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Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, chief medical executive, MDHHS

MARQUETTE — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has announced a new feature on the COVID-19 test finder that now lists wait times for many testing sites across the state.

This will help make testing easier to plan for, especially for those traveling for spring break or gathering with loved ones during upcoming springtime holidays, the agency said. MDHHS encourages residents to test for COVID-19 before and after travel as well as before group celebrations and gatherings when events might include family and friends who have increased vulnerability from COVID-19 infection.

The test finder can be found at bit.ly/3CbwHlS.

“We have excellent, effective tools to travel safely and gather with loved ones this spring,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, MDHHS chief medical executive, in a statement. “Testing has become extremely convenient, with many locations and the availability of over-the-counter tests.

“We recommend Michiganders test if traveling and stay home if they are ill. Additionally, receiving the COVID-19 vaccine remains one of the most effective ways to prevent severe illness and disease.”

MDHHS indicated that continued testing supports early identification of cases in Michigan’s communities and is a factor in staying in the post-surge recovery phase. Free over-the-counter tests remain available to households through federal, MI Backpack Home Testing and Rockefeller programs.

MDHHS said anyone testing positive for COVID-19 should isolate immediately, avoid travel and gatherings and seek medical care if needed.

The agency’s other recommendations include:

≤ getting vaccinated;

≤ learning about therapeutics and talking with their doctors about whether they meet eligibility requirements and receive antibody or antiviral treatment to help with recovery;

≤ getting tested if exposed to COVID or are experiencing symptoms;

≤ understanding levels of risk, practicing good hygiene and hand washing, and staying home when sick; and

≤ getting a free KN95 mask, which are available at local MDHHS offices, health departments and Area on Aging offices.

For more details on COVID-19 testing or to find a test, visit Michigan.gov/COVIDTest.

Task force releases

recommendations

The first-of-its-kind Michigan Coronavirus Racial Disparities Task Force on Friday released recommendations for collaborative policy, programming and systemic change to protect communities of color from the spread of COVID-19 and create lasting structural change.

The report, which provides a progress report on the task force’s short- and long-term goals, finds that actions taken by the state of Michigan in 2020 and 2021 helped reduce health-based racial disparities in COVID-19 response and deaths, the governor’s office said.

“When we saw that COVID-19 was uniquely lethal in communities of color in Michigan, Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer and I knew we had to act quickly,” said Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, task force chair, in a statement. “Two years later, the successes of the Michigan Coronavirus Racial Disparities Task Force in balancing short-term needs with long-term goals have made it a national model on responding to racial disparities and flattening inequities.

“But we know there is more work to do — which is why I am proud to join the task force in releasing these recommendations to help us chart the way forward.”

After it was formed, the task force took immediate action to address racial health disparities and proposed solutions to address disparities, the governor’s office said.

Key actions implemented to address racial disparities of the COVID-19 pandemic include:

≤ reducing barriers to testing in communities of color;

≤ expanding testing to the most at risk for serious illness;

≤ developing culturally competent messaging for best practices of COVID-19 mitigation;

≤ improving racial data collection and sharing; and

≤ improving access to health care for marginalized populations.

Recommendations introduced on Friday came in several categories.

Strategic testing infrastructure includes:

≤ improving racial and ethnic data collection and using it to address racial and ethnic disparities;

≤ continuing to fund neighborhood testing and vaccination sites and mobile health units to provide new and existing health and social services to marginalized communities;

≤ requiring adherence to and monitor compliance of federal requirement to assist with meaningful language access; and

≤ establishing a process and infrastructure to send alerts to key community partners and/or residents regarding COVID-19 infection rates and problem areas.

Primary care connections include:

≤ decreasing the number of uninsured and underinsured Michiganders;

≤ fully leveraging health information technology data and data to reduce racial health disparities;

≤ implementing quality criteria to incentivize primary care;

≤ maximizing the use of school-based clinics for expanded care delivery;

≤ educating the public about mental health services; and

≤ increasing inoculation rates across ages through statewide messaging campaigns.

Goals of a centering equity work group are to increase culturally competent data collection and support implementation of the Maternal Infant Health & Equity Improvement Plan’s strategic vision of zero preventable deaths and zero health disparities across its six primary priorities.

Additional recommendations to reduce COVID-19 exposure risks in environmental justice communities related to air quality, and ensure that every home and business in Michigan has access to an affordable, reliable high-speed internet connection that meets their needs.

Christie Mastic can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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