Expert speaks on COVID-19, protests impact on black communities

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — While coronavirus case numbers continue to improve across the U.S., data shows COVID-19 has disproportionately affected African American communities.

Now with protests erupting across the country, health officials have advice to those who continue to demonstrate.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist has called this issue “critical.” Studies show that black people makeup 14% of the population in Michigan but account for 40% of COVID-19 deaths.

That statistic is why officials say it’s important for those who continue to protest to protect themselves.

“African Americans are dealing with two pandemics. One of them has lasted three months, the other has lasted 400 years,” said Micah Foster, the executive director of the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute.

Foster says COVID-19’s negative impact on African Americans isn’t a coincidence.

“This disproportionate outcome is a direct impact of hundreds of years of structural racism, oppression, and racial injustice,” said Foster.

It’s something he’s willing to stand up for.

“Black men are more likely to receive longer sentences, be incarcerated at higher rates than whites for the same offense. Frankly, we’re fed up with the injustice. When the systems around you are designed to remove your voice, remove your power, you have no choice but to take it back,” said Foster.

He encourages Black Lives Matter protesters to demonstrate safely by wearing masks and trying to keep a distance as much as possible. He says the health institute is handing out free face masks to anyone in the community.

“Our systems, healthcare, education, law enforcement, policing, housing, they were not built with a quality in mind, they were built to promulgate this hierarchy of social value,” said Foster.

He hopes by continuing to stand up for justice, change will come.

“We need to re-imagine and re-engineer a new America where a quality is built into this structure,” said Foster.

Foster also adds that in Kent County, African Americans comprise about 10 percent of the population, but account for 20 percent of positive COVID-19 cases.