Lansing, MI – December 3, 2020 – Governor Whitmer held a news conference today to talk about the effects of COVID-19 on people, especially the black community, and the importance of protecting one another and doing your part to stop the spread of the virus. Listen to the full news conference here, or keep reading to find the governor’s opening statement and that transcript.
Good afternoon. Today is Thursday, December 3rd. I am joined by, of course, our Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist, and of course our Chief Medical Executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun.
In the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew that this virus had a disproportionate impact on Black communities, because here in Michigan, we saw it. Dr. Khaldun was one of the first people in the nation to identify this. This virus has exposed deep inequities in our state and in our nation, inequities in access to healthcare, affordable housing, transportation, and good paying jobs.
It’s attacked everyone from the very young to the very old, especially in the Black community. Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist alone has lost dozens of loved ones to COVID-19. Every day, I think about the lives lost here in Michigan to this virus, and this holiday season, especially, I think about the empty chairs at dinner tables across the state that should be filled with people we love. Michiganders everywhere are mourning the loss of their friends, families, and neighbors preparing to start a new year without them.
I know how widespread the pain has been in communities of color and in the Black community in particular. Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist, Dr. Khaldun and I knew from the beginning, we could not eradicate this virus and save lives without putting a direct focus on its impact on Black communities. We got to work. We listened to the medical experts, and we took a fact-based approach to eradicating this virus.
Michigan was one of the first states to release demographic data on COVID-19, because we are committed to leading and living our values, which are rooted in justice and equality and equity. In April, I created the COVID-19 Task Force on Racial Disparities, chaired by the Lieutenant Governor to help us protect our most vulnerable communities.
Since its inception, the members of the task force have been working around the clock to help protect Black communities from the disparate impacts of COVID-19. As a result of their efforts, the task force has made a number of recommendations to address immediate gaps in the state’s COVID-19 response to provide vulnerable communities with access to critical health and non-health resources, and to start work to change the structures that have perpetuated the disparities in Michigan.
We have emerged as a national leader in reducing these disparities during COVID-19. 15% of Michiganders are African American, but in April, African Americans accounted for over 40% of the COVID-19 cases and deaths. The task force, the Michigan Task Force on Racial Disparities, studied this issue and made quick recommendations about actions we could take to immediately address it and the historic and systemic inequities that underlie them.
Now, thanks to their hard work, our state has seen significant progress. From March and April to September and October, the average cases per million per day for African-American Michiganders dropped from 176 to 59. In the same period, the number of probable deaths per million among African-American Michiganders dropped significantly from 21.7 to one.
Today, we are announcing the findings and goals outlined in the task force’s interim report, and I’ll let the Lieutenant Governor get into the specifics of the report’s findings. I do want to highlight some of the actions we’ve taken it in the past nine months to protect communities of color.
As of November 16, more than 24,000 tests have been administered to previously underserved communities across 21 neighborhood testing sites. These state-operated sites provide COVID-19 testing on a consistent schedule several days a week. One additional site is scheduled to launch prior to the end of this year. All sites offer free testing and prescription is not required for someone to get their test, nor is any form of ID required. I urge people to find their nearest testing site if they need a test. This September, my administration created the Rapid Response Grant Program, which has awarded 31 grants for a total of $20 million of CARES Act funding to local organizations. These grants are used for things like addressing food and housing insecurity, increasing access to testing and flu vaccines, improving contact tracing and more.
The data is clear, and the actions our administration and the Racial Disparities Task Force have taken have saved lives and protected our most vulnerable populations. We’ve helped reduce the number of COVID-19 infections in communities of high risk of spread with elevated risk of severe outcomes.
As we enter the colder months, the task force will continue to work 24/7 to protect our communities. The progress we’ve made is promising, but we’ve got to continue working to protect our most vulnerable populations from the spread of COVID-19. Our number of COVID-related cases and hospitalizations is still dangerously high, and dozens of Michiganders are losing their lives to this virus each day.
We must continue to work together to protect each other. As I’ve said before, we don’t need an epidemic order to know what the right thing to do is. We just need to do it, because the science is settled, wearing a face mask and keeping at least six feet of distance from others are the greatest tools that we have to combat the spread of this virus.
There is great, great hope on the horizon. We’ve seen significant progress in vaccine development from Pfizer, and even doing some of that work here in Michigan and Moderna, and we anticipate there will be others coming online as well. We’ll continue to work to ensure any effective and safe vaccine is distributed safely and in a way that follows CDC guidance.
If we want to eradicate this virus once and for all, we’ve got to work together. We got to keep our numbers down by masking up, by washing our hands frequently, and by maintaining six feet of social distance. Please, avoid indoor gatherings where COVID-19 can easily spread from person to person.
We all have a personal responsibility to protect each other. Even one infection, one unknown infection of an asymptomatic person, can cause an outbreak in our communities. We’ve done this before. We have beat this virus in the spring by listening to medical experts, and we can do it again.