Mich. governor creates task force to look at racial disparities in coronavirus patients, deaths

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DETROIT — The alarming disparities in how the coronavirus has impacted the African American community is worth further study and action, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday.

She announced a task force that will be led by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist that will examine how and why the virus has hit the African American community so much harder both nationally and in Michigan.

African Americans make up 14% of the state’s population, but account for 33% of the coronavirus cases and 40% of the deaths in the state.

“This virus is holding up a mirror to our society, and reminding us of the deep inequities in our country, from basic lack of access to care, to access to transportation, to access to labor protections in the workplace,” Whitmer said.

It’s a subject that has caught fire in recent days and is being brought up in tele-town halls and by President Donald Trump.

“We’re doing everything in our power to address this challenge. It’s a tremendous challenge. It’s terrible,” he said during a White House briefing on Tuesday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said that African Americans disproportionately suffer from underlying conditions such as diabetes, asthma and hypertension, which, when combined with COVID-19, lead to higher mortality rates. Lower rates of access to health care also contribute to the greater impact on African Americans, he said.

“It’s very sad. It’s nothing we can do about it right now except to try and give them the best possible care to avoid those complications,” Fauci said.

According to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control, while African Americans represent 13% of the nation’s population, they make up 33% of the hospitalizations from coronavirus in the country.

The task force will start meeting this week and come up with recommendations on how the state can address the disparities in how the virus affects different populations.

“If people are disproportionately impacted by poverty, working in lower wage jobs, unable to work from home, needing to use public transportation, lack the ability to isolate sick individuals in their home appropriately, or disproportionately have a higher rate of chronic health conditions, they will be more significantly impacted by this disease,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive. “And that’s why the measures that the governor has put in place are so important and why I’m excited to work with the Michigan Task Force on racial disparities. So we can tackle this crisis in an equitable way.”

The city began posting coronavirus data by race on Wednesday. Of Detroit residents who have tested positive for COVID-19, 52% are black, 41% are unknown, 3% are white and 3% are classified as other. Black residents make up 77% of the city’s deaths, the race is unknown for 16%, white residents make up 4% of deaths and another 4% are classified as other.

Tracking the impact of the virus by race and ethnicity nationwide is essential to ensure health care resources are allocated equitably to the most vulnerable people, especially as health care systems around the country prepare for an anticipated surge in cases, according to health care professionals.


(Staff writer Joe Guillen contributed to this report.)


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