Whole Foods in Detroit.
Mayor Mike Duggan, estimating that a tenth of all metro Detroit residents have been infected with the coronavirus, is requiring every grocery store employee in the city to get tested.
With the second-highest COVID-19 death toll in the nation, Detroit isn't messing around.
“We are going to expect them to have their employees tested … or we’re going to take appropriate legal action to make sure the residents of the city of Detroit are safe,” Duggan said at a news conference Friday. “If you aren’t committed to the safety of your customers, I am going to make sure you are not able to continue operating in the city.”
The aggressive plan comes just after the city finished an ambitious, 10-day project
to test every nursing home resident and employee. Of the 1,920 people tested, 26% tested positive for COVID-19. About 150 of the residents and employees have died from the coronavirus.
“Our senior citizens at nursing homes are a lot safer today than they were two weeks ago,” Duggan said. “I’m not sure anybody in America has gone through nursing homes to ensure their safety like we have.”
Duggan said the city is now shifting its focus to grocery stores, where health experts believe many people are becoming infected. Every grocery store employee in the city is now required to get tested by May 11.
At the Michigan State Fairgrounds, the city began providing 500 free tests a day this week for essential employees who interact with the public, even if they aren’t symptomatic. About a quarter of COVID-19 patients show no symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s spreading from people who appear to be perfectly healthy,” Duggan said.
With an expanded testing criteria, the city has gotten a clearer picture of the scope of the outbreak. Based on the testing done so far, Duggan estimates that 10% of all metro Detroit residents have been infected with COVID-19 and 40% to 50% of people exhibiting symptoms are infected.
Detroit has been hit harder than most major cities, with nearly 8,500 positive cases and 816 deaths since the outbreak was first detected on March 10. Hospital admissions are starting to decline, and the number of new deaths is flattening.
To stem the spread, Duggan has overseen one of the most aggressive testing plans in the nation. He collaborated with government and business leaders to establish up to 1,000 free tests a day at the Michigan State Fairgrounds. The city set up a network of doctors to provide free medical care for patients without insurance, and residents without a car can pay $2 for a ride to the fairgrounds.
In early April, at the urging of the mayor, Abbott Laboratories delivered to Detroit about 8,500 tests that produce results in 15 minutes. Detroit was one of the first cities in the nation to receive the rapid tests, which the city has used for police officers, medics, bus drivers, health care workers, and nursing home residents.
Duggan said grocery stores are the next critical phase of the city's battle against the coronavirus.
“If your employees are not going in to get a free test, there is a real question about the way you are operating your business,” Duggan said.
Mike’s Fresh Market on the west side began sending employees for tests this week. But one grocery store “that has been in the news lately for allegations of price-gouging and spoiled foods” has not been as compliant, Duggan said.
“Our interaction with that grocery store indicates they really couldn’t care less about getting their employees tested,” Duggan said. “I’m not going to put up with it. We are now going to start cracking down on the grocery stores. I expect, by May 11, the grocery stores in this city to demonstrate that every single employee has a negative COVID-19 tests.”
So residents know which stores are safest, the city plans to publicize the compliance of each grocer.
“Detroit residents deserve the highest quality of safety in their food,” Duggan said.
Stay on top of Detroit news and views. Sign up for our weekly issue newsletter delivered each Wednesday.