Addressing racial disparities in Michigan during COVID-19

Black Michigan residents make up only 13.7% of the state's entire population but accounted for approximately 40% of all coronavirus-related deaths in the state. 

Few recent events as big as the 2020 pandemic have shown such a stark light on the difference in outcomes due to a person's race. 

That disproportionate impact on communities of color is receiving renewed attention from both the president and members of Michigan's Congressional Delegation.

"We worked very aggressively to make sure FEMA - the federal emergency management folks who are or were overseeing or continued to oversee the response - would understand that these communities have been hit disproportionately and they needed more resources," said Michigan Sen. Gary Peters. 

In January President Biden signed an executive order creating a task force to address COVID-19 related health and social inequities. Michigan’s top doctor, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, was appointed to the team

And here in Michigan, a similar task force was created to also address issues of systemic inequities and the compounding results from historic faults from a racist system.

Months later and there was already progress.

In March and April, the average cases per million among Black Michigan residents was 176. In September and October, it fell to 59. During those same periods, the number of Black Michigan residents dying fell from 21.7 per million per day to one.

But the work isn't done as other disparities persist in the battle against COVID-19. Recently, the focus has been on vaccine distribution.

"We need to have better data. That's to know who exactly is getting the vaccine, which communities are getting it, it’s still a challenge and one we’re pushing aggressively to change," said Peters.

Tracking the racial makeup of those that have gotten the shot is still an issue. As of February 23, only 56% of reported COVID-19 vaccine doses also had racial information recorded with it.

According to that incomplete data, less than 30,000 Black residents have gotten fully vaccinated, out of almost 900,000 people in MIchigan. 

In February, a number of Michigan policymakers and leaders joined President Joe Biden at the Pfizer plant in Kalamazoo.

When he came to tour the facility, Biden was called out by for misleading claims that vaccinations have "nearly doubled" on his watch.

The non-partisan website reported that "even measured at its peak, the seven-day rolling average has gone up 67%." 

The reality is that many who are eligible for the shot still haven't gotten one. Biden has predicted that by late spring there should be enough for anyone who wants it.