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UM data: Black Michiganders saw disproportionate COVID-19 hospitalizations during recent surge

Emergency room hospital
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Black residents faced disparities in hospitalizations during the third coronavirus wave, according to data from the University of Michigan. 

The MI Safe Start Map’s latest complete data spans from March 30 to April 27. This covers the middle of the recent hospitalization peak, which came close to surpassing spring 2020’s heights. (The dashboard's disparities feature updates every Tuesday for the last week.)

Black residents make up almost 14% of the state’s population. But they make up 18.5% of deaths and 20% of hospitalizations.

Native Americans were also flagged by UM’s dashboard — they make up .5% of Michigan’s population, but .7% of cases.

Marisa Eisenberg is an associate professor of epidemiology at UM who has been tracking these numbers. Her team has been working on flagging these inequalities for the state’s Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities.

“(The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services) and the governor's office and local public health, and lots of different people have been doing a lot of work to try and improve health disparities in terms of COVID in Michigan, and it has overall been sort of improving, but there are still times where you'll see these patterns play out, and it's something to keep watching and keep working on,” she said.

Eisenberg explained there have been increasing differences in case rates across racial groups in Michigan. But UM flags a disparity if a group has 33% more COVID-19 cases, deaths or hospitalizations "per million than the general population," as the dashboard details. 

The MI Safe Start Map uses the Michigan Disease Surveillance System as a source for its hospitalization admissions data, which is different from other hospitalization metrics. This is because MDSS flags race and ethnicity.

Age groups 10 to 39-year-olds also saw more cases than their population makeup. Ten to 29-year-olds made up 37% of cases during this time period.

"In addition to illustrating a more nuanced view of COVID-19 spread and severity trends in each MERC region, this case and death disparity data provides additional context for the department's ongoing public health mitigation efforts, including equitable testing, contact tracing and vaccination strategies," Sarah Lyon-Callo, director of the MDHHS Bureau of Epidemiology and Population Health, said in a news release.

Dawn Misra is a professor of epidemiology at Michigan State University. She also leads the MSU COVID Death Investigation team, which partners with the state’s health department to let more about what issues or factors play out in one’s death. Especially to reduce disparities, she said.

She explained that with the recent surge, high hospitalizations suggest who is able to get earlier treatment.

“We’re talking about issues around structural racism, unconscious bias and other reasons why people had access to those treatments. And I think some of the health systems are trying very hard to get those treatments to all their patients. But again, you have to have gotten tested, and you have to be early in your disease."

Misra touches on barriers to access to care: lack of insurance and transportation; not being able to take a sick day off work; or not having childcare.

In part of her investigation, she highlights Detroit, which did not make much of the cases during the fall coronavirus surge. She said this was due to following COVID-19 precautions.

But during the tail end of the recent COVID-19 case increase, which hit the Thumb region hard, things changed.

“I think we’ve seen this new surge initially did not still hit Detroit immediately. But over the time, and this...last six weeks [or] two months, you've seen it now spread into Detroit,” she said. “And so Detroit is no longer a little bright spot in the state. [It] kind of gets sucked into all of it.”

Michigan’s cases and hospitalizations have been decreasing since the mid-April. But according to the Centers for Disease Control, the state still has the highest case rate in the country from the past week.

As of MDHHS's Friday update, Michigan has 860,808 confirmed cases of coronavirus and over 18,000 deaths with 2,414 adults hospitalized.

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