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Michigan's Khaldun appointed to White House task force on COVID health inequities

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — The White House said Michigan's Dr. Joneigh Khaldun has been appointed to a COVID-19 task force that will advise the Biden administration on addressing health and social inequities during the pandemic. 

President Joe Biden created the task force by executive order the day after his Jan. 20 inauguration, with the aim of tackling the disproportionate impact the virus has had on vulnerable communities, including disparities in testing, cases, hospitalizations and mortality rates.

Khaldun, an emergency room physician at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, has led Michigan's strategic response to the pandemic as chief medical executive for the state and as chief deputy director for health in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

MDHHS Chief Deputy for Health and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun speaks, as Governor Gretchen Whitmer listens, during a daily press conference, Tuesday, May 26, 2020.

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“I am honored to be part of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force and to play a part in helping address inequities as they relate to the COVID-19 pandemic," Khaldun said.

“The virus has had a disproportionate impact on our most vulnerable communities, including communities of color. I look forward to making contributions as part of this task force that will ensure that future pandemic responses do not ignore or exacerbate health inequities.”

The state early on in the pandemic last year identified through public health data that COVID-19 was having a harsher impact on the Black community in Michigan and has since seen progress after an effort to reduce COVID-19 in communities of color.

Michigan was one of the first states to begin analyzing cases and deaths by race and, in April, found 40% of those killed by the virus were African American, though Black individuals make up about 14% of the state's population.

Blacks have cumulatively represented 23% of deaths since infections began in Michigan nearly a year ago, according to state data. 

To close the gap, a state task force recommended distributing large quantities of masks, increased primary care provider and telehealth access, public health campaigns and targeted testing, and improved data quality on cases and deaths. 

The Michigan task force's analysis also found Black people were more likely to lose their jobs during the pandemic's spring peak. In the first quarter of the year, African-American unemployment was at about 7% but it rose to 35.5% in the second quarter, the highest Black jobless rate in the country.

The White House task force is charged with coming up with recommendations to aid in the federal COVID-19 response and recovery, including the equitable allocation of COVID resources and relief funds, outreach and communication to under-served and minority populations, and improving cultural proficiency within the federal agencies.

The group has been asked to craft a report to Biden's COVID-19 response coordinator describing the drivers of COVID inequities and the potential for ongoing disparities for survivors, according to the White House.

Khaldun will be among 12 members of the task force, which will also include representatives from six federal agencies — the departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice and Labor, according to the White House. The task force positions are unpaid. 

Khaldun previously was director of the Detroit Health Department, where she led the city's response to a Hepatitis A outbreak. She also worked as the city of Baltimore's chief medical officer and was a fellow in the Obama-Biden administration’s Office of Health Reform in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

mburke@detroitnews.com

Staff writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.