In the second webcast in this ongoing series on Wednesday, May 20, a panel of metro Detroit leaders and health care experts cited long-existing health and social disparities for black Detroiters and Michiganians that have led to their accounting for 40 percent of the state’s deaths from the coronavirus while making up just 14 percent of the population.

“As an African American woman, I know racial disparities exist throughout this country, this is nothing new … these issues are magnified at this time,” Denise Fair, chief public health officer for Detroit, said during a Detroit Homecoming and Crain’s Detroit Business webcast. Crain’s Group Publisher Mary Kramer moderated the session.

“M. Roy Wilson, M.D., president of Wayne State University, said while there are a lot of causes for racial health disparities, one that “doesn’t get a lot of attention” is implicit bias, the embedded stereotypes and prejudices that influence behavior on a host of levels.

The question for now, he said, is whether there was implicit bias in COVID-19 testing and whether that contributed to higher mortality for black Americans. Wilson is a member of the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, which led a communication campaign and is scaling up mobile testing.

The Rev. Larry Simmons, executive director of the Brightmoor Alliance, called efforts to reopen the economy an “act of implicit bias.” The state of Michigan is in the third phase of a six-phase reopening plan.

“For us at the ground level, in our communities, COVID is a personal, wrenching killer,” Simmons said. “When you engage and listen to community, you get insights about how to address the problem. “The solution (to disparities) in the long run is training for professionals, it is an acknowledgment and awareness there is a problem, a decision to act and an alignment of resources. In the long run, that’s what it’s going to take … but in the meantime, we have people who want to wear masks, who didn’t have access to it, and by working with local community groups, they were able to pull that together.” (To see the webcast, click here.)