GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Scientists are still working to fully understand coronavirus, but one thing the data has made clear is that it has disproportionately killed African Americans in Michigan, claiming hundreds of lives.
“On Tuesday night, I had a cousin who passed away in Detroit from COVID-19,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist. the first African American to hold that post in Michigan, told News 8 Wednesday.
He said that’s the 16th person he has lost to the virus.
“My grandma has kind of been my information beacon in terms of letting me know how my extended family is doing,” Gilchrist said. “(I’ve been) reaching out to my family members on social media and saying, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about you, I’m praying for you.’”
Officials say 40% of the people who have died from the coronavirus in Michigan were African American, despite accounting for only 14% of the state’s population. Skylar Herbert, 5, the first Michigan child to die from the virus, is included in that statistic.
“Skylar’s story, it’s so sad, it’s heartbreaking,” Gilchrist said. “She was only a year younger than my twin son and daughter. Her mother and father are first responders in Detroit.”
Gilchrist is spearheading the governor’s Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparity.
“There are some environmental factors, some socioeconomic factors,” Gilchrist explained when asked why communities of color are being disproportionately affected by the virus.
The list includes the lack of access to a car, affordable housing and health care; and an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and exposure to the virus as bus drivers or grocery store workers.
“We are going to recommend immediate actions and steps to be taken to reduce the mortality rates of COVID-19 in communities of color,” Gilchrist said. “That will mean recommending new protocols for workers who are at higher risk of infection (and) beefing up our data collection efforts so we have comprehensive demographic data that’s reported to the state.”
He said he understands African Americans aren’t the only ones suffering from the virus and sent his love to anyone who’s hurting.
“I hear you, I feel you, I love you,” Gilchrist said. “We’re going to try and save as many people as possible.”
State leaders can’t fight the COVID-19 outbreak by themselves. They’re calling on all Michigan families to do their part by continuing to limit their contact with other people.