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Published in Economic Development
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Gov. Gretchen Whitmer COURTESY PHOTO

Whitmer declares racism a public health crisis; COVID-19 cases plateauing statewide

BY Wednesday, August 05, 2020 12:41pm

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to have a disproportionate effect on Black Michigan residents, state officials have declared racism is a public health crisis requiring intentional programs and policies.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a separate executive directive and order today recognizing the issue, steps to address it in state government and creating the state’s first-of-its-kind Black Leadership Advisory Council. The directive asks the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to prioritize equity while requiring implicit bias training for all state employees.

“This pandemic has confirmed and highlighted the deadly nature of these pre-existing inequities caused by systemic racism,” Whitmer said during a press conference today in which she also called on federal lawmakers and the Trump administration to pass a new round of pandemic relief.

Whitmer was joined by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun and Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley. Gilchrist said 23 people in his life have died from COVID-19.

According to the state, reported COVID-19 cases are three times higher among Black and African American residents compared to white residents, while the death rate is more than four times higher. Officials say the pandemic has exacerbated long-standing racial disparities, both in the number of cases and deaths as well as unemployment.

As of mid June, at least 20 U.S. cities and counties had declared racism a public health crisis, according to Pew Charitable Trusts.

Gilchrist said the pandemic has “held a mirror up to the entire country’s health care system.” “While these injustices in our country have been exacerbated and intensified by coronavirus, they are as old as America itself,” Gilchrist said. 

The 16-member Black Leadership Advisory Council will advise state officials on policies to help eradicate racial inequities, including identifying gaps in state law and promoting the arts within the Black community. Similar efforts have been led in the state Legislature by Sen. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor.

“During my time as a state legislator, it has struck me as odd that no ethnic commission existed for Michigan’s largest minority population in our state — the Black community. Working with a diverse group of people from across our diaspora, my colleagues and I last month introduced Senate Bill 1034 to create such a commission housed within the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, but it was sadly sent to the Senate Committee on Government Operations to languish,” Geiss said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Whitmer’s directive requires all state employees to take implicit bias training, which follows an order last month requiring it for health care professionals. It also outlines a plan to document data on health outcomes among racial and ethnic groups in Michigan. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Equity Impact Assessment will help officials formalize policies that reduce systemic inequities.

Implicit bias training is “not alleging that people are racist, it’s recognizing that everyone has biases from where we grew up or how we were raised,” Whitmer said.

Cases plateauing

On the pandemic front, Khaldun said today that cases across the state have plateaued in recent weeks. As of Tuesday, the state reported 84,050 cases and 6,220 deaths.

“Overall, we are seeing a plateau in cases after a slight uptick in June and July,” Khaldun said.

The Grand Rapids, Detroit and Kalamazoo regions have slightly more than 40 cases per million people per day, while the Traverse City region — at the other end of the spectrum — has fewer than 10 cases per million people per day.

Khaldun also said the state is “holding steady” at roughly 28,000 tests per day while the percentage of tests coming back positive has dropped slightly from 3.7 to 3.4 percent. 

Hospitalizations and deaths “continue to remain steady and low,” she added, which are “good signs.”

Read 6175 times Last modified on Wednesday, 05 August 2020 17:48
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