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State Task Force to Focus on COVID-19 Racial Disparities

Michigan’s Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities launched last week.

Michigan’s Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities launched last week. The task force, created by Governor Gretchen Whitmer and led by Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist, consists of leaders across state government and health care professionals from communities most impacted by the spread of coronavirus.

The state shared that more than 40% of COVID-19 related deaths in Michigan are African Americans yet only 14% of our state’s population are African Americans.

The Oakland Press reports that while the state began reporting COVID-19 cases and deaths by race on April 2, 38% of the state's cases have not been reported while 26% of the state's deaths have not been disclosed, meaning the number of African Americans who have been diagnosed and those who have died could be much higher. 

The alarming disparities surfacing amid COVID-19 are not unique to Michigan. The Brookings Institution published an article pointing to similar disturbing trends in Michigan, Illinois, New York and South Carolina where African Americans are dying at disproportionately higher rates. According to the institution, “Among the four states shown, Blacks are 74% more likely to contract coronavirus than their percentage of the state.”

Experts and policymakers point to deep structural inequities that are exacerbated in a crisis.

“We know that generations of racial disparities and inequality has a detrimental impact on the lives of people across the state,” Gilchrist said. “The coronavirus pandemic has shown this inequity to be particularly true, especially in the Black community, where the health of our friends and family has been disproportionately impacted. That’s why we are taking immediate action to assemble some of the greatest minds to tackle this racial injustice now and in the future.” 

The Brookings Institution shared that African Americans are less likely to have equitable access to health care and are more likely to live in densely populated areas. Nationally African Americans represent about 25% of all public transit users and are more likely to be part of the essential workforce, putting them at higher risk for contracting the virus.

“This virus is holding a mirror up to our society and reminding us of the deep inequities in this country,” Whitmer said. “From basic lack of access to health care, transportation, and protections in the workplace, these inequities hit people of color and vulnerable communities the hardest. This task force will help us start addressing these disparities right now as we work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan.” 

CMF will be closely following this issue and the work of the task force, sharing new information as it becomes available.