Is the Status of Women Getting Worse in Ohio? Preliminary Health and Economic Data Shows Reason for Concern

Health and economic circumstances are changing so rapidly due to the COVID-19 pandemic that the data sources we usually rely on to understand community conditions simply can’t keep up. But when we disaggregate new and preliminary data that is available by sex, there is a concerning pattern.

Three out of every 5 Ohioans in their twenties who have been hospitalized with the novel coronavirus are women.

In the early months of the pandemic, COVID-19 appeared to be something that impacted mostly men and almost exclusively older adults. Data shows now that’s simply not the case. At the end of July, women and girls made up 53 percent of Ohio’s COVID-19 cases. Three out of every 5 Ohioans in their twenties who have been hospitalized with the novel coronavirus are women. For more recent Ohio cases with disease onset dates in June or July, more females than males have been hospitalized and more have died.

Consistently, every week since April, more Ohio women than men have reported that they delayed getting medical care because of the coronavirus outbreak, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s COVID-19 Household Pulse Survey. A separate Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that among those who skipped care for themselves or a family member because of the pandemic, 11 percent said the person’s condition worsened as a result of delayed care.[1] Applying that percentage to the number of women who are estimated to have delayed care, the health conditions of 250,000 Ohio women could have gotten worse.

Particularly concerning is early evidence that women are delaying reproductive health care. One study[2] covering hospitals across 40 states found a year-over-year drop of 86 percent in patient visits for gynecologic wellness and screening, a 63 percent drop in visits for contraception, and a 52 percent drop in visits for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). Other researchers[3] reported an 83 percent decline in the number of Pap smears, a procedure to test for cervical cancer, between February and April 2020. Cervical cancer is preventable and highly treatable – when it’s found early.

The health impacts of the disease are coupled with a deep and abrupt economic downturn. During nine of the 12 months leading up to March 2020, the national unemployment rate for women was lower than that of men. That changed in April when women’s unemployment rate literally jumped off the charts from 4.2 percent to 15.7 percent – a bigger increase than men. According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number and rate of women who are unemployed remains higher.

In Ohio, nearly 2.1 million women have experienced a loss of employment income since March 13 and nearly 1.3 million are expected to lose employment income, according to the Census Pulse Week 12 report covering July 16 through 21. Persistently high unemployment could be a factor causing as many as 1 out of every 4 female renters in Ohio to say they have “no confidence” in their ability to make next-month’s housing payment. The federal moratorium on eviction expired on July 24. President Donald Trump’s executive order only calls for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to “consider whether any measures temporarily halting residential evictions of any tenants for failure to pay rent are reasonably necessary…” Advocates have expressed concern that it won’t be effective in halting evictions.[4]

Nearly 2.1 million women have experienced a loss of employment income since March 13.

Despite there being only a limited amount of available data, the data we do have on the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 for women — gives us reason to be concerned.