Racial health disparities in Michigan declined according to COVID task force report

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 40% of those killed by the virus in Michigan were Black, despite making up 14% of the state’s population.

Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist speaks at a press event at Wayne State University on Feb. 27, 2023.

Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist speaks at a press event at Wayne State University on Feb. 27, 2023.

Michigan was able to reduce health care inequities during the COVID-19 pandemic according to a new report by the Coronavirus Racial Disparities Task Force.

Black people in Michigan died at a much higher rate than white people during the early stages of the pandemic.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer launched the Coronavirus Racial Disparities Task Force, appointing Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist as the chair, to find out why and figure out how to make the state’s health care system more equitable.

By the end of 2022, the death rate was proportional to the overall population. The report cites implicit bias training for health professionals as a way to combat racial inequities.

“This report is all about how we can move forward, both specifically with COVID-19 but broadly how we can address health disparities to have better outcomes,” Gilchrist said Monday at a press event at Wayne State University.

Michigan’s top medical official, Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, says employment was a factor.

“One of the things we found, and this was nationally, is that more individuals of color had employment in the types of jobs that made them more front facing,” Bagdasarian shared.

Michigan Public Health Institute CEO Dr. Renee Branch Canady, who was on the committee, stressed that it’s systemic racism, not race, that has contributed to the healthcare gap in marginalized communities.

“We are not saying that race is a risk factor. This is not about blaming a particular community,” says Canady. “Quite candidly, race is not the risk factor — racism is the risk factor.”

The state used mobile health clinics designed by Ford Motor Co. to reach those populations — conducting testing, distributing masks, giving vaccinations and assessing residents for underlying health problems. The mobile units saw 83,000 patients in three years.

Among the task force’s recommendations are improved data collection so disparities can be quickly identified, consistent funding for health clinics in underserved areas, and engagement with Michigan’s robust migrant worker population.

Trusted, accurate, up-to-date.

WDET strives to make our journalism accessible to everyone. As a public media institution, we maintain our journalistic integrity through independent support from readers like you. If you value WDET as your source of news, music and conversation, please make a gift today.

Donate today »


  • Russ McNamara
    Russ McNamara is the host of All Things Considered for 101.9 WDET, presenting local news to the station’s loyal listeners. He's been an avid listener of WDET since he moved to metro Detroit in 2002.