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Counties Nationwide Declare Racism a Public Health Crisis

Nurses hold placards as they march to the White House during a peaceful protest against police brutality and racism, on June 6, 2020 in Washington, DC. - Demonstrations are being held across the US following the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, while being arrested in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

California’s Orange County is the newest to consider joining the long list of counties to declare racism a public health emergency.

Eighty-three cities and counties, across nineteen states, have passed such resolutions pointing to systemic racism as a root cause of health problems that disproportionately affect minorities. 

According to experts supporting these resolutions, disparities found in the health and well-being of different ethnic communities is a direct result of systemic racism.

Dr. Ravi Kavasery, a physician with AltaMed Health Services, serving the Orange County and Los Angeles communities, told the Orange County Register that patients “are scared to seek medical care because of policies such as the ‘public charge’ rule.” 

The “public charge” rule is a factor the Department of Homeland Security uses to determine whether immigrants seeking permanent resident status are likely to become dependent on governmental assistance. 

Dr. Kavasery asserted in his statement that the rule “actively discourages immigrants and people of color from seeking medical care. It’s an excellent example that shows the link between systemic racism and public health. You see unequal access and health outcomes.”

Paula Tran Inzeo, director of Mobilizing Action Toward Community Health with the Population Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, explained that the “toxic stress they experience due to racism and discrimination puts their bodies in a constant state of fighting. They get sick sooner and stay sick longer.”

Milwaukee County was the first U.S. county to declare racism a public health crisis over a year ago in May of 2019 . 

Both King County and Pierce County in Washington State passed resolutions back in June of this year. 

In the Board of Health of King County’s resolution, they stated their commitment to address “institutional and systemic racism”, to create policies “with a racial justice and equity lens” and committed themselves to continual education and involvement in antiracist work. 

The King County resolution reads in part:

“racism harms every person in our society and is the root cause of poverty and economic inequality…”

“we recognize that historically and currently King County has been complicit in maintaining and perpetuating structural racism, and that as an institution the Board of Health must stand in support of dismantling oppressive systems grounded in white supremacy.” 

These resolutions have seen pushback. The Inland Empire Citizens Action Committee and Foothill Taxpayers Association – located in Southern California -wrote a memorandum calling the resolutions “Collectivist/Marxist rhetoric”.

“If racism is defined as systemic or structural,” the memorandum read, “the narrative is set in stone to demand reparations from the current generation to the current generation of blacks and people of color. Defining it as systemic indicts the entire nation for the sins of past generations without a trial.” 

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