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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Minority Strike Force Team Unveils First Recommendations

christopher smitherman
Cincinnati Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman is part of the Minority Strike Force Team formed to correct inequalities in the coronavirus pandemic and the state's response.

Cincinnati Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman, a member of Ohio's Minority Strike Force team assembled during the COVID-19 pandemic, joined Gov. Mike DeWine's Thursday briefing to reveal the first steps the team is taking to combat inequalities in the state's response.

"We've all been working incredibly hard," Smitherman said. "The recommendations being formulated, in my mind, fall into four areas." Those are: messaging, testing, accessibility and collaboration, or "M-TAC," as Smitherman called it.

That translates to working with media outlets and organizations like the Urban League and the NAACP throughout Ohio to get information about masking and testing availability out to underserved communities.

Smitherman said he was particularly pleased that DeWine is providing the funding to back up these recommendations. "Oftentimes when commissions and strike forces are put together, the financial piece doesn't come behind it," Smitherman said. "I know that with this governor that whatever the recommendations are that the financial support will be there."

DeWine has come under fire for not releasing recommendations and guidelines for minorities, which have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, fast enough.

DeWine stressed that this is just the beginning and the strike force will release its final recommendations later in June.

He was, however, able to announce a partnership with the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers to expand access through mobile units that will be in more than 60 of Ohio's 88 counties. Placed in the most economically depressed communities, these units will "penetrate to our citizens who are not getting the health care they need," DeWine said.

Additionally, the association and the Nationwide Foundation will distribute wellness kits containing such items as face coverings, hand sanitizers and soap.

The health department is hiring a person dedicated to "the social determinants of health and opportunity," DeWine said, whose job it will be to respond and expand upon efforts to solve inequity.

"This is a position in the department of health that, frankly, we have thought about for a long time, and it's time. It's past time, frankly, to get this done," he said.

DeWine said that this position and the recommendations of the task force will last beyond the pandemic "for as long as I am governor."

Jennifer Merritt brings 20 years of "tra-digital" journalism experience to WVXU.