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What Is Ohio Doing To Mitigate COVID-19 Disparities African Americans Face?

Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman says areas like Over-the-Rhine, pictured, should be targeted for testing. [Chuck Eilerman / OTR Blog]
Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati, Ohio as photographed by Chuck Eilerman. Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman says areas like Over-the-Rhine, pictured, should be targeted for testing.

Cincinnati Health Department data shows African Americans have the highest confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The pandemic is exposing the health disparities African Americans have faced for generations throughout the U.S. and in Ohio.

African Americans have 129 confirmed cases, according to Cincinnati data, and that number is growing. It's also likely to be higher since health officials don't know the race for 198 confirmed cases.

"Based on the total percentage of African Americans across our community there is a huge disparity there when you look at other races," Health Collaborative Executive Director of Population Health Strategies Kiana Trabue says.

While socioeconomic and cultural factors can influence access to resources and health care, Ohio State University Associate Professor of Pediatrics Dr. Ray Bignall says we must examine the role of past policies.

"We have to first understand the social determinants of public health and how policies of disinvestment and inequalities have failed communities of color in this country for decades," he says.

The Ohio Health Department is reporting over 24% of coronavirus patients are African American. But the group only makes up 13% of the Buckeye state, which health professionals say points out the racial inequalities.

Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman is on the state's Minority Health Task Force, which is working to address the disparities. He says in their past two meetings, equity in testing consistently came up. "You'll definitely be hearing me advocate for fair and equitable testing and access to that testing," he says. "Everyone doesn't have a primary care physician. That's one of the issues that impacts the discrepancy in health."

Smitherman says there should be an increase in testing in neighborhoods like Lower Price Hill, Over-the-Rhine and Roselawn. So far, city data shows Westwood (91), East and West Price Hill (29 and 33, respectively) have the highest cases.

CoHear, a community enagagement organization, has created a report that centers black essential workers and health professionals insights on how public and health officials can mitgate the disparities. Smitherman says he's listening to local health officials' directions but Trabue and Bignall say community voices also need to be at the table for the plan to be effective.

"Without the buy-in of vulnerable populations we are just simply not able to communicate the value and the importance of evidence-based medicine," Bignall says.

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