As Grand Rapids, U.P. see coronavirus uptick, Whitmer says: ‘Mask up!’

Signs directive requiring health personnel to have bias training

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the U.P. | Susan J. Demas

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday stressed in a news conference that the state has experienced an “uptick” in COVID-19 cases — particularly in the Grand Rapids region.

With public schools scheduled to start in eight weeks and summer in full gear — including family reunions, holiday celebrations and people looking to get out of the house and beat the heat — Whitmer reiterated that state residents must “mask up!”

“We can’t let our guard down and play fast and loose with the rules,” Whitmer said, referring to her prior directives that state residents wear protective face covering in public establishments.   

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist give a COVID-19 update | Gov. Whitmer office photo

On Wednesday, the state reported 610 new cases, the highest number since May, according to Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health. The Grand Rapids area has experienced three weeks of increased confirmed cases — the highest increase in the state. 

The Detroit, Lansing, Kalamazoo, Jackson and Traverse City areas have all experienced increases in cases, as well. But they have not been as intense as the Grand Rapids area.

“It’s important to note here that the Upper Peninsula — which has previously seen consistently low levels of cases is now seeing the highest level of cases throughout the entire pandemic,” Khaldun said.  

Whitmer also announced that she has signed an executive directive that directs the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to begin developing rules that will require implicit bias training as part of the knowledge and skills necessary for licensure, registration and renewal of licenses and registrations of health professionals in Michigan.

Whitmer said she and key members of her executive team also will undergo training.

Michigan reports spike of 610 new COVID-19 cases, 10 deaths

“There’s no doubt that our front-line health care workers like doctors and nurses have been the real heroes of this crisis, putting their lives on the line for us every day,” said Whitmer. “COVID-19 has had a disparate impact on people of color due to a variety of factors, and we must do everything we can to address this disparity. The evidence shows that training in implicit bias can make a positive difference, so today we are taking action to help improve racial equity across Michigan’s health care system.”

It is the latest directive from Whitmer to fight the COVID-19 crisis. Bias training was one of the recommendations made by the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, which Whitmer created in response to the devastating and disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on communities of color.

Lt. Gov.Garlin Gilchrist, an African-American Detroit resident who chairs the panel, said he has lost 23 people in his life to COVID-19.

“The existing health disparities highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic have made it clear that there is more work to do to ensure people of color have the same access to the same quality of health care as everyone else,” said Gilchrist. “By providing awareness to health care workers on how to recognize and mitigate implicit bias, we can help them carry out their mission of providing the best health care to every patient they serve.”

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer give a COVID-19 update | Gov. Whitmer office photo

Black residents represent 14% of the state population, but are 40% of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in which the race of the patient was known. COVID-19 is over four times more prevalent among Blacks than among whites.  

The National Healthcare Disparities Report concluded that white patients received care of a higher quality than Black, Hispanic, Indigenous and Asian Americans. People of color face more barriers to accessing health care than white people and are generally less satisfied with their interactions with health care providers.

“There is no question that our healthcare workers have risked their own lives and saved countless others during the COVID pandemic,” said Khaldun. “But the fact is that implicit bias exists, and studies show that it can have an impact on health outcomes.  Every healthcare professional should be trained in implicit bias so that we can make sure everyone, regardless of their race or ethnicity, has access to the highest quality care.” 

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.