The New York City Board of Health passed a resolution on Monday declaring racism a public health crisis, and requesting that the city's Health Department expand its works to promote anti-racism.
In particular, the board noted the impact that racism had on health throughout the pandemic.
"To build a healthier New York City, we must confront racism as a public health crisis," said Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi. "The COVID-19 pandemic magnified inequities, leading to suffering disproportionately borne by communities of color in our City and across our nation. But these inequities are not inevitable. Today is an historic day for the country’s oldest Board of Health to officially recognize this crisis and demand action.”
The board listed a number of actions the Health Department can take in order to combat racism, including:
- Researching and acknowledging the department's role in divesting and underinvesting in community-led health programs, and work to reconcile with communities hurt by it
- Creating an internal Data for Equity group to ensure the department applies an anti-racism lens to public heath data, and using that information to assist other agencies to improve health equity in the city
- Making health-related anti-racism NYC Charter revision recommendations to the new Mayoral Racial Justice Commission
- Collaboration with other agencies to report on fatalities, injuries and health conditions by race, gender and other demographics in order to improve data quality and care
- Working with appropriate community groups to review the NYC Health Code through an anti-racism lens, in order to find any measures that support systemic or structural racism or bias, and recommend new ideas to replace them. The Health Department should also advise on racism within policies, plans, and budgets regarding all things health-related (transportation, education, housing, and more), the board said
- Reporting twice each year to the board to promote work done related to the resolution, and ensure department accountability on progress so far
The resolution passed by the board goes into effect immediately.
Back in May, the nation's top immunologist said that “the undeniable effects of racism” have led to unacceptable health disparities that especially hurt African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans during the pandemic.
“COVID-19 has shone a bright light on our own society’s failings,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a graduation ceremony for Emory University at the time.
Fauci said many members of minority groups work in essential jobs where they might be exposed to the coronavirus. He also said they are more likely to become infected if exposed because of medical conditions such as hypertension, chronic lung disease, diabetes or obesity.
“Now, very few of these comorbidities have racial determinants,” Fauci said. “Almost all relate to the social determinants of health dating back to disadvantageous conditions that some people of color find themselves in from birth regarding the availability of an adequate diet, access to health care and the undeniable effects of racism in our society.”
Fauci said correcting societal wrongs will take a commitment of decades, and he urged the graduates to be part of the solution. He added that once society returns to “some form of normality,” people should not forget that infectious disease has disproportionally hospitalized and killed people of color.
Since 2019, when Milwaukee County in Wisconsin was the first to call out racism as a public health issue, dozens of places around the country have followed suit. Supporters have said it's an important step in addressing problems, while some have questioned whether the declarations will lead to real change.