States are calling racism a public health crisis. Here's what that means

Protesters gather in downtown Portland, Oregon, on July 25.

(CNN)With Covid-19, the US is experiencing its worst public health crisis in a generation. But that same crisis is prompting leaders to take note of another emergency, one that has been ongoing for centuries:

Michigan and Nevada became the latest states to declare racism a public health crisis earlier this month, joining Wisconsin and local governments in California, Ohio and other states following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
    Treating racism as a public health issue isn't a new idea. A handful of local governments declared it a crisis last year, and health professionals have identified racism as a public health issue for well over a decade.
      These latest declarations and resolutions, though, come as the country remains in the midst of a national reckoning on race. Both the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent killings of Black people at the hands of police have brought renewed attention to the ways that systems and institutions disadvantage people of color, especially Black Americans.
      Now as communities call on their leaders to address systemic racism, more governments are considering similar declarations.
      "What we're hoping will happen is that by thinking of this through a public health lens, it will help people recognize that racism actually hurts people -- it impacts their health in a negative way," Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told CNN. "Then we're hoping that once people recognize that and they take the next step, they will begin to do things to unravel that."
        Here's what it means to treat racism as a public health crisis, and why officials believe it's necessary.

        How racism and health are tied

        When health experts talk about racism as a public health issue, they are referring to the ways that racism affects where people live, where they go to school, the quality of the air they breathe, their income and wealth, their access to food and healthcare and more.
        "How does that relate to public health? Because you are where you live," Jeffrey Sánchez, a public health advocate and former Massachusetts state representative, told CNN.
        Racism helps explain why Black and brown patients experience worse health outcomes than their White counterparts in nearly every category, even as they move up the socioeconomic ladder.
        Black women are nearly four times as likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than White women. Black men are