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Examining and Addressing COVID-19 Racial Disparities in Detroit

Governance Studies at Brookings paper

In a paper for Brookings Governance Studies, Faculty Associate Rashawn Ray and colleagues Jane Fran Morgan, Lydia Wileden, Samantha Elizando, and Destiny Wiley-Yancy examine the foundations of health disparities in the city of Detroit and surrounding areas. The authors document racial disparties in the COVID death toll and in health insurance coverage; they examine structural conditions impacting health care, work, and neighborhood access; and they note spillover effects from COVID on essential needs, employment, economic security, housing instability, education and small business. The authors lay out policy and practice opportunities to address racial disparities and make recommendations for equitable vaccine dissemination.

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," they write. "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.

While race cannot solely be used as a determinant for a vaccine, zip code may be an important alterative. Our analysis reveals that many of the differences among Detroiters are census-tract specific. Accordingly, access is about the ability for people to reach a location to get the care and treatment they deserve.

Leveraging community pillars like churches, barbershops, and hairstylists will not only be convenient locally but also will empower the community and provide resources as well as help overcome medical distrust. Local vaccine sites as well as mobile vaccine options are desirable for places with limited public transportation.

For Black Detroiters, however, they are much less likely to be employed through work and more likely to be insured through Medicare or Medicaid relative to whites. In order to better protect and save Black-owned businesses, Community Development Financial Institutions can aim to focus more acutely on small businesses most in need to help with processes and access to funding. Mobile phone options to apply for loans and programs may be needed in areas with issues related to broadband access.

Their recommendations include acknowledging that medical distrust is rational, continuing transparency with regard to vaccines, insuring effective social media messaging, leveraging black community gatekeepers, and centering racial inequity for long-term recovery.


Rashawn Ray, Jane Fran Morgan, Lydia Wileden, Samantha Elizando, and Destiny Wiley-Yancy (2021). "Examining and Addressing COVID-19 Racial Disparities in Detroit". Brookings Governance Studies.