WATCH: State officials discuss progress in COVID-19 racial disparities, vaccine plans

Posted at 9:18 AM, Dec 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-03 14:18:09-05

LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other state officials addressed Michigan's efforts to address gaps in the response to the pandemic in vulnerable communities.

The governor was joined by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun.

Gilchrist, chair of the task force designated to addressing these communities, announced that significant progress has been made to reduce disparities in communities of color, especially in Black communities.

Black people have recently only been accounting for about 9 percent of coronavirus cases in the state and 5.7 percent of deaths, according to Gilchrist.

Efforts have including increasing mobile testing, telehealth options and guidance to health professionals on how they can avoid implicit bias, among others.

"The big takeaway is that more than any particular intervention, it is the prioritized attention that our state has placed on reducing these disparities in our resourcing and protecting these vulnerable Michiganders," Gilchrist said.

Among the biggest upcoming priorities will be ensuring as many people get vaccinated as possible once one becomes available, including communities that have previously been stained by past large-scale medical interventions and vaccines.

Khaldun says it's not about skin color, but about exposure and equity.

Meanwhile, Michigan's COVID-19 case rates remain "dangerously high," Khaldun said.

Currently, 81 percent of hospital ICU beds across the state are full.

The top categories for identified outbreaks continue to be long-term facilities, followed by K-12 schools, manufacturing, health care, office settings, restaurants and bars, according to Khaldun.

Officials are working with local hospitals, health departments and other partners to plan for distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

Khaldun said a vaccine could be available as soon as Dec. 15.

"This is really exciting," she said. "I want people to right now be thinking about their plans for getting the vaccine when it becomes available to them. Please know that we will not promote this vaccine in Michigan unless the science is clear that it is safe and effective."

The state's three-week "pause" with new COVID-19 restrictions is set to expire Dec. 8 unless it gets extended.

No announcement has been made yet about whether that extension will happen, but Whitmer says officials are looking closely at the data and need to continue doing so for "a few more days."

They're concerned about gatherings that took place over Thanksgiving and those that may occur over the December holidays.

Whitmer says the state continues to look for ways to help businesses affected by COVID-19 restrictions.