Fewer black Michigan residents get killed because of COVID-19

Beth LeBlanc

| The Detroit news

Lansing “Fewer black Michigan residents get and die from COVID-19,” according to a recent report by the Michigan Working Group on Racial Inequalities.

According to a report released at Thursday’s press conference, the number of cases fell between March and October, from 176 cases per million people a day to 59 people a day.

Similarly, between April and October, the number of deaths fell from 21.7 deaths per million people per day to 1 million deaths per day.

Michigan was the first state in the nation to begin analyzing cases and deaths by species, and soon found that blacks were disproportionately affected by the virus.

In April, the state found that 40% of those killed by the virus were African American, despite the fact that the black population makes up about 14% of the population.

The discovery launched a task force to analyze the disproportionate impact and help address it through methods such as increased and strategic testing, access to primary care providers and telehealth, public health campaigns, and improving the quality of case and death data.

“This work is truly, deeply personal to me,” said Lt. Garlin Gilchrist, chairman of the task force and Michigan’s first African-American lieutenant governor. Gilchrist lost 24 people close to the virus.

“Today’s report shows that significant progress has been made over the past six months towards our goal of reducing these disparities,” he said. “But as cases keep growing, we need to realize that we’re not doing our job because we all have a role to play in defeating the virus.”

The task force’s analysis also found that black people are more likely to lose their jobs during the spring peak of the epidemic. Black unemployment was about 7% in the first quarter of the year, but rose to 35.5% in the second quarter, the country’s highest African-American unemployment rate.

White people experienced a less dramatic increase in unemployment, rising from 3.2% in the first quarter to 17.5% in the second quarter.

The task force plans to continue to raise awareness of racial differences in medical care and to try to bridge this gap by increasing the number of health insurance enrollments and increasing access to telecommuting. The group also plans to build a mobile testing infrastructure to be used for other services such as vaccinations.

Robert Gordon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Humanities, told lawmakers on Thursday that the state did not see mandatory vaccinations as a way forward.

Gordon and Gilchrist acknowledged at separate events that the black community had confidence in health care, and vaccinations in particular, because of abuses related to medical experiments.

Gilchrist said he will be vaccinated publicly to boost confidence. He and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical officer, assured people that the state would only advertise the vaccine if it was safe and effective.

“The presence of the vaccine only matters if people are vaccinated,” Gilchrist said.

Khaldun announced at a press conference that the state will shorten the quarantine period to 10 days under new guidance from the U.S. Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer would not confirm whether to extend until December 8 the three-week “break” that closed restaurants to indoor catering, high schools and colleges for personal learning. But he said it was “unfortunately possible” because of the volume of COVID-19 cases in Michigan.

According to health officials, the state’s positivity rate has dropped from 14% on Nov. 16 to around 13%, where the rate has been fluctuating for days. But Gordon on Thursday told lawmakers that the current data is difficult to interpret because people’s behavior has changed on Thanksgiving, which could increase Michigan’s numbers in the coming weeks.

“I can say with 100% certainty that no decision has been made yet,” Gordon told the COVID-19 Pandemic Joint Selected Committee about the extended closure.

Michigan reported 6,955 additional cases and 81 deaths related to COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 373,197 and the number of COVID-related deaths to 9,405.

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