Policy Matters: Declaring racism a public health crisis must be backed up with action
Posted June 24, 2020 in Press Releases
In testimony delivered before the Ohio Senate Health, Human Services and Medicaid Committee, Policy Matters Ohio called on lawmakers to declare racism a public health crisis and make sure Black Ohioans aren’t deterred from fully participating in democracy due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this month, Sen. Sandra Williams (D-Cleveland) and Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus) introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 14 (SCR 14) to declare racism a public health crisis in Ohio. The resolution would promote community engagement around racism, encourage policymakers to prioritize the health of people of color when crafting legislation and raise resources to support the resolution’s goals.
“The resolution before you today is a necessary first step -- a call to action -- to address the root causes of racial disparities in COVID-19 cases and its related impact on our elections, but also in well documented health disparities from infant mortality to life expectancy,” Policy Matters Policy Liaison Jasmine Ayres told the committee. “This committee should pass the resolution to declare racism a public health crisis. Then, back that declaration up with action.”
Long before the pandemic, segregation forced many Black Americans into communities with “less access to healthy food, fewer hospitals and more pollution,” Ayres said. That has contributed to higher rates of asthma and high blood pressure which make people more susceptible to COVID-19. While they account for only 14.3% of the state population, and 5% of all people tested, Black Ohioans comprise about 25% of all positive COVID-19 patients. With this in mind, as Black Ohioans are leading protests against racism and police brutality, Ayres told committee members they must ensure that COVID-19 won’t hinder Black people in exercising their constitutional rights to protest and to vote.
“Failing to expand testing puts people who are exercising their First Amendment rights to speech, in jeopardy. Along with the communities they live in and the workplaces in which they work,” Ayres said. “Limits placed on in person voting are also challenging democracy and the state should act in the spirit of this resolution, to ensure people have the ability to exercise their right to vote.”