The coronavirus is infecting and killing an alarming proportion of Black residents in Michigan.
Black people make up 12% of Michigan’s population. But of the state’s 417 coronavirus deaths, 40% are Black, 26% are white, 30% are unknown, and 4% are mixed race or other, according to data released Thursday by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).
Of the nearly 11,000 who tested positive for the coronavirus, 35% are Black, 25% white, 34% are unknown. An additional 6% represent other races.
This is the first time the state released data on the racial makeup of coronavirus patients. The disclosure raises serious questions about why Black people have been disproportionately impacted.
A quarter of the deaths and confirmed infections are in Detroit, where 80% of the population is Black. Suburban communities with large Black populations have also been hit hard by the coronavirus. They include Eastpointe, Ecorse, Highland Park, Oak Park, Redford Township, River Rouge, Roseville, Southfield, and Warren, according to an analysis by Bridge.
“There is no question that the COVID-19 outbreak is having a more significant effect on marginalized and poorer communities, particularly communities of color,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, tells Metro Times. “While COVID-19 can infect anyone regardless of race or class, African Americans have historically been more likely to have higher rates of chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer in the United States. We know that people with these underlying medical conditions are more likely to become severely ill from COVID-19.”
Decades of economic inequality and systemic racism in Michigan have trapped a disproportionate number of Black people in poverty. And studies show that cities with concentrations of impoverished people are susceptible to higher infection and fatality rates. Many lower-income people rely on public transit, live in large apartment buildings, and work at jobs without paid sick days. At service industry jobs, employees often can’t work remotely and are in close contact with the public.
Another symptom of poverty is chronic illnesses due to unequal access to medical care.