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Leader Sykes: DeWine's plan to address minority health disparities is "too little, too late"

Says governor's inaction has led to preventable COVID-19 infection and death among black and brown Ohioans
May 21, 2020
Democrat Newsroom

COLUMBUS—House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) today voiced her frustration following Governor Mike DeWine’s announcement related to the Minority Health Strike Force. Today’s statement follows multiple written and verbal conversations where Sykes urgently pressed DeWine to take action to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Ohio’s minority communities, which have been hit the hardest by the worst global pandemic in more than a century. Though black Ohioans are just 13 percent of the population, they account for 26 percent of confirmed cases and 17 percent of deaths from coronavirus in Ohio. 

“The governor had the chance to do something important today and he let us down,” said Leader Sykes. “The recommendations he mentioned represent the easiest path forward, the lowest possible hanging fruit, and such simple steps should have been implemented 6 weeks ago to have any significant impact. Black Ohioans will continue to suffer the consequences of being left behind. 

While I appreciate the conversation today on the struggles communities of color have faced for generations that are usually overlooked and ignored, it is too little, too late for this pandemic. All too often politicians tip-toe around the root causes of health disparities for the sake of making people feel comfortable, which is actually uncomfortable to those communities directly affected.

If the Governor is unwilling to even say structural racism is the root cause of health disparities and desperately needs to be addressed then I cannot take anything else he says on this topic seriously. The discussion today felt impersonal and insincere; if he is unwilling to expose the real truth of the situation, he should move on.

As the state now reopens, the time for the strike force to strike and have any meaningful impact has passed. I will review the Governor’s preliminary report with an open mind, but his delay in action is unforgiveable”

DeWine announced the creation of the Minority Health Strike Force April 20 and appointed Leader Sykes, who holds a Masters of Public Health and a Juris Doctor from the University of Florida, as one of its 41 members. But the group has moved too slowly, Sykes says, to issue any recommendations or guidelines to address disproportionate health outcomes in minority communities and this delay has now led to preventable infection and death. 

“The slogan ‘in this together Ohio’ evokes a sense of shared struggle, of sacrifice and of commitment to one another. But the reality is that since the onset of this pandemic—and for the greater part of a generation or more—black and brown families have seen the worst of it,” Sykes wrote in a letter to DeWine May 12. “Racial equity must be more than a talking point. It needs to be an action point for your administration.”

Democrats have called on the governor to act on minority heath disparities since the onset of the pandemic.

*Editor’s note: A copy of Leader Sykes’ May 12 letter to Gov. DeWine is attached.

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Leader Sykes: DeWine's plan to address minority health disparities is "too little, too late" (PDF)