African-Americans make up 13% to 14% of Ohio's population, but make up 26% of the positive COVID-19 tests in the state, Gov. Mike DeWine said during the May 21 press conference on COVID-19 and the state's response.
As governor, DeWine said, his job is to protect the safety of all communities. The state has an obligation to be even more mindful in its response to helping those at higher risk for COVID-19, he said.
The state has created two new interactive tools that look at key factors associated with health and well-being, DeWine said. The first is a map that allows users to access COVID-19 data by race and ethnic background. The second map is not a COVID-19 tool, but will assist Ohio officials determine where help is needed for government and nonprofit agencies to deliver social services where they are needed. The data dashboards are available on coronavirus.ohio.gov.
"Each of us has a responsibility to be mindful of and work to counteract health disparities wherever they are found," DeWine said.
Ohio created the Minority Health Strike Force last month to develop specific COVID-19 recommendations focused on how communities of color are more likely to have underlying health conditions, less access to healthcare and discrimination when accessing healthcare services. A preliminary report from the strike force will be released soon, DeWine said.
Christopher Smitherman, vice mayor of Cincinnati, serves on the strike force. He joined the press conference by video.
The recommendations that are being formulated fall into four areas, Smitherman said: messaging, testing, accessibility and collaboration.
- Messaging is reaching the minority community where they are and making sure that we are using leaders in each community to deliver the message about wearing a mask, washing hands and maintaining social distancing.
- For testing, the task force is looking at concentrating testing in vulnerable areas in an equitable way.
- The accessibility recommendations are in regard to ensuring communities have access to both information and testing.
- Collaboration refers to the work between groups and organizations with the state institutions.
"I know that you (DeWine) will continue to allow the data that we have to drive us as we open the state of Ohio, prioritizing health, prioritizing safety and the economy as we target and make sure the minority communities understand their specific risk," Smitherman said.
DeWine announced a number of initiatives to better care for the health of all Ohioans.
- The state will hire a deputy director of Social Determinants of Health and Opportunity, within the Ohio Department of Health. This person will work directly with the local communities on specific long-term health needs as well as the state's response to COVID-19. "Quite candidly, it's simply unacceptable – and it should be unacceptable to every Ohioan – that in our great state of Ohio in the year 2020, ZIP code still determines to a great extent how long you will live, how well you will live," DeWine said. A primary focus will be on collecting the best data to inform the best practices. They've thought about this position for a long time, DeWine said, and "it's past time, frankly, to get this done, and we will be doing that."
- To expand access to testing, the state has partnered with the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers, which are located in Ohio's most economically challenged communities, DeWine said.
- The state is partnering with Ohio Association of Community Health Centers and the Nationwide Foundation to distribute thousands of Community Wellness Kits, which will include COVID-19 protection related items, face coverings, hand sanitizer, soaps and information.
- To support state and local health departments in the fight against COVID-19, Ohio is hiring public health workers who represent and reflect their own communities.
- A $1 million grant has been obtained from the federal government for mental health and addiction services. The grant will allow faith-based and community-based organizations to develop culturally appropriate messages.
In June, the Minority Health Strike Force will release its recommendations aimed at alleviating the longterm racial disparities in health, DeWine said.
"We must not shy away from working to correct these long entrenched inequities among our fellow Ohio citizens," DeWine said.
The governor said the state is committed to change and working with grassroots organizations across Ohio – the Urban League, NAACP and ministerial organizations, for example.
"We know this can't come just from government. We know that this has to come from community-based organizations," DeWine said. "We have an obligation – and I would say it's a moral obligation – to leave no Ohioans behind, and create an environment in which all Ohioans can thrive. With or without coronavirus, we are all in this together."
Ohio has 30,167 total cases of COVID-19 and 1,836 deaths, the ODH reported May 21.
The total number of individuals who have been tested in Ohio is 297,085.
The ODH reports 5,295 individuals have been hospitalized, and 1,397 have been admitted to the ICU due to the coronavirus.
The individuals who have tested positive range in age from less than 1 year old to 109 years old, with a median age of 50.
Franklin County accounts for 4,885 of the cases, 613 hospitalizations and 205 deaths.
If you have questions regarding COVID-19, call 833-4ASKODH (833-427-5634) or visit coronavirus.ohio.gov.