WXMI — Tuesday marks one year since the announcement of the state’s COVID task force on racial disparity, led by Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist. Speaking to FOX17 on the anniversary, Gilchrist was pleased with the progress that’s been made in a year’s time, but with some caution.
“After all of the interventions, after all of the 6-million free masks and connecting people to health insurance, and starting neighborhood testing and vaccination sites, and investing in community organizations…I think objectively we’ve made significant progress on that front,’” said Lt. Gov. Gilchrist on a Zoom call.
Gilchrist noted that when the task force was formed a year ago, black Michiganders made up 14% of the state’s population yet accounted for 40% of Michigan’s COVID deaths. Speaking to FOX17 on Tuesday, he said the state’s black community now accounts for less than 10% of the state’s deaths and cases.
Across other minority groups, the arrival of vaccines has provided some light, but just not close enough to home in some cases.
“People feel comfortable to go to the places they know,” said Hispanic Center of West Michigan spokesperson Claudia Pohlen, “but not, let’s say, downtown Grand Rapids where they might not feel welcome.”
Pohlen says the Hispanic Center would like to see more granular efforts to get vaccine doses inside communities, so people can go where they feel comfortable, like a school or cultural center, and Gilchrist says that’s been a key focus of the task force since vaccines rolled out.
“I got vaccinated at a church in a neighborhood in Detroit, a community vaccination site. Free, people can line up, walk in and get vaccinated,” he said. “Especially for Michiganders of color, people prefer to get vaccinated in their community rather than having to go to a mass vaccination site like a DeVos Place or like the Expo Center in Kalamazoo.”
Recent state data shows white Michiganders are 34.5% vaccinated as a population, trailing the state’s Asian-American population at 36.3% and just ahead of the American Indian population at 30.4%.
The state’s black population and the state’s Latinx population are both 21.2% vaccinated.
“It should be as easy to get a vaccine as it is to get a pack of gum,” said Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan. Elmouchi said by and large, their data showed the outcome of hospitalized patients was the same across all races at their 13 area facilities. He admits though, the pandemic unearthed new disparities in healthcare but didn’t necessarily fix them in the past year.
“It’s going to require months and years of investment, infrastructure, and talent to make this better for the long haul for everyone,” he said. “It’s really a societal issue, that all of us have a part to play.”
And as the lieutenant governor and his racial disparities task force shifts to making the vaccine more accessible and closer to home for many, there’s something else that Pohlen wants them to focus on.
“I don’t want our community to be forgotten when it’s time to rebuild,” she said. “We just have to keep giving ourselves a place in the conversation and advocating for our community because that’s our job.”
Gilchrist, when asked Tuesday, said that’s absolutely part of the task force’s plan.
“Connecting people to economic opportunity, connecting people to internet access, connecting people to educational experiences for children with special needs who weren’t able to be served remotely during the pandemic,” he said.