'Racism has been a pandemic': Ohio’s most populous county declares racism a public health crisis

Officials in Ohio’s most populous county have formally declared racism as a public health crisis, saying it has led to disparities in everything from housing, to the criminal justice system, to coronavirus infections.

Commissioners in Franklin County passed a resolution on Tuesday that lays out a 10-step plan to help address racism and calls on other lawmakers to follow suit across the state.

“Racism has been a pandemic long before the current coronavirus pandemic,” Commissioner Kevin L. Boyce said in a statement. “Our declaration today is important, but it’s not saying anything that hasn’t been apparent for a long time. COVID-19 has highlighted the health divide between black and white Ohioans, however, and I hope that it can be the catalyst we need to reform the whole health system so that it works for all of us equally.”

The resolution identifies racism as “a social system with multiple dimensions,” both individual racism that is internalized and systematic racism that is institutional. It states that racism causes disparities in several areas of life, including housing, education, employment, criminal justice and that it is “a social determinant of health.”

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Health officials in Franklin County, which includes the city of Columbus, adopted a similar declaration last week — which had been in the works prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

The commissioners note that black Ohioans have lower life expectancies than their white neighbors, are more likely to die of heart disease or stroke, be overweight, have diabetes, and also suffer higher infant mortality rates and low birth weights.

The resolution declares that the health disparity is further highlighted by county coronavirus data showing black residents are hospitalized at twice the rate of other demographic groups. Preliminary data in Ohio suggests they are dying at a disproportionately higher rate from the disease, according to the commissioners.

The racial disparity when it comes to the coronavirus isn’t specific to Ohio. Democratic lawmakers and community leaders in cities across the country have sounded the alarm over what they see as a disturbing trend of the virus disproportionately affecting black, Latino and other minority populations.

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“Hundreds of years of systemic racism, from slavery to segregation, redlining to Jim Crow, and discrimination in housing, finance, and education, some of which persists today, have led to predictable inequities,” said Commissioner Marilyn Brown.

“We won’t solve these things overnight, but it’s important to start by recognizing them and beginning to work purposefully for change.”

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This story was reported from Cincinnati.