CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - African Americans in Ohio, and across the U.S., are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
Ohio’s black population is around 14%, yet 21% percent of African Americans have tested positive for the virus, according to numbers released by the state.
There’s a similar disparity in Cuyahoga County.
It’s a life and death situation Gov. Mike DeWine said he’s concerned about.
Gov. DeWine recently established the “Minority Health Strike Force” to look into the inequities and how to fix the complex situation.
Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown is a member of the strike force.
Youngstown is about 70 miles from Cleveland and shares similar demographics.
“I don’t want it to be lip service,” Brown said. “I want to see some tangible actions. If we can’t bite it all at once, let’s take real big small bites so that we can make sure that we’re dealing with it.”
Brown said one of the immediate needs is getting expanded coronavirus testing for African-Americans and other persons of color. He said leaders have to get a full picture of who’s impacted and provide proper treatment. Brown said often times minority groups don’t have primary physicians or access to quality and affordable health care.
“We know that communities of color, in our community and others across the nation, have different opportunities,” said Dr. Heidi Gullett, with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, during a recent briefing. “And those opportunities relate back to systems, and structures and bias that have existed in our country for many, many, many years. This is a history that’s about structural racism. And we have to understand this in order to understand why we need to present race and ethnicity data, and why we have to be very careful about our approach ensuring that no one is left behind during COVID-19, but furthermore during any particular time on our community.”
Brown agrees and said time is ticking to level opportunities so African-Americans and others have access to quality housing at an affordable price, education, jobs with fair benefits and access to food. He and other medical experts said these areas tie back to the ability to live a healthy life.
Brown said fixing COVID-19 disparities in the African-American community and overall health outcomes will require an ongoing commitment of financial investments. He said elected leaders at the local, state and federal levels have to unite in order to implement change.
“They don’t make money in Youngstown. They don’t make money in Columbus. They make it in Washington, D.C.,” Brown said. “And we need to see if their hearts and minds are helping with this underlying health issue. They need to put their money where their mouth is. So, I’m going to look at their budget and tell them make sure that we put this as a budget line item. Not just a one time thing. Make it a budget line item. That we can use this across the board.”
The mayor is also hearing from his residents that it’s time for a renewed fight on issues like universal healthcare and employee benefits like sick time off.
“We want to see that our state legislators, as well as our federal legislators, recognize this because it’s not just Ohio,” Brown added. “I want to make sure this conversation doesn’t die down once this pandemic dies down. I want to make sure that no matter what happens after this, that we continuously make this a health crisis.”