The year that COVID-19 shook Michigan and the world

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Quotable of the Year:

“I’m working on a pretty good case of [post-traumatic stress disorder]. We had to open a second COVID unit [last] week, and it was a mixture of an adrenaline rush, being super on edge, and just wanting to go home and cover my head with the covers and cry because we know what’s coming. I know I’m going to be the last person somebody sees, and that’s not a good death.”

— Mercy Health nurse Molly Nixon in October

It’s been a big year of news. To end 2020, the Advance is running a series of our best stories from some of the many issues we cover, from the COVID-19 pandemic to education to the election. We’ll also have a roundup of stories that you might have missed.

Here’s our roundup of our top stories on the pandemic’s impact on health, jobs, schools and, most importantly, people:

Senior reporter and lifelong Detroiter Ken Coleman wrote a column during the first weeks of the pandemic while it tore through the city and the lives of people he had known and covered for years.

The COVID-19 crisis has rocked Detroit and my life. But it’s also inspired me. 

Those living with domestic violence faced an added burden during the stay-home order during the early months of the pandemic and the Advance talked with staff at shelters about what can be done.

What happens behind closed doors? Social isolation during COVID-19 endangers domestic abuse survivors.

Advance Editor Susan J. Demas interviewed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during the spring about the pandemic, battling with President Trump and how it had changed her first-term agenda.

Susan J. Demas: From ‘fix the damn roads’ to give us the damn masks: Whitmer’s governorship takes an unexpected national turn

After months of illness and isolation, health care workers, in particular, are grappling with trauma and mental health issues. The Advance talked with Michiganders and experts about this “trauma tsunami” with little end in sight.

A ‘trauma tsunami’: COVID-19 takes its toll on Michiganders’ mental health

One of the policies that progressives have pushed for during the pandemic in Michigan and Washington, with little success, is paid sick leave, especially for essential retail workers who often don’t get benefits. The Advance went through the history of the fight in Michigan and what the Legislature could do now.

Michigan almost had robust sick leave in 2018. Republicans killed it.

Within days after the first COVID-19 cases were found in Michigan, Whitmer closed down all schools in Michigan. This never happened before, but the Advance went digging through the archives for other times schools shut their doors.

Library of Michigan: Whitmer’s school closures for coronavirus are historic, unprecedented

During the early days of the pandemic, we talked to COVID-19 survivors about the long wait for testing and other uncertainties about the virus.

‘Damn, I’ll be dead by then’: Detroit COVID-19 survivors talk about waiting for tests and the virus’ toll 

Lawmakers and other elected officials have not always been forthcoming about their health status during COVID-19 and the Michigan Advance has pushed for transparency from the very beginning.

How many lawmakers have had COVID-19? Here’s what we know.

The Advance examined how immigrants in Michigan were coping with coronavirus, from the racism that Asian Americans faced in their businesses to undocumented immigrants’ fears about going to the doctor.

COVID-19 has made immigrants fear seeking care, while Asian Americans feel Trump made them ‘targets’

Amzie Griffin first sold popcorn at a Detroit Tigers game in 1960. Thanks to the pandemic, he wasn’t able to last spring, as the season was delayed. And that meant stadium workers had to go without paychecks.

Detroit arena, stadium workers go unpaid during COVID-19 crisis

As coronavirus spread through Michigan’s only private, for-profit immigrant prison, inmates and their family members sounded the alarm about conditions.

‘It’s hell’: COVID-19 concerns grow at federal immigrant prison in Baldwin

African Americans made up a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, especially early on in the crisis, which would lead to Whitmer forming a task force to find solutions.

Blacks are 40% of Michigan COVID-19 deaths. Officials want to know why.  

Here are the stories of five high school seniors graduating after the pandemic put an abrupt end to the school year.

The class of 2020 copes with COVID-19 while trying to focus on their future

More than a million workers in Michigan have been laid off during the pandemic. We talked with workers about safety concerns on the job and their financial struggles.

‘If and when can we go back to work’: Laid-off workers worry what happens after COVID-19 crisis

It’s been a long nine months for educators in Michigan, whether they’re in the classroom, teaching from home or both. The Advance interviewed teachers and administrators who are worn out and worried about their students.

‘It’s draining’: Teachers wrestle with burnout, health risks and no-show students

Thousands struggled with Michigan’s outdated unemployment system. The Advance looked at how years of underinvestment led to disaster during the pandemic and what changes are being made.

Michigan’s jobless benefits are dated. The claims system is plagued with problems. So what can be done?

Not all businesses were treated equally in the federal PPP program and the Advance did a deep dive into how Black-owned businesses fared.

Watchdog: Detroit-anchored congressional districts ‘shortchanged’ in PPP loans

Republicans have fought against emergency measure for the pandemic since the early weeks of COVID-19 in Michigan. State Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth) was one of many lawmakers who made over-the-top analogies or spread misinformation about masks, which health officials say is the easiest and least expensive way to stop conronavirus’ spread.

Republican compares Whitmer mask order to Soviet-era East Germany

Twenty businesses in Michigan got the max $10 million in PPP loans from the federal government to help during the pandemic. The Advance details who they are, as well as how much politicians netted for their businesses.

Which Michigan businesses got $10M from PPP?

Despite protections for renters during the pandemic, thousands are struggling and the Advance uncovered how tenant associations are making a comeback.

It’s May 1 and thousands can’t pay their rent. Here’s what some Michiganders are doing.

Graduating from college during a pandemic isn’t something that Michigan students planned for and we talked with several across the state about how their plans have changed.

Changing plans, taking gap years: How college grads are navigating the pandemic recession

Not everyone has felt the pain of the pandemic equally. In fact, many rich people have fared very well, just as they did in past crises. The Advance did a deep dive into class dynamics and what can be done so that low-income people don’t have to suffer.

The rich can pay to avoid pain, but the pandemic is taking a crushing toll on the poor

Coronavirus has taken a harsh toll on prisoners and staff and the Advance talked to activists who want more aggressive action from the state.

‘All lives matter’: Activists want more prisoners freed as COVID-19 spreads

Thousands have recovered from coronavirus, but there are many who are still struggling with long-term symptoms. The Advance talked with one “long-hauler” and experts who are searching for answers on why recovery looks so different for some.

114K are considered ‘recovered’ from COVID-19 by the state — but it doesn’t feel that way for some ‘long-haulers’

Just before the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were approved for emergency use, the Advance looked at how the state is planning to administer them and how officials are asking people to stay vigilant while hope is on the horizon.

‘There is an end to this pandemic’ 


Weeks after the pandemic hit Michigan, the Advance did a long interview with Attorney General Dana Nessel, who was charged with legally reviewing every emergency health order as the virus spread, even among people she worked with.

‘Everything is an emergency, all the time’: What Dana Nessel’s life as Michigan AG looks like now 


Demas writes about how GOP leaders have failed to live up to their pro-life ideals during the pandemic.

Susan J. Demas: Some leaders have lost their humanity during COVID-19. We don’t need to follow them.

Families who have kids with autism face unique challenges during the COVID-19 crisis and the Advance looked at how they’re coping.

Families impacted by autism struggle with isolation, change during COVID-19 crisis


The Advance talked with the University of Michigan doctor who coined the term “flatten the curve” in the spring about what officials and Michiganders needed to do to stave off a second wave.

How do we fight a 2nd COVID-19 wave? Here’s what the U of M doctor known for the ‘flatten the curve’ strategy says.


Remote learning poses unique challenges for rural and low-income students and we looked at who’s being left behind.

How will rural, low-income Michigan students learn during a pandemic?

While businesses breaking emergency orders net headlines in many outlets, the Advance interviewed some owners who are trying to stay open and play by the rules.

How a ‘secret bar’ is surviving the pandemic — and trying to be a good neighbor

During a Senate hearing this spring, state Sen. Kim LaSata (R-Bainbridge Twp.) said that COVID-19 was a problem for Detroit and her Southwest Michigan community was suffering from restrictions. In the fall, she was diagnosed with the virus and refused to quarantine while waiting for results.


Republican declares ‘I am not Detroit’ in heated COVID-19 oversight hearing

Whitmer ended Michigan’s stay-home order in June, but we talked with Michiganders who were still taking precautions over the summer and why.

Michigan’s stay-home order is over, but not everyone is out and about

We are always looking to tell the stories of this pandemic better, so please contact us at [email protected] if you have a story.

Susan J. Demas: Help us tell the stories of coronavirus better