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Detroit Is Mourning

DETROIT — Dwight Jones, my high school basketball coach, died on Monday from the coronavirus. He had devoted 50 years of his life to helping young men and women, using his quick wit to get his point across.

“Nick, you’re slower than Christmas,” he often told me during practice. He pushed me to be faster and stronger every day.

“The day I stop yelling at you is when you need to hang up your shoes. That means I don’t care anymore,” he told me.

A man who gave his life to others was left to die alone. There will be no large funeral to say goodbye, no farewell kiss from his daughter. We in Detroit are left, in quarantine, with just our memories. It is not fair.

My city is known for being tough and gritty. We’ve endured population losses, an auto bankruptcy, a foreclosure crisis and the ex-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s corruption. We don’t scare easily.

But the coronavirus has many of us on edge. As of Wednesday, there were 2,472 cases and 83 deaths. Most of us know of someone who has died — Marlowe Stoudamire, a 43-year-old community leader. Isaac Robinson, a 44-year-old state representative. Derrick Jefferson, a 52-year-old former professional boxer who fought for a heavyweight title, is clinging to life.

But it’s different people every day. More than 500 police officers, including the police chief, are in quarantine. The police chief in Highland Park has been in intensive care for over two weeks. It’s overwhelming and exhausting. No one is immune.

Mayor Mike Duggan downplayed residents’ fears during a news conference on Tuesday, saying for the most part “it has been calm.”

“People are coming together and it’s going to take a while,” the mayor said. “We’re going to have to fight this virus day after day for a period of several weeks. If Detroiters handle the next four to six weeks the way we have handled the last week, we’re going to come through this all right.”

But many are borrowing a line from the great Marvin Gaye: “Makes me wanna holler and throw up both my hands.”

Michigan now ranks fourth in the nation in deaths from the virus, behind New York, Washington and New Jersey. It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly is causing such a high rate of cases in Detroit. But in a city that’s nearly 80 percent black, Detroit’s high poverty rate and high numbers of people with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and asthma could leave more of its residents vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The city’s health care system is struggling to cope. Nearly every hospital in the city is already running low or out of supplies and hospitals in the region are converting emergency rooms into space for coronavirus patients. Detroit’s convention center will soon be turned into a field hospital with 900 beds.

The tragedy is that Detroit was just beginning to move past its grim days and emerge into a viable city. A once desolate downtown is now thriving with new restaurants and retail shopping. The city that in 2013 became the largest municipality in the country’s history to file for bankruptcy was well on its way to recovery.

Now Ford Motor and General Motors, who employ thousands of people in Detroit, have shut down production (they are planning to start producing ventilators, though it is not clear when this will happen, or to what extent the factories will re-open). The pandemic threatens every economic repair that Detroit has made since 2013. After Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s statewide quarantine order on March 23, our bustling downtown is empty. The restaurant and bar scene is desolate. The city’s three casinos, which contribute tax revenue to the city’s coffers, are shuttered.

The biggest blow is the cancellation of the North American International Auto Show, scheduled for June, which will take an estimated $400 million away from the city’s economy. And the pandemic has also slowed plans to demolish thousands of abandoned homes, one of the city’s most pressing issues.

“It seems like Detroit gets thrown one challenge after another,” the bankruptcy expert Doug Bernstein told me. “I’ve been reluctant to push the panic button, but there hasn’t been an industry that’s immune to this.” When the pandemic is over, Detroit will face a difficult path to financial recovery. “It’s not an immediate turn on the switch and the economy recovers,” Mr. Bernstein said.

On Tuesday, my niece turned 8 years old. We held her birthday party over Zoom, a gathering of 20 people. Earlier, for a neighbor’s birthday, a few revelers drove past our home, honking to acknowledge their special day.

This is our new reality.

Source: NY times

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