

The restoration effort began the same week as the first cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Michigan, and the importance of hand washing to slow the spread of the virus became paramount.

Within 12 days, 679 households had water turned back on, but city contractors are reaching out to another 5,000 homes that may be occupied and lack running water.

But the outbreak started weeks ago, said Elin Betanzo, an Oakland County drinking water expert who helped uncover the Flint water crisis.

“Today is the time to wash your hands, not two weeks from now. That’s not an appropriate level of urgency.”

‘We have to pay bills’

Detroit, which emerged from the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy in 2014, has spent $11 million in the past month on testing, sanitizer and cleaning equipment, said David Masseron, the city’s chief financial officer.

The city is also losing $600,000 a day in taxes from the closure of its three casinos during the outbreak, as well as income tax, Masseron said.

Nearly a quarter of residents work in the service industry, which has had a “nearly complete stoppage” because of orders from Whitmer shuttering restaurants and other businesses, Masseron said.

“I don’t think there’s any city in America … that has a model of economic shutdown,” said Masseron.

Sheffield said “our first priority is of course to make sure we get through the crisis and everybody’s safe.”

As with many other health crises, the coronavirus is hitting the poorest the hardest. Detroit’s unemployment rate in January was 8.8 percent, nearly double the state average, and those ranks are skyrocketing.

Curtrina Hatcher, 26, lost her job two weeks ago at an industrial metal business and is now trying to navigate a patchwork of emergency assistance that is becoming more strained every day.

“I don’t get sick pay because I’m not hired in,” she said. “You know, at a plant you have people who are hired, but I work for a staffing agency.” 

More than 108,000 people last week filed for unemployment in Michigan — up 2,000 percent from typical weeks — but Hatcher said the website crashed when she applied.

It's frustrating, she said. “We still have to pay bills.” 

Poverty in Detroit — with median income of $2 9,000 at nearly half that of the state — means that more people work in the “gig economy” and “put themselves at higher risk” of infection because they can’t afford to stop working, said Roshanak Mehdipanah, University of Michigan health professor whose research focuses on urban areas.

They’re folks like Joshua McCarthur, who owns a production company that makes commercials and whose business has dried up. Instead, he’s delivering groceries to make extra money during the crisis.

“I am alarmed [by the coronavirus] but I’m not out there playing games,” he said.


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Robert Thomas
Wed, 03/25/2020 - 8:26pm

And it's going to get worse because it's getting warmer and all the city parks are open for business. So the coronavirous is gonna spread like wild fire.. I just seen hundred of people at rouge park..

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 10:30pm

but the parks are closed

Tue, 03/31/2020 - 3:02am

You just ‘saw’ a hundred people at the park.... not ‘seen.’ Stay safe and well.

Wed, 03/25/2020 - 10:03pm

Smokers, tokers and vapers will be first to go. Lung damage to begin with. Good time to quit!

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 1:20am

Yet, you DEMONcRATS' girl, Ms Fix-the-Da_n-Roads-That-Still-Are-Not-Fixed Gretch STILL has not filed with FEMA to receive federal funding!!!!!!!

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 11:36am

The Army Corps of Engineers is in Michigan working on rapidly retrofitting buildings for hospital space; this mission is being conducted under FEMA.

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 12:31pm

Go away Trumper, before anymore of your meth infested teeth drop out...

Pastor Robinson
Thu, 03/26/2020 - 3:03am

This is why this is happening >>>I had to drive through Detroit today. Everything was business as usual. People grouped up in front of gas stations and liquor stores . Businesses still open that should be closed.

Leisa celestin
Thu, 03/26/2020 - 3:49am

Why are putting misinformation the poverty rate in Detroit is 33 percent and 67 percent are middle class working people stop trying make our city as if everyone here is broke destitute that’s not and FYI Detroit didn’t have to file bankruptcy that was a why to get out of paying the city retirees their pensions .

Jack Owens
Thu, 03/26/2020 - 8:55am

Your not good source of factual info. That misleading chart should of had cases per 100k next to cases and Deaths on far right. Very misleading and sensationalizing. You’re just more of fake media. Wouldn’t give you a dime; hope you fold soon.

Jack Owens
Thu, 03/26/2020 - 9:21am

Very misleading, especially the chart. Most likely deliberately so. The per 100,000 should be next to the no. of cases with deaths on far right. You're nothing but fake media trying to sensationalize story without stating you agenda. Wouldn't give you a dime you slime.

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 11:48am

Bridge MI is not considered fake news, but is considered a credible news agency. People always have the option of contacting an editor if they disagree with the facts that are presented, and ask the publication to consider another source for the information. I am sure you are also welcome to present another source here in the comments.

I have no affiliation with Bridge MI but take exception to seeing people who are working hard to gather the news, especially at this time, get beaten up for their efforts.

Scared Mom/Nana
Thu, 03/26/2020 - 9:24am

First a few notes:
*Detroit is the worst hit area in Michigan.
*I understand the need for essential workers. I have a niece that works in medical which is now home after being exposed at the Dr office she works. She's was already a nervous wreck because her son has asthma.

However, can someone help me understand how the hell delivering beer to party stores in Detroit is essentially necessary? My son, who has breathing issues and severe allergies, is required to go in and out of public locations to make beer deliveries all day in the worst infected area in Michigan? Then after risking exposure to his self all day, goes home to his two babies and wife. I could understand the risk if it were to deliver necessities but beer? He's concerned if he request not to deliver downtown then he'll lose out on his route/job. Therefore, he's risking his life and his family so he has a job once this is under control.
Thank you for you input, concern, opinions.
Stay Safe and Healthy!!

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 1:47pm

I agree 100%. My sister works for the cable company. They have her out doing new installs inside people’s homes. Again, how is this necessary?!?!

S Smith
Thu, 03/26/2020 - 9:44am

What is being done for Wayne County deputy’s in the jail! They are working with NO protection and are expected to continually be exposed to numerous people. These men and women have families that are terrified of getting the virus. I say put a lockdown in place at the jail. NO outside people allowed in; put ALL prisoners in lockdown; the hell with anyone’s rights at this time do something for the deputies!! Yes I have a family member working the jail that has 4 children and a wife(my child) who has a pre existing condition. WAYNE COUNTY WAKE UP

Follow Instructions
Thu, 03/26/2020 - 9:46am

All this means is that most Detroit residents can't be bothered to follow even the most basic of instructions. And the rest of the state is expected to bail them out. Again.

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 9:57am

There are several reasons for Detroit’s High infection rates.
Poverty’s disenfranchisement plays a part

an international airport in our backyard is key

our state advocating for testing kits ( although we still are lacking , at least there’s a recognition that we need more) which allows us to report more positive results

despite our poor density, we still behave as an urban epicenter which creates a Petrie dish for viral contagions

Covid 19 was traveling the world long before the media made it a news item and Chinese officials began to share.

This list is not comprehensive but only a few factors that represent Detroit’s Covid 19 experience. Please consider these and many other factors. It may lead to answers !

A. Watters
Thu, 03/26/2020 - 10:51am

Personally, I think the school meals are an absolute crock. Im sick of paying to house and cloth breeders too lazy to feed their own children. Food stamps, xtra baby food, cash, all a free ride to live off the taxpayer. And thats not enough? Two meals a day must be provided by schools? No. Time to cut the funding. Pull the plug. We are not goung to keep paying socialists to breed.

K. Smith
Thu, 03/26/2020 - 6:00pm

Shut up.

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 5:37am

You generalize too much. There are one working parent households that can't afford childcare that get that free food daily and need it. You're an ass.

Sat, 03/28/2020 - 3:31pm

Your selfishness, especially at a time like this, is truly disgusting. You appear to have lost, if you ever had it, your human decency.

Get help.

Sun, 03/29/2020 - 8:30am

And are you pro-choice? Or a hypocrite?

John Chastain
Thu, 03/26/2020 - 11:11am

Bridge needs to do a better job of monitoring comments. At least one here is outright trolling and another is racist nonsense. This isn't 4chan or some extremist Reddit board for white supreamists.

Kunta kinte
Thu, 03/26/2020 - 5:53pm

I hope we find a cure soon fo dis nasty ass shit knowwhatum sayin niggas?

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 6:49pm

Right! Lesia. That Mayor they had put them in bankruptcy..

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 6:56pm

I hope everyone knows how important it is to Vote. It doesn't matter who you vote for Please VOTE!

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 8:06pm

Now is the time for Governor Whitmer to follow President Trump's lead. She needs to charter a special response team to manage the Covid 19 response in Wayne Oakland and Macomb counties .
The team [can be much like FEMA] bring all of the federal money Michigan will be getting, it can marshal the experts from the hospitals, universities, private companies to help those in the front lines of this fight, it can provide the logistics for the counties, and can relay to the Governor the local problems and needs for the Governor and she can solve the problems and turn Michigan in to a modal for other states and local communities.

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 10:55pm

The diabetes-covid connection should be the most important thing the news is reporting now that could save people’s lives and their not.

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 1:43pm

I seen on the news that people were out “tailgating” in what was supposed to be opening day for the Tigers. They should be arrested. Those are the people that are the problem

Eric Stalin
Sun, 04/12/2020 - 2:12pm

Arlene is right- everyone who defies the government's orders should be shot in the streets. I mean, maybe not shot at firs- try to arrest them. But if there is a struggle because they start whining about rights and they get shot in the process, that's okay I guess. Others are the problem, and should be shot. I hope that when Biden wins he orders all the Republicans shot, starting with Trump.

Sun, 03/29/2020 - 9:54pm

Might want to start interviewing local unions and contractors in Detroit. A lot of workers became positive for the virus while working.

Typhoid Mabinty
Tue, 04/14/2020 - 10:53am

Yo nahh one iz going ta tell me what ta do. Its muh right ta eat Snap twinkies all day an' git fat brace yo'self foo'!

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 7:35am

I picture Covid-19 as the experimental vaccine against COVERT-$1, a chronic condition that has ravaged the most vulnerable segments of our body politic for years. Symptoms include the social effects of Covid-19: unemployment, fear, food insecurity, unresponsive government, inaccessible healthcare, and unnecessary deaths…as a lifestyle.

The test for COVERT-$1 is widely available, possibly in a mirror near you. (Some people will experience temporary pain.) Expect positive results if it came as a surprise that our most vulnerable people are obvious effects of the physical health pandemic.

Those with acute symptoms of COVERT-$1 will require a variety of health measures including a public awareness campaign alerting them to the contagious nature of the disease, how it is contracted and perpetuated through generations. All who are able should be encouraged and empowered to participate in proven treatment programs that are antithetical to the Tuskegee syphilis experiments and similar COVERT-$1 infested projects.

Asymptomatic carriers of COVERT-$1 can help turn this thing around. Unlike COVID-19, the cure for COVERT-$1 begins with social alliancing. Regular and close association among people of different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds is the base ingredient of a stimulant for the necessary new and improved normal.

As a ‘vaccine’, Covid-19 has dreadful side effects but, as we have seen these past few months, abominable viral afflictions require severe countermeasures. Hopefully this pandemic is the beginning of a new era of awakened, active and humanitarian citizenship. If it leads to a healthier nation, then those on the front lines and those who have succumbed to it have not suffered and died in vain.