Blacks are 40% of Michigan COVID-19 deaths. Officials want to know why.  

By: - April 9, 2020 4:06 pm

Rims and nets have been removed from basketball hoops at Detroit parks to stop the spread of COVID-19 | Ken Coleman

State Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit) and Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman on Thursday called for more COVID-19 testing of African Americans and more reporting by race.

“Black people in Michigan are really paying the price, according to all of the data that we have received,” Carter said.

The two Democrats made the declaration during a tele-conference on Thursday organized by the Michigan Democratic Party. Waterman is an ophthalmologist. Carter is a retired Wayne County sheriff deputy. He tested positive for the coronavirus last month and has recovered from it.

The Legislature is meeting amid coronavirus. Some lawmakers are worried.

They pointed to state reporting that 33% of Michigan’s confirmed cases are African American and 40% of the deaths as alarming. Blacks compose only 14% of the state’s population.

In 51% of Michigan COVID-19 confirmed cases the ethnicity of the person is unknown. Similarly, in 40% of deaths ethnicity is unknown.

Carter said he believes that he was infected with COVID-19 virus during a retirement party for a law enforcement official on March 6. He pointed out that at that time, President Donald Trump was publicly downplaying the severity of the virus spread.

“So many were not aware about social distancing or anything,” Carter said.

They also were critical of the Trump administration’s delay in reacting to the virus spread through insufficient movement of health care supplies to states, something also raised by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and a bipartisan group of governors.

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Johns Hopkins University reported that in the United States, there are 451,491 confirmed cases and 15,938 deaths. 

In Michigan, 21,504 confirmed cases have been reported and 1,076 deaths. In Detroit, 5,824 confirmed cases have been reported and 251 deaths.

“There have been people who have suffered and even experienced deaths because of this,” Waterman said. “And that’s tragic.”

Both elected officials support a national coalition of doctors and lawyers who call more data to be released that includes racial identity related to COVID-19 cases and deaths.

In an interview with the Advance on Thursday, Carter said he supports the city of Detroit’s decision to remove basketball rims that discourage crowds of people gathering. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan pointed out earlier this week that such a strategy will be used, if necessary.

Health officials have pointed out that multiple people congregating helps to spread the virus. Whitmer on Thursday extended her stay-at-home executive order, requiring that people leave their homes only for essential services such as food and medical treatment. It now expires April 30.

“Young people don’t believe that fat meat is greasy until something happens to them, or somebody in their group,” Carter said about some younger adults who have continued to congregate in public places.

However, Carter said that for the most part people in his district, which is majority people of color, are adhering to social distance practices suggested by health care and government officials.

Relatedly, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters joined more than a dozen colleagues on Thursday in asking the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to publicly report all available information about access to COVID-19 tests.

The federal lawmakers have called for the CDC provide data broken down by sex, race, ethnicity, whether a patient is a health care provider and any other available demographics. The CDC is currently only disclosing, they said, a subset of its data, primarily the age groups of those testing positive, hospitalizations and fatalities.

“While we know that Michigan is a hot spot for coronavirus and that this pandemic is disproportionately impacting the African-American community, there is a lot more data we need the CDC to provide so that we can effectively address this pandemic,” Peters said. “It’s important that the CDC publicly report information about who can access tests and also share demographic data so that we can better understand and combat this disease.”

Whitmer on Thursday announced that she will create a taskforce on racial disparities. Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist will chair the body.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist at the State of the State address, Jan. 29, 2020 | Andrew Roth

“It shouldn’t take a global pandemic for us to address these problems,” Whitmer said. “It shouldn’t take a crisis for us to expand unemployment benefits, ensure protections for workers who are sick, or expand access to quality, affordable health care. We’re going to come out of this, but we must also learn some hard lessons about the deep problems in our economy that we need real, meaningful solutions on.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel in a tweet  on Tuesday described health care disparities and the lack of racial demographic reporting as “horrific.”

“The high rates of infection and death within our African-American population from #COVIDー19 is staggering and horrific,” Nessel said. “It further establishes how [African Americans] are treated like garbage when it comes to equal opportunity and access to health care, housing, education and employment.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.