Whitmer takes steps to combat racism, reports case plateau
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday announced additional steps to combat racism, declaring it a public health crisis and ordering state employees to complete implicit bias training as the state confronts what she called systemic inequities highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Democratic governor also created an advisory council of Black leaders to recommend government actions to ensure equitable treatment of all residents.
“We have a lot of work to do to eradicate the systemic racism that Black Americans have faced for generations. That’s going to take time,” she said at a news conference updating the public on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Black people account for 39% of Michigan’s nearly 6,500 confirmed and probable deaths related to COVID-19 despite making up 14% of the population. In cases where race and ethnicity are known, the infection rate among Black residents is 14,703 per 1 million, compared with 4,160 for white residents.
Whitmer, who previously formed a task force on coronavirus racial disparities, ordered the state Department of Health and Human Services to work with other departments to address racism.
Whitmer said the overall daily count of new cases has plateaued recently after a slight uptick in June and July, but she wants to see a decrease. “Now is no time to spike the football,” she said on a day Detroit’s casinos were allowed to reopen after being closed since March.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said ideally the state would see under 10 new daily cases per million people per day and “a trend that continues in that way.” The seven-day average was roughly 38 as of Sunday.
The state reported two additional deaths and 657 more confirmed cases Wednesday.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher than what has been reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
The Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said its board held an emergency meeting Tuesday night to discuss the reopening of schools. It adopted a motion saying local units should, “if needed,” demand to collectively bargain with K-12 districts over their COVID-19 preparedness and response plans before classes begin this month or next month.
“MEA supports any local associations who choose to take collective action in order to protect the health and safety of their students and staff,” the motion states.
Whitmer said more than a month ago that she was optimistic about returning to in-person instruction during the upcoming academic year after it ended in March. The seven-day statewide case average has risen since then, from to 745 from 361, however.
Under her plan, in-person classes are allowed but not required in both phases four — which covers most of the state — and five, which includes northern Michigan. Schools must follow safety protocols.
Several districts, including Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and many in and around Lansing, have announced plans to start with just online learning. Teachers plan to rally Thursday at the Capitol to protest physically reopening schools and to demand funding. Traditional districts and charter schools do not yet know their state aid for the coming academic year.
David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan — whose members include Detroit educators — said the union’s goal is to negotiate in good faith to ensure that schools can keep students and employees safe.
“We view collective action as a very last resort and hope it will not be necessary. But as our national union announced last week, if a local union deems it necessary to protect the health and safety of students and staff, we will support them,” he said in a statement.
Follow David Eggert at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00