COVID-19 Detroit dispatch

March 21, 2020

Thursday March 19, 2020

Detroit–Most Detroiters are adjusting to new habits of sanitation and social distancing, but the response of city government has been mixed.

About a week ago the “Coronavirus Water Restart Program” was begun, to restore water to households where water service had been shut off and where shutoff is currently pending. This was purportedly 3,600 households; however, more than 5,000 people already have called to request restoration. Crews have been working from dawn to after dark, but can restore water to only 100 homes per day. There is a $25 monthly fee until the crisis is declared over, when all unpaid bills will come due.

“Households will be enrolled in either WRAP or the 10/30/50 Plan to help keep water service affordable.” Unless the city changes its system for water accountability and implements a water affordability program, these moves are only Band-Aids. WRAP and 10/30/50 began a couple of years ago but have not significantly reduced the number of shut-offs. The Water Department currently holds the property accountable, not its owner. Half of city residences are owned by landlords and corporations, too many of whom do no repairs and pay no taxes or water bills, creating precarious housing for their tenants. So far the city has refused to consider any water affordability proposals.


Wayne County has postponed deadlines for property tax foreclosure, but the County Treasurer cautioned, “Delinquent taxes still have to be paid and interest will continue to accrue on unpaid balances. Taxpayers have until May 13 to have all 2017 and prior year’s taxes paid in full or to be enrolled and compliant in a payment plan with the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office.”…”A new law (Public Act 33) …will allow low income [homeowners] the ability to remove interest, penalties and fees from their delinquent taxes and pay their balance over a three year period.”

City bus drivers walked out yesterday because they had no sanitizing supplies, protective equipment or practices. The next day they were back to work, with supplies, passengers riding free of charge entering and exiting through the back door to increase social distancing. A couple of residents commented, “They need these items all the time, and even a partition between themselves and passengers. Too many have been attacked by passengers. People are crazy out there.” They added that some of the drivers needed improved customer service training as well. Interestingly, the suburban bus system had instituted the safer practices last week.

An office worker had to reduce her hours, because the disinfectant used triggers her asthma until it dries. With spring allergies starting to increase, she will surely not be the only one affected by the widespread use of harsh chemicals. And no one is talking about the long-term effects of these products on people or the environment.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District has opened a number of buildings where families can pick up free lunches and breakfast, but can’t enter the buildings. Some schools have homework packets for pick-up as well. Wealthier suburban school districts are implementing excellent plans for distance learning, but in Detroit possibly 50% of schoolchildren do not have internet access. Reasons include financial barriers but also social dysfunction. The digital divide is sharply widening, revealed in differing educational opportunities during this crisis.

As in many places, neighbors are working together to help each other. Community associations have begun sending out reliable resource and health information to their members. Some are trying to identify people in the community who need extra help, for health and/or economic reasons. People are trying to prepare in case more stringent lockdowns are announced.

—Susan Van Gelder

One thought on “COVID-19 Detroit dispatch

  1. Since “DETROIT Dispatch “ 3 weeks ago, as everywhere, confirmed cases of “the Rona” have sharply risen as testing has become available. Deaths have also risen, and reality sinks in as more of us have suffered a loss or know someone who has. One of the city bus drivers, a young man who had reported that a passenger had sneezed on him, died this week. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has closed all K-12 schools in Michigan for the rest of the school year.

    People who go to work or shop for groceries report that social distancing is not universal. Throughout the metro area discarded gloves litter store parking lots.

    In Detroit parks city workers are removing basketball hoops to discourage pick-up games as nicer weather arrives. Chronic mistrust of government authority —for good reasons— and expectation that even laws like speed limits won’t be enforced within city limits are backfiring when public health instructions are ignored. But media attention to young Black men gathering outdoors falsely exacerbates the class and racial divides between the city and wealthier white suburbs. Everywhere, adults complain about younger folks resisting quarantine, like my friend in rural North Carolina whose great-niece keeps taking her eight-month-old baby to Walmart.

    Unemployment is hitting hard here—the state had to upgrade its website to accommodate the number of applicants. A worker at an auto glass factory wondered why his company hasn’t retooled to make face shields.

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