Gilchrist: Michigan ‘outperformed’ the nation in addressing COVID racial disparities, saved lives

By: - March 1, 2023 10:42 am

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

During the early months of 2020, Lt. Gov. Gilchrist was immersed in the epicenter of the new COVID-19 pandemic, which was disproportionately affecting Black Michiganders at that time. 

The state’s first African American to serve in the state executive post later noted in 2021 that he had lost 27 people in his life to COVID.

Nearly three years after the first cases were identified in Michigan on March 10, 2020, the COVID-19 Racial Disparities Task Force, which Gilchrist chaired, has released the panel’s final report. 

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist on Oct. 15, 2022. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

“When we saw that COVID-19 was uniquely lethal in communities of color in Michigan, Gov. Whitmer and I knew we had to act quickly,” said Gilchrist. “We responded to these disturbing racial disparities with an innovative approach that put Michiganders first and set a national example for other states and the federal government to follow. We outperformed the nation in addressing racial disparities, saved lives, and collaborated with other states to share what we learned.”

The report details efforts by the task force to respond to COVID-19 racial disparities, improve access to healthcare in vulnerable communities and communities of color, and save lives. The report includes additional recommendations to build on the Task Force’s work and continue improving health equity in Michigan.

Established in April 2020, the Task Force brought together a wide variety of leaders from government, academia, health care, economics, public health, epidemiology, education, the private sector, and other disciplines to address racial health disparities in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

Between 2020 and 2022, Michigan’s 14.2 deaths per 10,000 people net improvement outpaced the U.S. net improvement of 8.9 deaths per 10,000. 

In 2020, Black Michiganders saw COVID-19 death rates of 22.8 per 10,000 people, significantly above the national death rate of 15 per 10,000 in 2020. However, COVID-19 death rates for Black Michiganders dropped to 16.2 per 10,000 in 2021 and 8.6 per 10,000 in 2022. 

Nationwide, Black Americans’ COVID-19 death rates dropped from 15 per 10,000 in 2020 to 14.8 per 10,000 in 2021 and 6.1 per 10,000 in 2022. 

A total of 3,057,222 Michiganders have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). In total, 42,096 people have died from the virus, with 139 deaths reported on Tuesday.

A study by the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices found that the Task Force made significant and sustainable progress towards its goal of reducing health-based racial disparities associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. These results led to the receipt of the “Meeting the Moment for Public Health Award” from Research America.

“The members of the Coronavirus Racial Disparities Task Force stepped up for their communities to protect Michiganders and save lives,” said Thomas Stallworth, task force director. “Now, we must build on the progress we’ve made and double down on our efforts to eliminate racial disparities impacting the health of communities across our state.”

Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the state’s chief medical executive, said the task force’s work has been “instrumental.”

“We look forward to continuing this work as we move forward through the creation of community zones and a neighborhood health grant to strengthen our communities as outlined in the governor’s FY [fiscal year] 2024 budget,” she said.

The task force worked to respond to pandemic surges and save lives, setting up community testing, mask distribution, and vaccination sites in high-need areas, improving data collection and analysis, and boosting access to telehealth, health insurance, and mobile health clinics in vulnerable communities. 

To improve long term outcomes for underrepresented communities and reduce racial disparities in health care access, the panel also targeted improved access to health care for Black and Brown children in schools and people with sickle cell disease and reinforced maternal and infant healthcare.

In her FY 2024 budget proposal, Whitmer proposed items building on the task force’s recommendations, including:

  • $2 million to evaluate DHHS departmental policies and procedures through an equity lens.
  • $18.5 million to create a neighborhood health grant program, supporting the community-based health clinics the Task Force established in areas across Michigan with disparity in health access and outcomes.
  • $18.1 million to provide technical assistance supporting local communities as they work to create and implement strategies to boost access to healthy foods, affordable housing, and safety networks.
  •  $10 million to expand and improve health related data collection, reporting, and IT infrastructure to understand and address disparities in health access in Michigan.
  • $2.5 million grant to support individuals with sickle cell disease and their families with counseling, support groups, and other assistance.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice 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.