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Addressing two epidemics: COVID-19 and racism

June 6, 2020
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The Cuyahoga County Board of Health holds press conferences updating citizens on the coronavirus pandemic on Friday mornings.  

“Today, I join you with a heavy heart.” Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish opened Friday’s media briefing by addressing the current protests of the death of George Floyd happening in the county and across the country. He sympathized with the community's pain and offered prayers and hope for George Floyd, his family and the community. He said structural racism “prevents us as a community to reach our potential.”

 “The infant mortality rate for Black women is four times the rate for white women,”

“The numbers don’t lie,” said Budish acknowledging how many times people of color have been killed by law enforcement officers. Following his remarks on the protests, Budish discussed the history of racism and its effects on public health within the county, including the county’s maternal and infant mortality rate. “The infant mortality rate for Black women is four times the rate for white women,” he said. While addressing this disparity, he mentioned the work of First Year Cleveland to bring this number down. First Year Cleveland is an initiative funded by the Cuyahoga County Board of Health (CCBH) and the City of Cleveland.

 …structural racism “prevents us as a community to reach our potential.”

When discussing COVID-19, Budish highlighted how increased funding for testing is helping the county reach those in neighborhoods that lack access to health care, but he still acknowledged that there’s a lot more to do.  

Next, he discussed the county’s latest initiative, Virtual Job Fair Week, which will take place June 15 through June 19. The initiative, funded by the county and the Mandel Supporting Foundation at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, will feature more than 80 companies from all industries. Job seekers should visit https://omjccvirtualcareerfair.easyvirtualfair.com/ to learn more and to register. For those in the community who lack access to the technology needed to take part in the fair, Budish said PCs for People, https://www.pcsforpeople.org/, can help.  

CCBH Health Commissioner Terry Allan shared highlights from the state’s media release regarding the re-opening of schools and specific venues and attractions. He made it a point to stress the structure and guidelines that these entities will need to follow. While waiting for more guidance regarding re-opening schools this fall, Allan said CCBH and local schools are actively working together to formulate a plan that will keep transmissions down when students do return.

 “We’re living in an unprecedented moment of history—an international pandemic and the death of George Floyd”

Discussing the board’s contract tracing plan Allan said, “In public health, we’ve used it for centuries to identify illnesses and those infected.” CCBH’s contact tracing plan is being utilized to help identify those people who may have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19. Because of contract tracing, a key component to the board’s public health strategy, they have been able to trace and track more than 8,000 people within the county. This success was made possible due to the efforts of staff and those who have had contact with people who have COVID-19, who CCBH were able to reach. Allan reported those who CCBH was able to reach have been very supportive and helpful. “Please pick up the phone when the health department calls,” he added as one of the ways to help the county continue to flatten the curve.  

“We’re living in an unprecedented moment of history—an international pandemic and the death of George Floyd,” Allan stated, segueing from discussion of the pandemic to the current protests. Allan then shared pieces from Robert F. Kennedy’s speech given at The City Club of Cleveland 52-years-ago after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. He also touched on the declaration of racism as a public health issue, ending his comments with “It’s time for us to address our original sins of racism.”

 As of June 3 there were a total of 215 deaths in the county due to COVID-19

Like Budish and Allan, Dr. Heidi Gullett, the CCBH medical director, addressed the racial issues affecting the community, noting that in 2015, CCBH declared eliminating structural racism as one of its priorities. Stating that “every single one of us has a role to utilize our hearts and our minds to eradicate racism.” Gullett then shared a few suggestions on how to do that, like signing up for a Racial Equity Institutetraining.

 "It is okay to not be okay"

Next, she shared the current COVID-19 data for the county. As of June 3, there were 31 additional deaths in the county, excepting the City of Cleveland, bringing the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 in the county to 215. The data also shows that more women have died from COVID-19 than men. In the county, there are 3,428 cases of COVID-19, and Gullett also shared that 1,248 people have recovered.  

She also shared new recommendations for COVID-19 testing, highlighting that those who fall in priority area five don’t need to be tested.  

“I cannot explain what it means to fight for your existence in every place you go into,” Romona Brazile, the deputy director of prevention and wellness at CCBH, shared as she discussed the impact this week’s events could have on mental health. Emphatically informing people that "It is okay to not be okay," she shared the county's warm-line and other mental health resources.  

Mental Health Resources

  • Cuyahoga County’s 24-Hour Warmline, 440-886-5950
  • Text “4 Hope” to 741741
  • For those in a crisis, there is a 24-hour suicide prevention, mental health crisis prevention hotline at 216-623-6888
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