Where Is COVID-19 Hitting Columbus Hardest?

Apr 24, 2020

Franklin County has recorded 1,837 COVID-19 cases and 48 deaths as of Friday. But ZIP code data shows smaller racial disparities in those numbers than in the rest of the state. 

Broadly speaking, the spread of cases in Central Ohio is not that surprising: ZIP codes with larger numbers of people are seeing more cases. These are mostly suburban areas like Grove City, Hilliard and Reynoldsburg, which have big populations but not very high density.

Statewide, Ohio has seen African Americans are over-represented in both case count and in hospitalizations. Columbus is more diverse than most areas - the city's population is about 23% black, compared to 13% for the state as a whole.

Ohio's racial disparity is larger than what's being reported in Columbus. Currently, African American residents are under-represented in deaths from COVID-19 (18%), and slightly over-represented in cases (28%).

But African Americans are most over-represented when it comes to hospitalizations - 33% of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Columbus are black.

A map of how coronavirus cases are distributed across Columbus.
Credit Columbus Public Health

One ZIP code that's seeing a larger number of cases than most is 43223 in West Columbus. One reason could be that's where the state's prison hospital, Franklin Medical Center, is located. The hospital has seen 110 cases among inmates, and 60 cases among staff.

Another possible reason is that about 20% of that ZIP code is black or African American, and also lower income.

"People of color are more likely to work on the front lines, such as service industry jobs like grocery clerks bus drivers and food workers, that make it very hard if not impossible to stay home as well as practice that six-foot distance that we talk about," says Mysheika Roberts, director of Columbus Public Health. 

Roberts says the risk is compounded because of the type of housing people live in.

"These essential workers have a much greater risk of being exposed to the virus and spreading it to their loved ones because African Americans are more likely to live in dense areas and in multigenerational housing," she says. 

To address racial disparities in health, Mayor Andrew Ginther announced the creation of a new group called the Center for Public Health Innovation, which is charged with developing policy changes and actions by the end of the year. 

The group is also looking at how this pandemic is spotlighting issues that already existed in the city. For example, black residents are more likely to suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure and other problems, which is part of the reason more black people have been hospitalized in Columbus. 

"We all know that these issues are here, that they are underly every aspect of our lives," says Columbus City Council president Shannon Hardin. "Yet sometimes crisis levels them to the forefront and makes the issue clearer and bring them to a point so that we can all be a part of the solution."

Another ZIP code with a large number of cases is 43201, near Ohio State University's campus. It’s more dense than many parts of Columbus, and group housing can make it easier for disease to spread.

An uptick in cases in that ZIP code may be part of the reason Columbus' median age of cases (43) is younger than the state's (51).