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Examining and addressing COVID-19 racial disparities in Detroit

This post was originally published by The Brookings Institution. Read the original post.

One in every 645 Black people in the United States can expect to die from COVID-19, per data from February 2021. Blacks are 2.1 times more likely than whites to die from the virus. In fact, if Blacks had the same death rate as whites from COVID-19, roughly 25,000 fewer Black people would have died in 2020.

Why are Blacks disproportionately infected and dying from COVID-19? And, what are the broader COVID-19 related challenges for Black families and communities? How does COVID-19 impact other health-related issues, employment, housing, food, education, and business ownership? These are the central research questions in this report, “Examining and Addressing COVID-19 Racial Disparities in Detroit.

With racism being declared a public health issue in cities and states such as Michigan, we aim to examine the impact of COVID-19 through the experiences of Detroiters. The state of Michigan has the fourth-highest COVID-19 mortality rate for Black Americans. Roughly 30 out of every 1,000 Black people living in Michigan can expect to die from COVID-19. Wayne County has been most impacted by the virus. In Detroit, Black people represent over 75 percent of known COVID-19 diagnoses by race and nearly 90 percent of deaths. Considering there is a sizable percentage of missing data, the Black community may be even harder hit.

In light of these are sobering statistics, we assembled a formidable team of national, state, and local policy experts, practitioners, and researchers from The Brookings Institution, JFM Consulting Group, Data Driven Detroit, and the University of Michigan to better understand the factors related to racial disparities in COVID-19-related outcomes and the barriers to closing these gaps. Ultimately our findings will inform evidence-based solutions for government officials in the city of Detroit, Wayne County, and the state of Michigan when making policy decisions that can reduce the racial gap in COVID-19 and advance vaccine utilization.

Our extensive analysis of quantitative, qualitative, and demographic data reveals that COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted the Black community in Detroit. Not only are Black and Hispanic residents more likely to die from COVID-19 and know someone who died from COVID-19 relative to whites, but Black residents relative to white residents report more issues with housing, money, and food. A majority of parents report significant struggles with education for their children during the pandemic and report low levels of confidence in the school system to handle these challenges. Our report concludes with a series of policy recommendations for addressing racial disparities in COVID-19, COVID-related challenges, and racially-equitable vaccine dissemination.

While we focus acutely on Detroit and the Tri-County region in Michigan, our findings and policy recommendations are applicable to other localities that are attempting to employ racial equity in the midst of pervasive racial health disparities.

Major Research Findings:

  • Black residents are significantly more likely to contract and die from COVID-19.
  • Black residents are seven times more likely to be very concerned about being evicted and 17 times more likely than White residents to report needing rent assistance.
  • Black residents are significantly more likely than Whites to report not having enough money to pay their bills and take out loans relative to Whites. In fact, Blacks are 40% more likely to report that they run out of money. Over 75% of Detroiters make under $50,000 a year.
  • Black residents in Detroit relative to White residents are significantly more likely to report challenges in in securing and maintaining housing, obtaining medication, and getting food, water, and other household supplies.
  • Black residents report spending more money on food and gas during the pandemic as well as obtaining food from local food banks. With children engaging mostly in remote learning, parents are concerned with having to provide more food with less money. Black Detroiters report being more likely to have children living in the home.

Policy Opportunities to Address Racial Disparities

  • Ensure racially-equitable health care access.
  • Establish comprehensive collection of demographic data.
  • Ensure equitable payment protection program funding.
  • Establish testing and triage centers in Black neighborhoods.
  • Provide hazard pay to essential workers.
  • Provide a living wage.
  • Implement universal health care.

Recommendations for Vaccine Dissemination

  • Acknowledge that medical distrust is rational.
  • Continue transparency about the vaccine.
  • Ensure effective social media messaging.
  • Leverage black community gatekeepers and pillars.

The racial gap in COVID-19 diagnoses is not only disproportionately killing Black people but killing Black communities. In this report, we have aimed to provide a comprehensive overview of the factors that exacerbate these gaps as well as policy opportunities and recommendations to reduce it. Implementing the following evidence-based solutions will improve the lives of all Detroiters and empower families and local communities.

Download and read the report here.

On March 2, the Race, Prosperity, and Inclusion Initiative at Brookings hosted a webinar to discuss COVID-19 racial disparities in Detroit and the findings of the paper. Speakers discussed the structural conditions contributing to the racial gap in COVID-19 infections among Black and other communities of color and policy recommendations to address these inequalities. Watch the webinar below:

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