Michigan says racial disparities of virus have diminished

Michigan COVID-19 cases by race as of Sept. 26, 2020. (WDIV)

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan reported Monday that Black residents are no longer being disproportionately infected and killed by the coronavirus, after they accounted for a staggering 40% of deaths through much of the pandemic.

For the last two available weeks of data, African Americans represented 10% of COVID-19 deaths and 8% of cases. They comprise about 14% of the state's population.

They still account for at least 38% of confirmed and probable deaths overall, and at least 20% of cases, according to state data. A patient's race is not always reported.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II chairs a state task force that is addressing virus-related racial disparities. He credited people of color for being more likely to wear masks and follow safety guidelines — because they were hit hard at the beginning of the outbreak — and said the disparities' downward trend has been holding for at least a month.

“We still need to be careful as we come into the fall, as we come into the flu season," he told The Associated Press. "But thanks to the state of Michigan paying attention to this issue, prioritizing this issue — we have the most muscular response to racial disparities in the country — we can say that those disparities have flattened. That's a testament to people of Michigan and the work of the experts on the task force.”

Gilchrist, who is Black, has said he has lost 23 people in his life to the virus. Detroit, where he lives and which was an early hot spot nationally along with surrounding suburban areas, is 79% Black and accounts for 23% of Michigan's 7,044 deaths related to COVID-19.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer formed the task force in April. Actions taken include launching ads, particularly on social media, to target communities of color and increasing testing sites in vulnerable places disproportionately affected by the virus.

The state had spent about $4.1 million on advertising in the majority-Black cities of Detroit, Flint and Benton Harbor from April through mid-September — 63% of its overall $6.5 million in ads to curb COVID-19, said state health department spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin. It also has connected with pastors, radio hosts, celebrities, businesses and groups that are trusted in minority communities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said race and ethnicity are risk markers for underlying conditions that affect health — socioeconomic status, access to medical care and increased exposure to the virus while working frontline, essential jobs.

Since August, the daily rates of new cases and deaths for Black residents has been equal to or lower than those for white people, according to the governor's office. Over the six-month emergency, the daily case rate among Black people has been more than twice what it is among white residents. The daily death rate for Black residents has been nearly four times that of white people.

In the most recent two-week period, the rate of new cases for Black people was about half that for white residents. The death rates for Black and white residents were about the same over those weeks.


Also Monday, the state reported 27 new outbreaks at schools last week — 21 in K-12 buildings and six at colleges and universities totaling 92 cases. There also were more than 3,900 cases linked to ongoing outbreaks that were identified in previous weeks but had at least one new associated case.

Of the 4,000-plus ongoing or new cases, only about 200 were tied to K-12 schools. The rest were linked to universities and colleges, including Michigan State (1,295 cases) and Grand Valley State (811 cases.)


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