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State leaders highlight racial disparities in COVID-19 cases

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from Thursday's press conference, courtesy photo

By Kory Goldsmith

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist joined Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun at Thursday’s  press conference highlighting racial disparities in the fight against COVID-19.

Whitmer praised Gilchrist and the other members of the task force on racial disparities on the work they’ve done.

Gilchrist highlighted how the Black population makes up 14% of the population in Michigan but disproportionately dominates 38% of the total of COVID-19 cases and 41% of related deaths. The death rate within the Black population is five times higher than the white population.

He shared how he knows 24 people who’ve died due to the virus, making it personal for him.

Gilchrist is pleased with the most recent available data showing progress with Black people accounting for 9.1% of all cases and 5.7% of deaths.

“This task force was established to prioritize our communities of colors’ short-term needs,” Gilchrist said. “Without losing sight of the genuine need to reverse generations of racism and inequality that has wrought harm and built barriers that people of color must overcome to build happier and healthier lives.” 

He said the task force has four goals moving forward which are: 

  • Maintaining and expanding the progress made in narrowing disparities
  • Continuing targeted encouragement to remain vigilant and take individual action to slow the spread of the virus
  • Developing programs for equitable management and distribution of vaccines and antiviral treatments for COVID-19 and the flu
  • Proposing policy changes that will combat the challenges that communities of color face.

“The progress we’ve made is promising,” Whitmer said. “But we’ve got to continue working to protect our most vulnerable population from the spread of COVID-19.”

Thursday’s numbers hadn’t come in by the time of the press conference, so Khaldun could not  give an update on the state’s case numbers. But she did say the numbers she had were too high.

The numbers released later showed 7,146 new cases and 175 deaths with a positivity rate of 15.94% in Michigan. Kent County added 507 new cases and 16 more deaths with a 16% positivity rate. 

As government officials prepare to begin distributing the vaccine once one is approved, Khaldun suggested that people over 18 start planning now for how to get it. Updated information can be found here

Whitmer didn’t say whether a decision has been made about extending the restrictions that are in place until Dec. 8. 

“The early numbers look as if we’re seeing a little bit of a leveling,” Whitmer said. “That’s a good thing.”

“This pandemic will end,” Khaldun said. “We want to be able to look back and say we did it best in Michigan by coming together, taking care of each other, and doing the right thing.”