Howes: Duggan leads in COVID-19 crisis with purpose, medical savvy, business chops

In the blur of regular COVID-19 briefings from the White House to Detroit’s Eastern Market, Mayor Mike Duggan’s daily take is becoming agrim must-see TV that is encouraging all at the same time.

With a measured, somber tone befitting the gravity of the scourge sweeping his city, the mayor recites the rising, always rising, count of infections and fatalities walloping a great American city that finally appeared to be getting off its collective knees. Until, that is, this virus born in China threatened to stall the momentum.

And yet, the mayor is displaying a remarkable command of the pandemic’s arc and medical priorities impossible to ignore. That’s just what you’d expect from a one-time CEO of Detroit Medical Center, combining that experience with an entrepreneurial bent and business awareness that is the right medicine in such unprecedented times.

Desperate to up the rate of testing for the coronavirus, the mayor and his team ensured that Detroit became what he called the first American city to ink a contract with Abbott Laboratories to deploy its 15-minute test. Last week, he announced that the Food and Drug Administration fast-tracked approval for Henry Ford Health System to conduct an eight-week clinical trial of hydroxychloroquine to determine whether the medicine used to treat malaria and lupus could blunt the symptoms of COVID-19 — or prevent it altogether.

He bolstered a medical program to monitor the health of the city’s police and fire departments; avoided counterproductive political spats because they do nothing to benefit public health, build confidence or buttress the battle against the virus; showed the willingness to up pressure on residents still unwilling (judging by their actions) to abide by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order.

“In Detroit we don’t usually take things lying down,” Duggan said in his daily presser last Thursday announcing the hydroxychloroquine trial. “We fight back. We’re gonna fight coronavirus for at least months. We need a way to fight back.”

Exactly right. Fighting back can engender hope, steel resolve, signal to residents and first-responders, business leaders and investors, that the city so much of America long ago gave up for dead refuses to give up on itself.  

One of the emerging story lines of the continuing pandemic, as Duggan clearly understands, is the readiness of American business to innovate, to adapt, to help anyway it can. President Donald Trump said 3M Co., after tense exchanges last week, agreed to provide 166.5 million medical-grade masks over the next three months. Apple Inc. will produce one million face shields per week. 

In Michigan, the nation’s mortgage giant, Quicken Loans Inc., is going into the mask business. Two of Detroit’s three automakers — General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. — will build ventilators needed to care for seriously ill patients battling COVID-19. Lear Corp. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV are manufacturing masks

Michigan’s top business leaders are sharing intelligence on how to manage the stresses of the economic shutdown, the financial implications and the challenges of a restart — when it arrives. The effort is non-partisan, cooperative and focused on solutions, driven by the reality that we really are all in this together. 

And Monday, the mayor announced a new program — — that would deliver as much as 10,000 meals over the next three weeks to Detroit hospitals, police precincts, firehouses and the city’s Department of Transportation terminals. The effort is backed by corporate and non-profit support that is expected, the mayor said, to last just three weeks without further donations.

The stakes in the fight against COVID-19 are enormous: the health and welfare of Detroiters and residents all over the state; the reinvention of Detroit, especially since emerging from bankruptcy six years ago; the revitalization of the core downtown, powered by billions in private investment and rising resident population; a repopulated business community that has delivered much-needed jobs and tax revenue.

“We need to make sure when we come out of this — and we will come out of this,” Duggan said Monday, “that we have a business community in place. We’ve got to keep our businesses afloat through this. We’ve been down before and we go back up. And we’ll do it again.”

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Daniel Howes’ column runs most Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHowes_TDN. Or listen to his Saturday podcasts at or on Michigan Radio, 91.7 FM.

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