A full day before President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus outbreak a national emergency, the mayor of Flint, Michigan, declared a state of emergency. Mayor Sheldon Neeley could see what was coming. The community has been living in crisis since the city started taking water from the Flint River in 2014, flowing it through corrosive pipes and into homes for drinking even though it was tainted and lead-ridden.
With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the country, the newly elected mayor knew it would only be a matter of time before Flint was dealing with an added health crisis. He would be proactive rather than reactive, he decided, for the majority African American community.
“It’s just such a crisis on top of a crisis with a side of crisis,” he told Vox by phone. “So we’re engaging on every level.”
A week before declaring a state of emergency on March 12, the mayor put forth a new 14-day quarantine policy for those returning from travel. The day after the declaration, he limited public gatherings to 30 people. Four days later, he shut down city hall. Before the week was over, he issued a stay-at-home-order. As of March 27, more than 90 people have tested positive in Genesee County where Flint is, according to the state’s count, and a woman in a homeless shelter in the city has tested positive for the virus.