‘Secret sauce’ for reducing racial disparities?

By Dennis Archambault

Lt. Gov. Gilcrest, who leads the Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, was pleased to announce that the state has “flattened” racial disparities for the disease. It’s a tall order knowing that health disparities among people of color put them at a disadvantage for most diseases, given the history of racial stress and the level of poverty endured by many, making them less likely to have access to health resources or have positive social determinants of health, like affordable housing, nutritious food, and literacy.

Many wonder how this happened in such a short time. To begin with, when the will of human beings is focused on understanding and solving a problem, it happens. But it’s not quite that simple. Yes, society became rapidly aware of the correlation between race and initial poor health outcomes during the pandemic. But there were many factors that played into the mix: lack of understanding regarding the disease, distrust of public health officials, lack of access to testing and personal protective equipment, and an abundance of chronic diseases that compromised immune systems.

Also, the pandemic spread from concentrated urban areas to suburban and rural areas, and treatment has become more effective and available. Still, as Wayne State physician Dr. Philip Levy mused in a Detroit Free Press article, the “secret sauce” is actually the people themselves. Anyone who frequented Detroit during the summer and fall last year would find nearly total compliance with masking and social distancing.  There were concerns about the Black Lives Matter protests and the political rallies held by former President Trump, as well as social parties, religious services, and other events where social distancing may not have been observed. Ultimately, though, it was the will of people to do the right thing and “flatten the curve.” There was – and is – an understanding that this is the right thing to do.

Let’s give people credit. They are masking, social distancing, and generally practicing prudent public health behaviors. Had the country done the same, we would likely have been in better shape as we await the arrival of the coronavirus vaccine. Of course, gaining acceptance of the vaccine is the next hurdle in reducing the racial disparities.

Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs.