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Michigan task force to address disproportionate impact of coronavirus on black communities

The governor said “the deep inequities people in communities of color face … have made them more susceptible to COVID-19.”
A man wears a protective mask while waiting for a bus in Detroit on April 8, 2020.Paul Sancya / AP

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order this week forming a task force to investigate the disproportionate number of African Americans being infected and killed by the coronavirus.

“The deep inequities people in communities of color face, like basic lack of access to health care or transportation or protections in the workplace, have made them more susceptible to COVID-19,” Whitmer said at a news conference.

The order cited data showing that despite being 14 percent of the state’s population, black residents have made up more than 40 percent of the deaths in Michigan related to the coronavirus.

The Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities will examine the causes and recommend actions to address such systemic health inequities. Led by the state’s lieutenant governor, Garlin Gilchrist, the task force will be composed of government officials, health professionals and community leaders.

The task force is dedicated to Skylar Herbert, who, at 5 years old, is the youngest person in Michigan to have died of the coronavirus, Gilchrist said Monday. Both Whitmer and Gilchrist are Democrats.

Skylar lived in a “predominant black neighborhood,” the lieutenant governor said. “This task force will serve in her memory to ensure that we can limit the exposure for as many people, as many families as possible.”

Among its other goals are to increase transparency in reporting racial and ethnic data and mitigate structural racism that prevents black and brown residents from receiving proper care.

Federal reporting on racial and ethnic data has been scant, but reports from states like Michigan suggest COVID-19 has “disproportionately affected” African Americans, according to a report published Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other cities, including Oakland, California, and Cleveland, have also created task forces to study how the pandemic has disproportionately affected and killed black people, but Michigan appears to be the first state to do so.

While the task force will remain in place until the end of the pandemic, Gilchrist hopes to continue fighting systemic racial disparities. “This is not something we can solve overnight,” Gilchrist said. “But it’s something that we can work on every day to make a difference.”