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Ohio's Minority Health Strike Force creates action plan targeting COVID-19 disparities

Posted at 10:13 PM, May 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-22 07:25:39-04

CINCINNATI — The state of Ohio just unveiled a plan to help members of minority communities, who are statistically more likely to contract COVID-19. The Minority Health Strike Force, comprised of elected officials, healthcare professionals, and other leaders from across the state, includes two people from Cincinnati.

The strike force was formed last month because of the disproportionate way the pandemic affects minority communities. Though African Americans make up 14% of Ohio’s population, they represent 26% of positive COVID-19 cases.

Cincinnati Health Commissioner Melba Moore says there is now an action plan to help change that, with final recommendations coming by June 11.

“We don’t want to isolate, eliminate, alienate anyone,” Moore said. “It’s about inclusion and it’s about uniquely understanding the significance of each Black, brown community.”

According to the latest available COVID-19 data, 279 African Americans in Cincinnati have contracted the virus so far compared to 282 White people and 373 people classified in the table as "Other" or "Unknown." But U.S. Census data shows that 50.3% of Cincinnatians are White and 42.7% are Black.

Moore chairs the Data and Research Committee, one facet of the Minority Health Strike Force, which recently released a list of recommendations, including:

  • Establishing culturally appropriate and accessible COVID-19 exposure notification services for communities of color.
  • Expanding testing capacity and access for minorities and high-risk populations.
  • Using data to prioritize resources in the communities that have the highest need.
  • Developing and launching a statewide, culturally-sensitive outreach campaign that educates African Americans and communities of color on COVID-19, health disparities, and social determinants of health.

This comes after Gov. Mike DeWine addressed concerns that the virus doesn't affect all populations the same way.

“Disparities didn’t occur overnight," DeWine said. "They are complex and present complex challenges.”

Solutions to those challenges include expanded testing at mobile units in 68 of Ohio’s 88 counties.

“When we talk about drive-thru testing, you just isolated somebody. You isolated who? Somebody who doesn’t have a car. So we’ve talked about drive-thru, walk-through,” Moore said.

Other solutions include wellness kits and a new position created within the state’s Department of Health focused on implementing the strike force’s short- and long-term plans.

Now, Cincinnati Vice Mayor Chris Smitherman says it’s time to act.

“Out of all these recommendations, former [Columbus] Mayor Michael Coleman has raised the issue, which I know you understand, it’s making sure that we fund these recommendations and these initiatives,” Smitherman said.

They say the battle will be won by meeting minority communities where they are -- regardless of income -- and making sure they’re in better shape after the pandemic subsides.

“We know COVID is here right now, but we also know that we’re going to get on the other side of COVID and the same health conditions, prevalence of those conditions, are here,” Moore said.

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