Racism has officially been declared a public health crisis in Ohio’s largest county.
Commissioners in Franklin County, which encompasses the state’s capital of Columbus, passed a resolution on Tuesday that asserts racism “rises to the definition of a public health crisis proposed by Dr. Sandro Galea.”
Galea, dean at Boston University School of Public, notes a public health crisis is when “the problem must affect large numbers of people, it must threaten health over the long-term, and it must require the adoption of large scale solutions.”
The county’s resolution references more than 100 studies that have linked racism to worse health outcomes, and outlines the ways systemic racism impacts multiple areas of life, including housing and education.
“Racism unfairly disadvantages specific individuals and communities, while unfairly giving advantages to other individuals and communities, and saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources,” the Board of Commissioners resolution states, “and Franklin County’s collective prosperity depends upon the equitable access to opportunity for every resident regardless of the color of their skin.”
Coronavirus: a ‘contemporary example of such disparity’
Franklin County is about 24% black, according to data from the US Census. White people make up 67.2% of the county’s population.
Citing the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, the Board of Commissioners wrote that “racism and segregation in Ohio and Franklin County have also exacerbated a health divide resulting in Black residents having lower life expectancies than White residents; being far more likely than other races to die prematurely (before the age of 75); and to die of heart disease or stroke.”
“Black residents also have higher levels of infant mortality, lower birth weights, are more likely to be overweight or obese, have adult diabetes, and have long-term complications from diabetes.”
The coronavirus pandemic, the Board of Commissioners said, has exacerbated the health divide between white and back residents.
“A contemporary example of such disparity is highlighted by the coronavirus data in Franklin County that Black residents are hospitalized at twice the rate of other demographic groups … and preliminary data in Ohio that suggest African Americans are dying at a disproportionately higher rate from the disease,” the resolution states.
Though recent racial breakdowns of Ohio coronavirus data is not publicly available, many communities across the US have reported disproportionately higher cases of coronavirus among the black community, as well as higher death rates.
There are now more than 1.5 million confirmed cases of coronavirus across the US, and more than 93,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. As of Wednesday afternoon, Ohio had 29,436 confirmed cases, and 1,781 deaths.
Addressing ‘injustices caused by racism’
The announcement from county commissioners comes one week after the Franklin County Board of Health issued the same declaration.
“Racism may be intentional or unintentional,” Joe Mazzola, Franklin County Health Commissioner, said in a statement. “We must address injustices caused by racism and we must support actions at all levels to ensure equal opportunity for all.”
The Franklin County Board of Health committed to 17 actions, including creating “an equity and justice-oriented organization, by identifying specific activities, policies and procedures to embrace diversity and to incorporate antiracism principles.”
County Commissioners said they will “always promote and support policies that prioritize the health of all people, especially people of color by mitigating exposure to adverse childhood experiences.”
“Nothing is more important than the health and wellbeing of our residents,” Board of Commissioners President John O’Grady said in a statement. “Our community’s success depends on all Franklin County residents being able to share in it, but right now we have a system that is resulting in different outcomes for people based on the color of their skin. That’s not acceptable.”
The Franklin County Board of Commissioners called on the state’s governor, the Speaker of the Ohio House, and the Ohio Senate President to also declare racism as a public health crisis.