Detroit Water Shutoffs and COVID-19

The RISE Lab is happy to release a White Paper detailing how institutional authorities in the State of Michigan and City of Detroit addressed water affordability and the mass water shutoffs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the first cases of COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus, were identified in the United States, community activists appealed to authorities to reverse this shutoff policy. Although the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) urged people to wash their hands regularly for at least 20 seconds to prevent community spread of COVID-19 , activists pointed out that this was impossible for many Detroit residents who lacked running water in their homes. Their pleas were initially dismissed, however, and it was not until March 10, 2020, by when Detroit had emerged as a national epicenter of COVID-19, that Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued executive order EO2020-28 halting water shutoffs and restoring water to disconnected homes. In December 2020, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced that the City would cover outstanding payments through 2022 and permanently end shutoffs, but questions remain about whether these promises will be upheld, if they have not fundamentally changed their language and assumptions of the root problems related to water affordability. As we note in the White Paper,

Analyzing state and city institutional authorities’ public communication is crucial because it will demonstrate how they perceived the risks of water affordability and the mass shutoffs in the run-up to and during the COVID-19 peak infection in Detroit. How authorities communicate with the public is crucial to building long-term trust, which is in turn essential for the public’s buy-in on difficult administrative decisions, such as quarantine and economic shutdown measures, to beat COVID-19 and similar pandemics.

Download the White Paper HERE.