Whitmer signs directive declaring racism a public health crisis in Michigan

Gov., Gilchrist announce Black Leadership Advisory Council

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun gives an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday announced an executive directive declaring racism a public health crisis in Michigan and ordered the creation of a Black Leadership Advisory Council to advise her administration in establishing policies to prevent racial inequity and discrimination.

Speaking during a COVID-19 morning media briefing, Whitmer said forming an advisory council is necessary because the ongoing pandemic has highlighted the state’s stark pre-existing inequities caused by systemic racism.

In Michigan, the rate of death from COVID-19 is 1,630 per million among Black and African American residents, whereas it is 403 per million among white residents, according to state data.

“This reflects long-standing, deep societal, economic and environmental disparities,” Whitmer said.

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Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, who joined Whitmer at the briefing, said the COVID-19 pandemic has held a mirror up to the country’s health care system. 

“Communities of color are suffering at higher rates, in part because of a lack of attachment to that health care system,” Gilchrist said.

The advisory council will have at least one member between the ages of 18 and 35 to provide a young person’s experience and at least one member who is an immigrant or has experienced immigration policy, according to Gilchrist. 

It will consist of 16 voting members and be contained within the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO). Applications for the advisory council can be submitted to Michigan.gov/appointments. They are due by Aug. 19.

The state’s chief medical executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, said the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has created an Equity Impact Assessment (EIA) tool to provide guidance to leaders on how their decisions will impact marginalized communities. 

Communities of color are disproportionately impacted by many health conditions: cancer mortality, heart disease, diabetes, maternal mortality, infant mortality and now COVID-19, Khaldun said.

State reports more than 84K COVID-19 cases

“Let’s be clear: These disparities have nothing to do with genetics and race,” she added. “They are due to unequal treatment and racism that have plagued our society for centuries.”

The three officials were joined by Flint Mayor Sheldon Neely, who offered his support for the administration’s advisory council. Neely is a Democratic former state representative and chaired the legislative Black Caucus. 

“The disparity that Dr. Khaldun talked about — infant mortality, maternal mortality, environmental injustice, disparate treatment by law enforcement — we’re gonna get beyond that,” Neely said. “And it starts today in the state of Michigan.”

Other takeaways

Michigan has now reported more than 84,000 COVID-19 cases. Last week, state officials identified 99 outbreaks of COVID-19 linked to social gatherings, nursing homes and schools, Khaldun said.

The Traverse City area is currently the only region reporting under 10 cases per million people a day, she added. That region has continued to see a decrease in the last three weeks.

Citing increases in case numbers, Whitmer also repeated her call for President Donald Trump to order a nationwide mask mandate and called on Congress to pass additional aid for state and local governments that would extend pandemic unemployment benefits, increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and allocate funding to childcare for frontline workers, among other things. 

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“Now is not the time to slash benefits that have been a lifeline for Americans,” Whitmer said. 

Whitmer also spoke about the president’s authorization of her July 10 request to keep Michigan National Guard forces in place until Dec. 31 to continue responding to the pandemic.

She questioned why the Michigan National Guard and those in other states are being funded at 75% when Trump is allowing state National Guards in Florida and Texas to continue being funded at 100%. 

With the exception of Florida and Texas, states and territories will need to fund 25% of their own National Guard costs after full federal funding expires on Aug. 21, as the Advance previously reported.

She, Gilchrist, Khaldun and Neely also expressed condolences to the family of Michigan State Police Trooper Caleb Starr, 33, who died July 31 of injuries sustained when a drunk driver struck his vehicle head-on in a July 10 crash.