HAMILTON COUNTY, Ohio — The coronavirus is disproportionately affecting minority and low-income areas of the county, according to Hamilton County Public Health data.
In April, zip codes with minority populations at or above 50% — places like Avondale, Bond Hill and Camp Washington — have coronavirus cases at a rate three times as high as Hamilton County's least-diverse zip codes, such as areas like Cleves and Crosby Township.
The county’s nine poorest zip code areas show COVID-19 case rates more than twice that of the wealthiest.
COVID-19 disproportionately impacts African Americans in Hamilton County because of housing density, underlying risk factors and complications from compounded diseases, according to Renee Mahaffey Harris, president and CEO of The Health Gap.
Data on health disparities shows that there is a higher incidence of most major diseases across the black community in the country, Harris said, and data in Hamilton County mirrors nationwide data.
“The reasons for that are systemic and structural,” Harris said. “Race is a construct in health and health outcomes and health delivery in our community and in the nation.”
Loss of income plays a role too; unemployment rates in some minority communities were high before the pandemic, according to Harris.
Former Hamilton County Health Director Dr. O’dell Owens agrees decades-old risk factors are a part of the problem.
“We know the coronavirus likes obese people, people with diabetes. African Americans have more diabetes than other zip codes. African Americans have a higher rate of hypertension. So you have all those risk factors,” Owens said.
Commissioner Victoria Parks said she expected to see disparities in the data, so she and Chief of Staff Sonja Taylor created a public service announcement geared toward young people of color.
The message, which features athletes from the Cincinnati Reds, Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati, urges young people to practice social distancing and to stay home.
“It is imperative that we relay the severity of COVID-19 with language that young people can hear,” Parks said.
Parks is encouraging young people of color in Hamilton County to share their thoughts, ideas and feelings on the pandemic on social media by using #513survive. She said she plans to compile the videos into a PSA.
Parks said the pandemic has been described as “unprecedented” and “uncharted territory,” but she said she disagrees with that. It depends who you are, she said.
“When America catches a cold, African Americans catch the flu,” Parks said. “Now that America has coronavirus, African Americans are dying at alarming rates.”
Harris agrees that the issue of health disparities has been pervasive in the US for centuries.
“So together … after we get through this time and our new normal is created, because we will have a new normal, we must work together to address the issue of health disparity so the disproportionate impact to disease outcomes and death are no longer the conversation in our news,” Harris said.
Hamilton County data related to race and demographics are still being gathered, according to Commission President Denise Driehaus.
Epidemiologists who are tracing people who have tested positive to make sure that people they came into contact with are notified. They are also tracking demographic information, so there is a delay due to the volume of work.
Driehaus said she expects more numbers in the coming week.