Lt. Gov. Gilchrist talks disparities, 'alarmingly high' African-American deaths from coronavirus

Gilchrist to head new task force aimed at racial disparities
Posted at 10:28 PM, Apr 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-10 23:39:56-04

Statewide data shows a large disparity in how the black community in Michigan is being impacted by COVID-19.

Just this week the state started a task force to take a closer look at this issue.

“While we have taken early action on this and I'm looking to take action immediately to address this disparity. We recognize that this is happening in cities all across the country,” Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist said.

Gilchrist is the chair of the newly formed Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities.

Michigan is one of the first states to launch a task force like this, but the disproportionate impact spans nationwide.

“It’s showing up very strongly in our data on the African-American community. And we're doing everything in our power to address this challenge. It's a tremendous challenge. It's terrible," President Donald Trump said during a recent news conference.

In Michigan 14% of the population is black, but they make up more than 40% of coronavirus deaths.

The numbers don't lie. I mean, the truth is black people have died at a higher rate. This has impacted me personally I unfortunately have 15 people in my life that passed away from coronavirus here in the city of Detroit and all but one of them had been black,” Gilchrist said.

The lieutenant governor says the new task force will be made up of community experts to look at how to combat the virus in black communities and find the underlying issues that are leading the disparity.

“It may be due to the fact that people are not consistently attached to the health care system may not have health insurance or consistent access to a doctor, it may due to the fact that it may be due to the fact that people may have pre-existing conditions that are proven particularly lethal when combined with coronavirus like hypertension or diabetes,” Gilchrist explained.

“Our administration is not afraid to tackle the issue of racial inequity and injustice head on and that's where we're going with this task force and that's why I’m going to be working alongside these experts and leaders to be able to find solutions that work for people in Detroit and southeast Michigan and across the entire state of Michigan, to make sure that we all can be safe, and that lives can be saved,” he added.

WMU Cooley Law School Associate Dean and Professor Tracey Brame believes the global pandemic is exposing deeply rooted issues for people of color.

There's been disparities as far back as we can look. Some of the objective factors that are leading to increased deaths among African-Americans include the prevalence of underlying conditions verity of resources in general like living in impoverished areas, less of an ability to work at home for example to even shelter in place right is more difficult for poor people,” Brame said.

“Actually getting to a place where we can talk about the legacy that that has led to the state of affairs in the black community, I think would be a wonderful, wonderful place to start because so many people don't want to talk about it for a lot of reasons. So like I said maybe some real conversation some real research followed up by some action kind of based on those outcomes, and then like you said to the meantime on the ground, you know, just trying to get that word out there checking in on one another,” she added.

The task force which will be made up of more than a dozen people will have their first meeting Saturday.