Fears of a coronavirus outbreak have prompted the city of Detroit on Monday to begin restoring water to thousands of households and offer a moratorium on water shutoffs.
Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) made the announcement at noon Monday as the coronavirus rapidly spreads across the globe and U.S. As of Monday afternoon, there were no confirmed cases in Michigan, but health officials say it's only a matter of time.
More than 3,000 households were without water because of delinquent bills. It wasn't immediately clear how long it would take to resume service.
Health officials have emphasized that the most effective way to combat the virus is frequent handwashing.
“We know that washing hands is an important defense to this virus, so for the duration of the COVID-19 situation, DWSD is implementing this plan to help make sure every Detroiter has access to clean running water,” DWSD Director Gary Brown said in a news release.
The coronavirus began in China and has spread to 33 states and Washington, D.C., with about 550 confirmed cases and 22 deaths. Of Michigan’s 47 suspected cases, 36 came back negative, and 11 were pending, as of Monday morning. An additional 88 people who have not been tested are being monitored for the virus, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Activists, city council members, some lawmakers, and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders were calling on the city or Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to offer a moratorium.
“The notion that a City could shut off water on people in the midst of a potential infectious disease epidemic — really EVER — is unconscionable,” former Detroit Health Department Executive Director Abdul El-Sayed told Metro Times
in a written statement.
In a news release, Whitmer, who declined to impose a moratorium last month, said restoring water was "the right thing to do to keep families safe and protect public health.”
Under the plan, the state will cover the customers' costs to restore water service within the next 3o days. After that, Detroiters at risk of shutoffs may continue their service by paying $25.
Duggan applauded Whitmer's support.
"We deeply appreciate Gov. Whitmer's support and leadership on this issue," Duggan said in a news release. "As long as COVID-19 remains a health concern, no Detroit residents should have concerns about whether their water service will be interrupted."
As late as last week, city and state officials said they had no plans to restore water service or offer a moratorium. It's unclear what changed their minds since fears of a coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. are more than a month old.
“Shutting of water and telling people to wash their hands to stop #coronavirus at the same time is a special kind of oppression,” the Center for Popular Democracy Action, an influential network of progressive community organizations, tweeted
over the weekend.
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, whose district includes a large section of Detroit, has been one of the most vocal opponents of water shutoffs.
“No disrespect, but I am still waiting to hear the plan that includes getting people’s water back on as this disease spreads,” Tlaib tweeted
at the governor and lieutenant governor. “Please don’t forget poor families. They deserve protection and with no access to water we are putting them in jeopardy.”
Residents whose water has been shut off are asked to call 313-386-9727 to get service restored.
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