Detroit's running water problems pose threat as city is hit hard by coronavirus outbreak

Detroit battles growing coronavirus outbreak
Detroit battles growing coronavirus outbreak 03:51

Michigan officials say the city of Detroit has over 6,800 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 5% have died, making it one of the country's hardest-hit areas. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan initiated the Coronavirus Water Restart Program in March to help control the spread of the virus, in a community where 36% of the population lives in poverty. 

Access to water has been an issue facing Detroiters since 2014 when the city started a series of controversial water shutoffs. With the coronavirus spreading quickly, especially through poor and African American communities, having running water is essential to hygienic precautions.

"The only residents of Detroit who should not have water on are those who don't reach out," Duggan announced.

Lifelong Detroit residents Valaria Griffin told CBS News' Jericka Duncan that she had been living without running water for several months, and that she could not afford the repairs on the cracked old pipes running through her home. 

Griffin described using "wash pails" to perform routine hygiene. 

"I fill it up with water and stand in it and I do my thing," she said. 

For many people in Detroit who cannot afford running water, Mayor Duggan's program is crucial to perform the most basic precaution repeated by health experts: washing hands. 

However, city officials said they are currently more focused on COVID-19 testing than existing social inequalities — medical workers and volunteers have been testing around 1,000 people per day.

Detroit's blossoming small business scene has been hit hard by the pandemic as well. Resident Godwin Ihentuge opened a restaurant called Yum Village after the city declared bankruptcy and said he did his best week of sales to date at the beginning of March, before the city shut down and profits plummeted. 

"We'll still need to figure out how to survive… or we'll just have to realistically close. And then, you know, start trying to pay off all the debt that comes with owning a business," he said. 

When the Motor Stops by Doner on YouTube

Despite mounting cases and facing the unknown, pockets of optimism can be found through the city. A viral video created by Doner Advertising in Detroit showing empty city streets promotes the "togetherness" of social-isolation in the fight against the coronavirus. 

"We're coming back with all eight cylinders," the video narrates. "Because here we don't stop in the name of fear. Here, we stop in the name of love." 

For access to water assistance, Detroit residents can call (313) 279-0698 or click into 'Hydrate Detroit.'