NAACP President Derrick Johnson Says 'Stay Safe' as Michigan Releases Racial Breakdown of Coronavirus Cases

"Stay safe & demand that your leaders protect you," NAACP President Derrick Johnson tweeted Thursday in response to the data

Derrick Johnson
Photo: Cheriss May/Getty Images

Michigan released the racial breakdown of its 10,791 confirmed novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases on Thursday, prompting NAACP President Derrick Johnson to urge people to “pay attention.”

African Americans made up 35 percent of the state’s overall confirmed cases and accounted for 40 percent of Michigan’s 417 deaths related to the contagious respiratory virus, according to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

African Americans make up 12 percent of Michigan’s population.

Of the state’s deaths, 26 percent were caucasian, 3 percent were “multiple races or other,” 1 percent was Asian/Pacific Islander, and 30 percent were unknown, according to the MDHHS’ data.

Of the overall confirmed cases, 25 percent were caucasian, 5 percent were multiple races or other, 1 percent was Asian/Pacific Islander and 34 percent were unknown, the data showed.

On the unknown percentages, a spokesperson from the health department told Associated Press reported Kat Stafford that “data on race is collected by local health jurisdictions in Michigan and entered into our system. While it is improving, that data is incomplete in our system for many individuals (now down to about 30 percent), so that’s why we haven’t been reporting it one the website.”

“Pay attention,” Johnson wrote on Twitter, accompanying his message with the data. “#COVID19 is hitting our community hard. Stay safe & demand that your leaders protect you. @NAACP thank you @kat__stafford for sharing.”

Michigan’s chief medical executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, told the Detroit Metro Times that COVID-19 is “having a more significant effect on marginalized and poorer communities, particularly communities of color.”

“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,” Khaldun told the outlet. “We know that people with these underlying medical conditions are more likely to become severely ill from COVID-19.”

The Metro Times also pointed out that a quarter of the state’s confirmed cases and deaths are in Detroit, a city whose population is 80 percent African American.

As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. continues to rise, there has been a growing outcry for the government to monitor the demographics of people who contract the virus in order to better provide access to testing and care.

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The Maryland Health Department is currently facing pressure from members of the Legislative Black Caucus to release its own racial breakdown of COVID-19 cases in the state, the Baltimore Sun reported Thursday. A spokesperson for Maryland Governor Larry Hogan told the outlet that they were working on obtaining that information.

On Friday, a group of Democrats urged Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in a letter to “to monitor and address racial disparities in our nation’s response to the” COVID-19 outbreak.

The letter was signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, as well as Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Robin L. Kelly.

“Despite the clear vulnerability of people of color in this public health emergency, comprehensive demographic data on the racial and ethnic characteristics of people who are tested or treated for COVID-19 does not exist,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Health care providers have begun to express their concerns that Black and Hispanic people are less likely to have access to testing, which is crucial to tracking and containing the virus within a community. They are also concerned that the CDC’s subjective criteria for which patients should receive a test could result in health care providers directing tests toward more affluent patients.”

The letter continued: “Without demographic data on the race and ethnicity of patients being tested, the rate of positive test results, and outcomes for those with COVID-19, it will be impossible for practitioners and policy makers to address disparities in health outcomes and inequities in access to testing and treatment as they emerge. This lack of information will exacerbate existing health disparities and result in the loss of lives in vulnerable communities. It will also hamper the efforts of public health officials to track and contain the novel coronavirus in the areas that are at the highest risk of continued spread.”

The United States has the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 of any country in the world, with at least 243,729. There are at least 6,164 deaths related to the virus in the U.S.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.

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