Coronavirus: How COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting communities of color

DAYTON — News Center 7 is digging into the important issues that impact you in our communities around the Miami Valley every day, such as healthcare inequities.

WHIO wants to have the hard, real conversations in a series of stories that will hopefully lead our community toward change. Today, “Dayton Gets Real” about the disproportionate way COVID-19 has impacted communities of color, particularly African Americans.

It’s happening nationally, across Ohio and here in the Miami Valley.

News Center 7′s John Bedell talked to a local expert about what’s behind the trend and looks at a campaign from the state aimed at trying to reverse it.

“Yes, its hitting the black community a lot,” said Natasha Hunter, a black woman herself, about how the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately impacted African Americans.

“When it first hit I was like I was starting to follow the fear,” Hunter said. Now, in the middle of a workout at Deeds Point Metro Park in Dayton Wednesday, Hunter said she’s taking better care of herself with lifestyle changes like diet and exercise and guarding against the virus. “I was like, ‘No I’m not going to follow the fear, I’m going to do what I can personally for myself,’” Hunter said.

Just last week, Central State University President, Jack Thomas, told News Center 7′s John Bedell the college is strongly aware of COVID’s disproportionate impact in communities of color. CSU is a historically black institution and started fall semester classes this week. Central State is holding the first week of classes online so all students can be tested for the virus before they move to a hybrid class model next week. “That’s the reason that we’re doing the testing of everybody,” Thomas said on the first move-in day on campus September 1. “Because of the risk in terms of what we’re hearing about minorities and other kinds of populations being – getting the COVID-19 more so than others.”

According to census data, African Americans make up about 14% of Ohio’s population. But back when the pandemic first started to hit Ohio in April, blacks accounted for 21% of cases in the Buckeye State. That figure hasn’t budged in five months. Per COVID-19 statistics released by the Ohio Department of Health, black Ohioans accounted for 28,487 (21.5%) of the state’s 131,992 total cases reported as of Tuesday afternoon.

Those same stats from ODH show African Americans represent 29.9% of the state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations (4,182-out-of-13,967) and 18.5% of deaths (796-out-of-4,298) from the virus across Ohio.

An estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau from July 2019 shows Montgomery County’s population is 21.5% black. But African Americans in the county account for 29% of its total cases, 40% of hospitalizations within the county, and a third of COVID-19 deaths in Montgomery County.

Finally, mortality rates tracked by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show black Americans are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as their white counterparts.

The Ohio Department of Health launched the “More Than a Mask Campaign” that included PSA videos to try and bring down disproportionate COVID rates in communities of color. Governor Mike DeWine also launched a statewide Minority Health Strike Force in April to deal with the issue.

Here in Dayton, Dr. Gary LeRoy is a family physician at East Dayton Health Center on the city’s east side. Dr. LeRoy is African American himself and is the President of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “The reason I work at East Dayton Health Center is to take care of those individuals who are on the margins of society,” Dr. LeRoy said in an interview with News Center 7 at his practice Wednesday morning. “To bring them into the center. And I will continue to do that. It’s a passion of mine.”

Dr. LeRoy said the global coronavirus pandemic has shined a light on what’s been known in the medical profession for decades: that people of color are more likely to have poor health outcomes.

In an interview in April on the same topic, Dr. LeRoy told WHIO, “This is because of a myriad of reasons, these are individuals who, through no fault of their own, exist on the soft underbelly of our society’s economic system. They’re more vulnerable for poor healthcare outcomes because of unemployment, educational opportunities, diabetes, hypertension and chronic diseases and such.”

When it comes to healthcare inequities for people of color and marginalized populations, Dr. LeRoy added Wednesday morning, “We’ve known this for years. And we’ve said it for years. And it’s almost as though it fell on society’s deaf ears or -- just society didn’t want to acknowledge or admit that that was the case. It was a crisis for us long before it became a recognized crisis during the COVID era.”

Back across town at Deeds Point Metro Park, Hunter said she hopes these conversations lead to action. “Yeah, I hope it does,” Hunter said.

“I’ve said numerous times that we have to – not that we should – but we have to as a society emerge from this COVID-19 pandemic smarter and as a more just society having gone through this together,” Dr. LeRoy said. “We can’t have this polarization where those that have survive and those that have not are just left as collateral damage as non-survivors. We can’t let that happen. Because we’re saying that everyone is of value ... This is a once in a generation opportunity to bend that arch closer to justice for all and healthcare for everyone – not just those individuals that can afford it. And so that’s the take home message. That everyone is of value. Everyone matters. And we should care for everyone.”