CINCINNATI, OH – Today, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined a virtual conversation moderated by Cincinnati City Councilmember Jan-Michelle Lemon Kearney and hosted by the Center for Closing the Health Gap to discuss his ongoing efforts to address the racial disparities in COVID-19 cases. Brown was joined by Renee Mahaffey Harris, President and CEO of Closing the Health Gap, Eddie Keon, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, Eric Kearney, President and CEO African American Chamber of Commerce Greater Cincinnati and Joe Mallory, Vice President, NAACP. Brown has hosted a number of conference calls with communities across the state to talk about racial disparities in public health and COVID-19 and effective ways to address these disparities. 

“We know our country has a long history of systemic barriers to housing, jobs, wages and so much more that all contribute to health inequities. The data that we’re seeing is very troubling – this pandemic is laying bare so many of the disparities in our society, from health hazards – to the job opportunities people have – to housing. These numbers are a clear indication that we need to do more to protect people of color from this crisis, and step up to address all the social determinants of health that communities of color continue to face,” said Brown.

Earlier this month, Brown joined U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) in announcing the COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force Act, legislation to bring together health care and other policy experts, community-based organizations, and federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial leaders to confront the racial and ethnic disparities of the coronavirus pandemic head on. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the urgent need to address long-standing inequities in our health care system. 

The bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish an interagency task force of policy experts, community leaders, and government officials to make data-driven recommendations to federal agencies about directing crucial resources—like testing kits, testing supplies, and personal protective equipment (PPE)—to communities with racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death rates. The task force’s work would guide a more equitable government response to the COVID-19 pandemic and future public health crises.

Today’s discussion was hosted by the Center for Closing the Health Gap. The Center, along with organizations serving Cincinnati’s African American and other underserved and marginalized populations, recently launched to provide COVID-19 news and updates.   

“We know how much work there is to be done to address racial disparities in public health, especially during the current pandemic. We look forward to continuing to work with Sen. Brown and state and local partners to provide important updates and keep southwest Ohioans informed,” said Renee Mahaffey Harris, President and CEO, Center for Closing the Health Gap.

Brown also joined Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) to recently introduce the Equitable Data Collection and Disclosure on COVID-19 Act. The bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to collect and report racial and other demographic data on COVID-19 testing, treatment, and fatality rates, and provide a summary of the final statistics and a report to Congress within 60 days after the end of the public health emergency. It would require HHS to use all available surveillance systems to post daily updates on the CDC website showing data on testing, treatment, and fatalities, disaggregated by race, ethnicity, sex, age, socioeconomic status, disability status, county, and other demographic information. 

Data from a recent Columbus Dispatch report show that, as of the report, 20% of the 5,512 confirmed cases in Ohio were Black patients, despite making up only 12% of Ohio’s population.