LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday declared racism a public health crisis, ordered implicit bias training for all state employees, and created a state advisory council to focus on issues affecting Black people in Michigan.

She said Black residents in Michigan are four times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white residents are, due to unequal economic and health care treatment, and racism.

“We have a lot of work to do to eliminate the systemic racism that black Americans have experienced for generations,” Whitmer said.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, who said he has lost 23 people who are close to him to the coronavirus, said the Black Leadership Advisory Council Whitmer announced Wednesday will play a leading role in doing that.

“It is not enough to simply label an injustice,” Gilcrhist said. “We have to formally take steps to replace injustice with justice.”

Among other tasks, the council will identify state laws or gaps in state law that create or perpetuate inequities, and serve as a resource for community groups.

Those who want to volunteer for the council have until Aug. 19 to do so at

Implicit bias describes prejudices that unknowingly influence thinking and reaction to events and information. Whitmer earlier ordered implicit bias training for the state’s medical professionals, herself, and her executive staff.

Whitmer has expressed increasing concern about high case numbers in recent weeks, but announced no new restrictions on economic or social activities Wednesday.

Instead, she continued to urge adherence to measures announced earlier.

“We’re trying to avoid moving back a phase,” in the state’s six-phase reopening plan, she said. “It will all be dictated by what people do.”

On Tuesday, she issued a directive to state agencies, including the Michigan State Police, to ensure enforcement of her orders related to the coronavirus pandemic, including ones related to wearing masks in indoor public spaces and crowded outdoor spaces, as well as capacity restrictions for bars and restaurants.

More: Detroit casinos to reopen at reduced capacity; new restrictions Up North

More: Gov. Whitmer seeks to up the ante on COVID-19 order enforcement

She said any violations of the order could negatively impact business licensing.

“Ensuring these executive orders are enforced across the state will protect Michigan families, small businesses, and the first responders on the front lines of this crisis,” Whitmer said in a Tuesday news release.

“This fight is not over yet. During the month of July we saw an increase in positive COVID-19 cases in every region of the state. By allocating the appropriate and needed resources, we can continue to save lives and ensure we don’t have to move backward.”

Whitmer also announced Tuesday that her regular coronavirus news conferences, which had been limited to two or three pool reporters early in the pandemic but later expanded to allow attendance by about 10 reporters, would again switch, beginning Wednesday, to online only.

In another step backward, Whitmer announced July 29 that the reopening of Michigan’s economy would be dialed back in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula. She reduced the size of groups allowed to gather and banned indoor alcohol sales in nightclubs and other establishments that mostly serve alcohol, with little food.

The tightened restrictions for Up North matched those already in place for southern and central Michigan. But Whitmer said northern Michigan remained in Phase 5 of her reopening plan, while the rest of Michigan remained in Phase 4. That means gyms, movie theaters and bowling alleys, among other venues, can legally open Up North, but not in the rest of the Michigan.

At the same time she announced the new restrictions for northern Michigan, Whitmer said Detroit’s three casinos could reopen at 15% capacity, with a range of precautions, starting Wednesday.

The Detroit casinos had seen tribal casinos around the state in cities such as Mt. Pleasant and Battle Creek, which are not subject to state control, reopen in recent weeks.

Paul Egan

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Gov. Whitmer declares racism a public health crisis in Michigan


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