The disproportionately high number of COVID-19 cases and deaths among African Americans in Michigan has fallen dramatically in the past few weeks, according to data released to Crain’s on Monday by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
The racial disparity of coronavirus’ impact was prevalent in the early days of the pandemic, with Black residents representing 29.4 percent of cases and 40.7 percent of deaths, despite making up just 15 percent of Michigan’s population.
But since August, the rates of deaths and cases per million people for Black residents was the same or lower than for white residents, according to data provided by the state health department. In the past two weeks, data show that Black residents account for 8.2 percent of cases and 9.9 percent of deaths.
“The work of the Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, spearheaded by Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist, has helped us dramatically reduce the number of African Americans who have been impacted by COVID-19,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a Monday news release. “We are not out of the woods yet, and must continue to do our part to save lives and protect our brave frontline workers.”
In continuation of efforts to fight racial disparity, the state created the Rapid Response Grant program, which awarded 31 grants from federal CARES Act funding worth $20 million to help provide underserved communities with food and housing assistance, technology and access to COVID-19 and flu testing.
Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson referenced the promising data last week during a discussion with the Lansing Regional Chamber. Whitmer appointed Wilson to the state coronavirus racial disparities task force in April to examine the outsize impact of the deadly respiratory virus on African Americans and communities of color.
“One thing that I think is not being talked about enough is that this huge racial disparity that we saw in the beginning is now being completely eliminated,” Wilson said last week. “The data has been clear and has been pretty consistent now for three or four weeks that this racial disparity that was so prevalent at the beginning of the pandemic has been completely wiped out.”
Michigan’s chief medical executive, Joneigh Khaldun, M.D., said increased testing capacity for communities of color helped lessen the racial disparities, as did the distribution of masks to those communities and a strategic communications outreach.
“I applaud the racial disparities task force and the multiple partners on the ground who helped decrease this disparity,” Khaldun said in the release. “However, we cannot let our guard down. We must continue to take precautions including wearing masks, maintaining social distancing of at least six feet from others, washing our hands often and staying home if we are feeling ill.”
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