House Minority Caucus Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) is criticizing the state's plan to address racial health disparities during the coronavirus pandemic saying the strategy Gov. Mike DeWine is taking is good but not enough, calling it "too little, too late."
Sykes says Ohio could have been targeting resources and culturally competent messages to people of color weeks ago to prevent the disproportionate cases of COVID-19 among minorities.
African Americans make up about 13% of Ohio's population but more than 25% of the COVID-19 cases. The numbers are also disproportionately higher in hospitalization and death rates.
"We are overrepresented in each one of these categories and the failure to act shows that we have failed certain segments of this community," says Sykes.
Sykes adds that if DeWine wants to prove he's serious about addressing racial health disparities then he must recognize structural racism as the root of the problem.
"It matters to have high ranking officials to say something like that because it provides credibility to an argument that so many of us have been trying to get in the forefront of people's hearts and minds for a very long time," says Sykes.
DeWine called racial health disparities unacceptable, and laid out several steps to address it, including ramped up testing in vulnerable areas.
"This is something that so should concern every single Ohioan. When we see something disproportionately affecting some of our citizens we have an obligation to act. We have an obligation to do something. These truly are, when we're dealing with health, these truly are life and death issues," DeWine said during a briefing on Thursday.
The DeWine administration is rolling out several strategies to address the minority health issues, which includes:
- Establishing culturally appropriate, accessible COVID-19 exposure notification services
- Expanding testing capacity and access for minorities in high risk populations
- Using data to prioritize resources in communities with the highest need
- Developing and launching a statewide, culturally sensitive outreach campaign that educates African Americans and other communities of color on COVID-19
The Ohio Department of Health has also added two maps on its website that display health data and "opportunity levels" in an attempt to identify high risk areas.