Michigan Chief Medical Executive Reflects on COVID-19 Pandemic
MICHIGAN - Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun, Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive, called for action on how the nation should handle the coronavirus and future pandemics in a hearing to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on June 23, 2020.
Khaldun brought up four main issues that have been addressed in the COVID-19 pandemic: health inequities, consistent and accurate messaging, national testing strategy and infrastructure, and investments made in public health.
Across the country, institutional and structural racism has plagued communities of color, creating disparities in the healthcare system.
African American Michiganders make up 14% of the state's population. However, when looking at COVID-19 cases, 31% of people who have tested positive for COVID are African American. African American’s also make up 40% of COVID deaths.
“Indeed, racism is a public health crisis that must be met with urgency, funding, and the elimination of policies that perpetuate health inequities: policies like redlining, lack of investment in schools, and both implicit and explicit bias in the healthcare system,” said Khaldun at the hearing.
The Michigan Task Force on Racial Disparities was formed based upon these numbers by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in late April.
“I have the pleasure of serving on this task force alongside several other community, academic, and government leaders, and the task force has moved swiftly to identify causes and promote solutions to address these inequities,” said Khaldun.
Khaldun said that there have been challenges within the lack of consistent, science-based strategy and messaging from the Whitehouse.
“As frontline clinicians and public health leaders, we rely on swift, scientifically sound guidance and messaging from our nation’s leaders and federal public health experts during a crisis,” said Khaldun. “This has not been the case since the beginning of this outbreak, with inconsistent and inaccurate messaging from the White House about the true threat of the disease and potential treatments.”
Khaldun said state and local governments were left to compete for supplies because the early identification of cases and testing were not a priority at the federal level.
Since then, Michigan testing systems can administer around 14,000 tests a day. Khaldun said that they are working towards a goal of 30,000 tests a day, the equivalent of 2% of Michigan’s population in a week.
“We still struggle with the lack of detail provided on the timing, quantity, and type of supplies coming to the state, and often the supplies we receive are not compatible with the laboratory systems that exist in the state. This makes planning and coordination challenging,” said Khaldun. “Going forward, the federal government should institute a national supply chain strategy to resolve bottlenecks that no state alone can address and ensure an ample supply of test kits and reagents.”
The nation and states have encountered a lack of revenue dedicated to public health infrastructure, resulting in complications during the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a pattern of decline for the amount of money given to public health and prevention for the past 20 years.
Although the state and local health departments have set up ways to expand and improve contract tracing, Khaldun calls for long-term investments in the public health department and programs to combat the virus and the next public health threat.
“Now is not the time to celebrate or turn our focus away from COVID-19. We must still aggressively fight this pandemic and if we do not redouble our efforts many more people will unnecessarily die,” said Khaldun. “As a country we must urgently address health inequities, expand testing and contact tracing, and make sure our public health infrastructure is strong. We must remain vigilant, hopeful, and committed to protecting the public’s health.”