COVID-19 and Detroit: How racial inequity turned deadly in a city amid a comeback

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As the coronavirus pandemic digs in, America's racial, social, economic and medical disparities are laid bare in Detroit.
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For Detroit, the past 40 days have been a cruel culmination of what has been simmering below the surface of the city for more than 40 years.

In a city used to hard knocks, COVID-19 is a beast.

"We've lost 500 people in five weeks. I've never experienced anything like this," said Mayor Mike Duggan who ran the Detroit Medical Center, southeastern Michigan's largest health care provider, before becoming mayor in 2014.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan gives a press conference in shed 5 at Eastern Market Tuesday, April 7, 2020 to update the citizens of Metro Detroit on the state of the impact of COVID-19. (Photo: Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press)

The virus has hit every socioeconomic stratum in Michigan's largest city, killing or sidelining high-ranking and rank-and-file police officers, politicians, community activists, entertainers, media personalities, bus drivers, health care staff, and churchgoers. Families have been devastated. Everyone, it seems, knows someone who has it — or has loved someone who has died from it.

"It's like a dagger in my heart," said state Rep. and Detroit Caucus Chair Sherry Gay-Dagnogo who in the last month has lost a political colleague, a deacon at her church, a friend and her older sister to the virus. Her sister died last Tuesday after two weeks on a respirator.

Coronavirus hit Detroit as the city was enjoying a long-overdue economic renaissance. It blew in and stopped the bustle of a revived downtown that buzzed with new businesses, entertainment venues and trendy restaurants, while at the same time violently assaulting the neighborhoods that the revival had not yet touched.

"Detroit was making strides and is making strides," said the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP. "Now through this pandemic, it's been put on pause."

Several members of Anthony's 2,500-member church, Fellowship Chapel, have COVID-19. And the pastor recently lost his great-uncle, his great-uncle's wife, his sister-in-law and…
Tammy Joyner
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