DeWine: ‘Racism is a public health crisis'

Gov. Mike DeWine announced an initiative Thursday to address minority health and racial disparities among Ohioans magnified by the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is wrong that in Ohio today, the overall life expectancy of African American Ohioans is four years shorter than white Ohioans. It’s wrong that African American Ohioans have a higher rate of heart disease, higher rates of hypertension and diabetes. It’s wrong that our African American citizens are 2½ times more likely to live in poverty, and African American children in Ohio are three times more likely to live in poverty than their white brothers and sisters,” DeWine said during his press conference.

“Now, the coroanavirus has further laid bare those disparities,” he said.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley praised DeWine’s declaration that racism is a public health crisis.

“Thank you for having the courage to name this,” Whaley tweeted. “I hope other members of your party will join you ... Now let’s do the work.”

In June, Dayton City Commission joined other communities that declared racism a public health emergency. Montgomery County commissioners did the same that month.

Although Black Ohioans represent 14 percent of the state’s population, they make up 25 percent of the positive COVID-19 cases, 32 percent of hospitalizations and 19 percent of deaths, DeWine said Thursday. Latinos represent about 6 percent of those who test positive in Ohio, though they make up less than 4 percent of the state’s population.

A Minority Health Strike Force formed in April to address the greater affect COVID-19 was having on people of color, but since then, the group’s mission evolved to address broader health disparities and racial injustices, DeWine said.

The strike force’s final report released Thursday includes 34 recommendations on dismantling racism, removing public health obstacles, improving the social/economic and physical environments, and strengthening data collection to better track disparities.

“We have to do everything within our power to deal with this,” DeWine said. “It really is a work in progress. … Racism is a public health crisis. It is something we have to work on every day.

“There are disparities caused by racism. There are disparities caused by other things. We need to fix them both,” DeWine said.

One of the new commitments is the creation of the Ohio Governor’s Equity Advisory Board, a permanent group to help guide the administration as it addresses the underlying conditions and root causes contributing to disparities in life and health in Ohio.

“To truly make change, we need an equitable health care system, we need thriving communities, we need improvements in quality of life,” DeWine said.

Regarding coronavirus, DeWine also announced there are now 12 Ohio counties at Level 3.

Montgomery County remains at Level 3 for the sixth straight week and is one of two counties reporting increases in outpatient emergency department visits due to the coronavirus.

DeWine said an announcement regarding high school sports is coming Tuesday.

“Our goal is to have this decided by parents, No. 1,” said DeWine, who added that it also will involve the schools and health department.

“The ability of that school to stay open and the ability of your children to play sports is directly related to what is going on in your community,” he said. “It won’t last unless we slow this coronavirus down.”

There have been 105,426 total cases of coronavirus and 3,755 deaths attributed to the virus in the state since the pandemic began, the Ohio Department of Health reported Thursday.

More than 1,176 new COVID-19 cases and 21 new deaths were reported in the last 24 hours.

Hospitalizations increased by 122 for a total of 12,023; ICU admissions went up by 22, bringing the total to 2,743.

The ODH is reporting 83,642 presumed recoveries.

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