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Cuyahoga County African Americans At Greater Risk In COVID-19 Pandemic

The Cuyahoga County Board of Health released race data about the region's COVID-19 cases. [CCBH]
Slide showing the racial breakdown of Cuyahoga County's COVID-19 cases.

The Cuyahoga County Board of Health reported on Friday there is a racial disparity in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 locally.

 African Americans are about 30% of the county’s population but currently represent 39% of confirmed cases of the virus, officials said.

 About 44% of cases are people who identify as white, and 7% as other races, said Dr. Heidi Gullett, the county's medical director. Race data was not available for 10% of the cases, she said.

“The race and ethnicity data you are going to see today only represented those who have been tested. We are limited in our testing which has really profound implications for understanding the true prevalence or the true amount of infection in our community,” Gullett said during a media briefing at the health department.

Gullett did not present a racial breakdown on people who have died locally from COVID-19. There is incomplete data which could present an inaccurate picture, she said.  There have been 22 deaths from the disease in the county according to the Ohio Department of Health.

During the briefing, Gullet shared a detailed history of structural racism in the Cleveland area, which has created health disparities in underserved communities well before the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

“Limited opportunities, which were created by systems, structures and policies, have combined with poor health, which also are related to systems and structure, and led to shorter lives for our community, particularly communities of color here in greater Cleveland,” said Gullett.

Since people of color, particularly those in lower income Cleveland neighborhoods, have higher rates of chronic diseases because of historic racial inequities, they may be disproportionally affected by severe illness and fatalities associated with infectious disease, said Cuyahoga County Health Commissioner Terry Allan.

“They are at risk. They are at a higher risk because of those challenges that they face that are compounded by poverty," said Allan.

The racial disparity locally is smaller than numbers being reported in some other urban communities such as Detroit and Chicago, but county health officials stressed many people in underserved communities are not being tested for the virus.

“Our under-resourced communities are often already living on the edge,” said Romona Brazile, the county's deputy director of prevention and wellness.

“Emergencies like COVID-19 in many ways push them into crisis,” said Brazile.

This crisis may impact some families for many years, even after this immediate threat from the pandemic goes away, she said.

Marlene Harris-Taylor
Marlene is the director of engaged journalism at Ideastream Public Media.