Whitmer, Gilchrist Discuss Racial Disparities Task Force Report on Protecting Communities of Color During COVID-19

When it comes to the fight against COVID-19, the Black community has felt the impact at a devasting rate. 

 Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan COVID-19 Task Force on Racial Disparities recently released an interim report detailing the significant progress Michigan has made in protecting communities of color from the spread of COVID-19. The Task Force is chaired by Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II and consists of government, health care, and community leaders. 

“From the beginning, our administration has listened to medical experts and taken a fact-based approach to eliminating COVID-19 in our most vulnerable communities, and we have seen significant progress,” said Whitmer in a press release. “Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist and the leaders on the Task Force have been crucial in helping us dramatically reduce the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in communities of color by expanding testing and providing crucial support to community organizations. Our work is far from over, and cases and hospitalizations are still rising statewide, but this team remains dedicated to working with medical experts and protecting our communities, frontline workers, and small businesses. Our immediate focus now is holding our progress, flattening the infection curve, and remaining vigilant with mask weaking and social distancing.”

The 24-page report details the state’s progress in understanding and addressing racial disparities since the start of COVID-19.

Primary topics in the report include:

● Overview and impact of racial disparities

● Recent impact of efforts to address racial disparities

● Next steps for the Task Force

 

“The coronavirus pandemic has shined a light on the health, economic, and educational challenges that communities of color face daily,” Gilchrist added in the release. “Today’s report shows that significant progress has been made toward our goal to reduce these disparities over the past six months. But as cases continue to rise, we need to recognize that our work is not done because each of us have a role to play to make sure that we defeat this virus. When we successfully make it to the other side of this pandemic, we will hug each other a little tighter, check in on each other a little more, and be proud of the work we did to make each other’s lives better.”

 During a press release last week, Whitmer and Gilchrist discussed how the Task Force is making great strides. 

“This virus has exposed deep inequities in our nation,” Whitmer said, adding that it has “attacked everyone from the very young to the very old — especially in the Black community lt.” 

She also said that the state is the first to release demographic data of COVID-19 through an interim report from the Task Force that Whitmer describes as “rooted in justice and equality and equity.” 

“In April we created the … task force … to help the most vulnerable communities,” Whitmer said. “As a result of their efforts the force has made a number of recommendations to address immediate gaps … to provide vulnerable communities.”

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services-backed report identifies COVID-19 cases by race from March 10 through October. The data states that death rates have been higher among Black and African American people than other race categories. This population has impacted over 40% higher than white populations. The collective death rate has been more than three times the rate in white people.

In the Black community [between March 1 and October 31], there have been 21,900 cases per million compared to just over 15,000 white people counted and over 10,000 cases per million in the Asian/Pacific Islander community. Regarding deaths per million, there were 1,833 in the Black community in comparison to 548 white people and 266 people in the Asian/Pacific Islander community.

According to a press release, the Task Force’s interim report details many actions the state has taken to protect communities of color, frontline workers, and small businesses from the spread of COVID-19. As of November 16, over 24,000 tests have been administered in previously underserved communities across 21 Neighborhood Testing sites. 

These state-operated sites offer COVID-19 testing on a consistent schedule, several days per week. All locations provide free testing, and a prescription is not required for someone to be tested, and identification is not required. According to the release from March and April to September and October, the average cases per million per day for African American Michiganders dropped from 176 to 59. In the same period, the number of probable deaths per million per day among African American Michiganders dropped significantly – from 21.7 to 1.  

“As a member of the Michigan Task Force on Racial Disparities, I am proud of the hard work we have done to protect communities of color from the spread of COVID-19,” M. Roy Wilson, Task Force Member and president of Wayne State University, said in the release. “I want to thank Governor Whitmer and Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist for their leadership as we have fought to eliminate this virus. Our work on the task force is far from over, but the data is clear – we have taken swift, meaningful action to protect Michigan’s most vulnerable communities and save lives, and we will continue to do so until this fight is over.”

Maureen Taylor, Task Force member and state chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, said in the press release that Michigan is doing necessary work in ensuring equitable support for our most vulnerable communities throughout this crisis. 

“We have made great strides, but we will remain vigilant and work day and night to protect the Black community from COVID-19 until this virus is gone for good,” he said.

The next steps for the Task Force are to sustain the progress made and to address ongoing disparities better. The Task Force has identified areas to focus on, including:

● Closing the digital divide in telehealth and virtual learning to ensure equitable access for all Michiganders.

● Increasing enrollment in health insurance plans by making it easy for Michiganders to find out about their options for affordable care, such as Medicaid and federal marketplace plans.

● Building mobile testing infrastructure that can also be extended for other health services such as vaccine administration.

● And raising awareness of racial- and ethnic disparities in medical care to ensure that every Michigander, no matter their race, can get safe and quality care in Michigan.

Gilchrist said that we are “committed to this work” of combating challenges communities of color have faced during the pandemic.

“I am proud and honored to serve as chairperson on this taskforce,” Gilchrist said. “This work is deeply personal to me. I have lost 24 people in my life. That is 24 empty seats at the dinner table. … This is a reality for more and more Michiganders every day. [It is] important than ever that we continue the work on the Task Force dedicated to combating COVID-19 with data,” Gilchrist. “We have shown it is possible to reduce the disparities.”

To view the Task Force’s full interim report, click the link here. Click here to learn more about the Task Force.

 

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