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Grand Rapids nonprofit providing free masks to black, Latinx community

The Grand Rapids African American Health Institute is working to protect the local black community with free cloth masks.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The coronavirus virus is hitting Michigan's African-American community harder than others -- creating a disproportionate death rate for black people in the state. A local nonprofit is doing their part to protect impacted community members as best they can.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black individuals make up 30% of COVID-19 cases but constitute just 13% of the U.S. population. Data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services shows that 40% of the coronavirus deaths in Michigan are African Americans, but they make up less than 15% of the population. Michigan was one of the first states nationwide to begin reporting COVID-19 data along racial lines.

See the cumulative data here 

To help mitigate the risk of infection, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order that mandates wearing a cloth face covering in public places. It is in effect until May 22. 

The Grand Rapids African American Health Institute is responding to the order and working to protect black and LatinX communities by providing free face masks at two distribution sites:

  • Monday, May 4 from 4 to 6 p.m. at Great Giant Grocery, located at 1226 Madison Ave. SE in Grand Rapids. 
  • Tuesday May 5 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Family Fare Grocery, located at 1225 Leonard St. NE in Grand Rapids.

“In addition to our research and advocacy work, we have amplified our community outreach to have a direct impact on individuals during these difficult times,” said Micah Foster, executive director for the GRAAHI. “In a public health crisis like COVID-19, it’s important that we come together as a community and provide support at all levels. When worn by everyone, especially indoors in public places, masks greatly diminish the potential spread of the virus.”

Masks will be distributed at no cost in the parking lots outside of the locations. You do not need to have a mask or enter a building in order to access the services. There is no need to register or provide any information, the masks are provided first-come, first-serve, while quantities last. 

Additional mask distribution will be occurring over the next few weeks. GRAAHI welcomes community and corporate donations to offset the cost of production. 

"We just want to make sure that Black community members have access to resources. In short, we want to help save lives. These preventative measures are important to help keep folks safe and we want to make sure Black community members aren't left behind," says Raven Odom, a health advocacy administrative fellow for GRAAHI. "The COVID-19 pandemic has really just highlighted things that we've known for years. That there are inequities that have existed and have led to worse health outcomes for African American community members."

Governor Whitmer has also signed en executive order creating a task force to address and respond to the stark racial disparities present in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"Rather than just studying the problem and making a report later, we're assembling a team of experts that can take action in real time," said Lt. Gov Garlin Gilchrist, who is heading up the task force.

The task force will investigate the causes of racial disparities, recommend actions to address them and suggest ways to do thing likes remove barriers to health care access and reduce the impact of medical bias in testing and treatment. Additionally, the task force will recommend changes to state law as it applies to combating racial disparities in the impact of response to pandemics. 

More information about the GRAAHI's mask distribution can be found at graahi.org. More information about the state's COVID-19 racial task force can be found on the state's coronavirus website.

Do you have more questions about COVID-19 in Michigan? Check out the state's website.

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