CLEVELAND — Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced the creation of a Minority Health Strike Force to help find solutions to the on-going state racial health disparity, further highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic.
DeWine said Ohio Department of Health data indicates African Americans make up 13 to 14% of Ohio's population, while African Americans account for 26% of Ohio's COVID-19 cases, 31% of COVID-19 hospitalizations, and 17% of coronavirus related deaths statewide.
"The African American community has been disproportionately hit by this COVID-19,” DeWine said.
"When we see something disproportionately hitting some of our citizens, we have an obligation to act, we have an obligation to do something."
The Governor's office reported the strike force will establish culturally appropriate and accessible COVID-19 exposure notification services for communities of color, and expand testing capacity and access for minorities and high-risk populations.
The Governor's office said the plan will also use data to prioritize resources in the communities that have the highest need, and launch a statewide, culturally-sensitive outreach campaign that educates African Americans and communities of color on COVID-19, health disparities, and social determinants of health.
Dr. Lolita McDavid, University Hospitals, Medical Director for Child Advocacy and Protection with Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, told News 5 the plan will also provide more state resources and improve COVID-19 minority data.
“This COVID epidemic is making it imperative that we have to look at these things,” McDavid said.
“When we look at the numbers in Ohio, a lot of these positive cases in Ohio, we can’t tell you what the race of the person is.”
“It will create a position within the health department, who will work solely on the social determinants of health and how this links to the COVID epidemic.”
“When you look at things that affect certain populations, you have to say what is it about that population that makes them more susceptible.”
“Hypertension and diabetes, and overweight and kidney disease, and asthma and lung disease.”
Dr. Virginia Banks and Northeast Ohio Infectious Disease Associates issued a position paper on Ohio's racial health disparity last week.
Dr. Banks said significant funding is essential so that the strike force can properly address the core health issues that have fueled Ohio's health disparity for decades.
“African Americans and Latinos are the essential workers, they’re the ones who couldn’t stay at home and self quarantine, and work from home,” Banks said.
“Let’s start with the basics, people actually have to have some place to get care, the lack of insurance, the lack of being able to afford to buy your medications.”
"If you have a lot of people living in the same house, you need to know who the asymptomatic carrier is, because grandma is living there, auntie is there, many of them are over 60 or 65.”
Meanwhile, Governor DeWine unveiled two new interactive tools on the data dashboard at located on the state coronavirus webpage to help find health disparity solutions.
The primary tool is a county level COVID-19 data map, broken down by race and ethnic background, which examines key health factors to better determine vulnerable populations.
A second map uses census data to measure what the governor called an Ohio Opportunity Index, which measures seven factors that impact health and well-being.
The seven factors include; transportation, education, housing, employment, health, access to resources and crime.
Governor DeWine said the Minority Health Strike Force preliminary report will be available in the coming days at coronavirus.ohio.gov.
Final recommendations will be issued on June 11.