Detroit Is at Its Breaking Point

The city is a virus hotspot, with the Black community at its center

Andrea King Collier
Published in
5 min readApr 23, 2020


Two Henry Ford health care workers wait outside temporary tents outside of Henry Ford Hospital on April 8, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. There are reportedly more than 700 Henry Ford Health System workers who have tested positive for COVID-19. Over 20,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the state. Photo: Elaine Cromie/Getty Images

While Anna Lawson, 30, is not on the front line of crucial medical care in Detroit, she is one of the workers who was assigned to call hospital staff to give them their test results, back when testing was harder to come by. “Even if they tested negative on the day that I called, it didn’t really mean that they were going to stay negative. They knew it, and I knew it,” Lawson says.

She was right: Many doctors, nurses, and other essential hospital workers have tested positive after testing negative, putting their families and patients at risk. This pandemic has hit America hard and turned Detroit into a hot spot for Covid-19. In one Detroit hospital alone, according to Modern Healthcare, 700 staffers have tested positive for Covid-19 as of April 6, and that number continues to grow.

When reports were first coming in that a pandemic was spreading across the country, Detroit still hadn’t seen a case. Now the city, which is nearly 80% Black, has the third-highest rate of diagnosed cases and deaths, only behind New York and Chicago. Over 75% of deaths due to Covid-19 in the city are Black. “In the past month, I have lost my sister and my mother, who both died alone in the same hospital,” says Dana Washington, 52, who works in a local grocery. “I think I had it too but because I had mild symptoms, I couldn’t get tested.” When the pandemic passes, she says, “My life and my family’s lives’ will never be the same.”

Covid-19 has pulled back the curtain on something that health experts and advocates have been shouting from the rooftops for decades: The tragic health disparities and social determinants of health are real, and they didn’t start with this virus. Doctors and researchers now know that having pre-existing conditions and chronic illnesses, such as high rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, and obesity, among other conditions, could put people at a higher risk for contracting the virus and dying from it. Compromised immune systems from diseases such as lupus and HIV/AIDS — Detroit’s Black community has the highest rate of HIV infection in Michigan and one of the highest HIV rates in the country — also put a person at higher risk.