Summit County Wants More Testing To Help Bridge COVID-19 Racial Divide

A healthcare worker running blood tests
Coronavirus testing is still limited in Ohio and across much of the country. [Salov Evgeniy / Shutterstock]

Summit County is emphasizing a need for more tests and education to help protect its African American population from the coronavirus.

African Americans make up 15 percent of the county’s residents but account for 32 percent of its COVID-19 cases. The county is using social media to send out tips on staying safe, said Health Commissioner Donna Skoda, but reaching specific populations is hard under the stay-at-home order.

“It’s difficult because everyone is staying home, so it’s tough to meet the needs of everyone because nobody is out in any kind of communal setting,” Skoda said.

The county is also including information in with utility bills, Skoda said. But Summit County also needs more information about who is sick, she said, and that is contingent on more widespread testing. Testing is still limited across much of Ohio.

“What ultimately we would like to be able to do is get into some of these communities where there is much higher prevalence and mortality,” Skoda said. “And be able then to do some testing and some surveillance and try to figure out exactly what is going on with this disease.”

The virus is compounding with other health issues that already disproportionately impact the African American community, said county epidemiologist Joan Hall, including higher rates of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease – with make people more susceptible to COVID-19 and its complications.

And African Americans in Northeast Ohio are also more likely to have jobs with a higher risk of exposure, she said, such as grocery clerks.

“I think that that exposure plays into the disparity as well,” Hall said.

The differences between population percentage and rate of infection for the Summit County African American community is similar with that seen in other areas, Hall said, including nearby states. African Americans account for around 43 percent of hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Summit County, Hall said. Out of the 30 deaths in the county so far, 37 percent were African Americans.

Efforts to educate the public also focus on when and how people should contact their healthcare providers, health commissioner Skoda said.

“As a layperson, how do you know when you should start to go to the hospital? How do you know when you start to decline?” Skoda said. “I think some education needs to be done, as well, around what are those symptoms where you should seek care immediately, don’t wait.”

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