SUMMIT COUNTY, Ohio Brittany Bell is a Summit County resident who tested positive for COVID-19 on March 30th. Bell says when she went to a healthcare facility in the county showing symptoms, she was denied a test.
- African Americans make up 15 percent of the county’s population, but there are 36 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases
- Officials in Summit County say race-specific data is vital
- An epidemiologist says this disparity highlights the difference in workplace exposure, inequalities in resources, healthcare and access to care
“They said you’re a young 34-year-old, you’re healthy, no underlying disorders, just go home, you’ll be fine. That just wasn’t fair, it wasn’t enough for me. The pain, the fevers, were unbearable and after seven days of being hot and changing my clothes,” Brittany Bell of Twinsburg said.
Bell is a nurse and says after taking her own vitals, she decided to visit a different hospital. She says self awareness and advocacy may be the only reasons why she was able to beat the deadly disease.
“When I started the shortness of breath I went back to the hospital and that’s when they did a chest X-ray and found out I had pneumonia secondary to COVID,” Bell said.
Joan Hall, of Summit County Public Health, says after seeing that the coronavirus is disproportionately infecting and killing African Americans across the country, the county was prompted to do their own analysis.
“There was an analysis of data from Michigan and Illinois, which are states nearby us in the upper midwest. In Illinois, it was 30 percent African American cases for COVID-19 and the state population is 16 percent African American.” Hall said.
Summit County showed similar trends. African Americans make up 15 percent of the county’s population, but are 36 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
“We looked at hospitalizations specifically. It went from 36 percent African American for cases that were hospitalized to 48 percent, so nearly half of our hospitalizations are African American, “ Hall said.
She says underlying health conditions play a role, but not the only role. She says this disparity highlights the difference in workplace exposure, inequalities in resources, healthcare, and access to care.
The Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition says stories like Bell’s are far too common. The organization’s executive director Yvonka Hall , says now, more than ever, the organization is advocating for access to and use of quality care.
“Because we are African American, we’re more likely to be turned away. So now that’s more important than ever for us to say I refuse to be turned away, I need you to take my temperature, I need you to listen to me. I need you to hear me out,” she said.
The coalition is focusing on race specific data, like that released by Summit County, and says it can lead to real change.
“The Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition has been talking about that, getting the word out about why it’s important for data to spell out whether people are black, because if the data tells us that we’re disproportionately impacted, then the dollars should follow the data into the community and gets the resources to people who need it the most,” Hall said.
“We will, as time goes on, be looking into this more and more and hopefully this information will play out for long term public health interventions and you know, this is a great opportunity to increase public health capacity and have that more present, that we can be more impactful for all populations,” said Hall.
Brittany Bell says while she understands the effects COVID-19 is having on healthcare facilities, she hopes COVID concerns of all communities continue to be heard and taken seriously.