Final Michigan Coronavirus Racial Disparities Task Force report outlines progress, recommendations

Published: Mar. 4, 2022 at 2:53 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WNEM) - The first-of-its-kind Michigan Coronavirus Racial Disparities Taskforce released recommendations for collaborative policy, programming and systemic change to protect communities of color from the spread of COVID-19 and create change.

The report provides a progress report on the taskforce’s short and long-term goals, finds that actions from the state of Michigan in 2020 and 2021 helped reduce health-based racial disparities in COVID-19 response and deaths.

“When we saw that COVID-19 was uniquely lethal in communities of color in Michigan, Governor Whitmer and I knew we had to act quickly,” said Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, chair of the Michigan Coronavirus Racial Disparities Task Force. “Two years later, the successes of the Michigan Coronavirus Racial Disparities Task Force in balancing short-term needs with long- term goals have made it a national model on responding to racial disparities and flattening inequities. But we know there is more work to do – which is why I am proud to join the Task Force in releasing these recommendations to help us chart the way forward. Governor Whitmer and I look forward to continuing to work with the Task Force to protect Michigan communities and save lives.”

A study by the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy and the National Governors Association Center for the Best Practices found the task force made significant and sustainable progress towards reducing health-based racial disparities associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The members of this Task Force have worked tirelessly with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to develop recommendations to address this crisis that exposed the long-standing inequities for Black Michiganders that have persisted for decades. Now we must make sure to turn these recommendations into actions that reduce and eventually eliminate the racial disparities impacting the health of Michiganders,” said Hon. Thomas Stallworth III, director of the Michigan Coronavirus Racial Disparities Task Force.

Key actions from the task force include reducing barriers to testing in communities of color, expanding testing to the most at risk for serious illness, developing culturally competent messaging for best practices of COVID-19 mitigation, improving racial data collection and sharing and improving access to health care for marginalized populations.

Recommendations introduced by the task force on Friday include:

Strategic testing infrastructure

  • Improve racial and ethnic data collection and use to address racial and ethnic disparities.
  • Continue to fund neighborhood testing and vaccination sites and mobile health units to provide new and existing health and social services to marginalized communities.
  • Require adherence to and monitor compliance of federal requirement to assist with meaningful language access.
  • Establish a process and infrastructure to send alerts to key community partners and/or residents regarding COVID-19 infection rates and problem areas

Primary care connections

  • Decrease the number of uninsured and underinsured Michiganders.
  • Fully leverage Health Information Technology and data to reduce racial health disparities.
  • Implement quality criteria to incentivize primary care.
  • Maximize the use of school-based clinics for expanded care delivery.
  • Educate the public about mental health services.
  • Increase inoculation rates across ages through statewide messaging campaigns.

Centering equity workgroup

  • Increase culturally competent data collection.
  • Support implementation of the Maternal Infant Health & Equity Improvement Plan’s (MIHEIP) strategic vision of zero preventable deaths - zero health disparities across its six primary priorities.

Additional recommendations

  • Reduce COVID-19 exposure risks in environmental justice communities related to air quality.
  • Ensure that every home and business in Michigan has access to an affordable, reliable high-speed internet connection that meets their needs.

Established in April 2020, the Michigan Coronavirus Racial Disparities Taskforce was built with leaders from various government, academia and the private sector, health care, economic development, education and other disciplines.

The leaders were divided into three working groups related to the following topics:

  • The Centering Equity Workgroup focuses on studying the cause of the COVID-19 racial disparities and recommending policies and practices that can be implemented in the present to respond to immediate needs and the future to combat racial disparities in possible new pandemics or health crises.
  • The Primary Care Connections Workgroup is charged with examining both short-term and long-term strategies to address the needs of uninsured Michiganders and to close the historical gap of relationships with primary care providers amongst communities of color.
  • The Strategic Testing Infrastructure Workgroup is tasked with implementing the infection testing and vaccine delivery infrastructure needed to effectively meet the needs of the Black or African American community and other marginalized communities during the public health emergency.