This is a full blown crisis

The problems we face as a nation are not just manifold but complicated. Many of them are not mutually exclusive, and the overlaps inevitably compound the underlying challenges. To make matters even worse, these compounded problems are typically slow to get the attention they merit. New York City is trying to change that with its new approach to racism and public health, and its bold efforts may inspire the nation to step up.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene passed a resolution this week that declares racism as a public health crisis. In doing so, the Department aims to ensure that “all New Yorkers can realize their full health potential, regardless of who they are, where they are from, or where they live.” The resolution not only sounds the alarm on this pressing issue but establishes meaningful ways to address it while offering other jurisdictions a blueprint to follow suit.

The resolution declares that “BIPOC New Yorkers have suffered from disproportionately high rates of COVID-19 infection and death,” with “a disproportionate drop in life expectancy for Black and Latino New Yorkers” who also have “inequitably low rates of COVID-19 vaccination.” The resolution also cites the Department’s extensive documentation of racial inequities in health that have existed long before the coronavirus pandemic began, involving HIV, tuberculosis, maternal mortality, infant mortality, mental health conditions, chronic disease prevalence and mortality, gun violence and other forms of physical violence, premature mortality, and more.

The recent rise in anti-Asian violence—thanks in large part to Donald “China virus!” “Kung Flu!” Trump’s pandemic scapegoating—is a major component of this problem. Beyond the pandemic, however, the resolution decries the United States’ “long history of anti-Asian violence including the Page Exclusion Act, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and Japanese internment, which created some of the conditions for current rising anti-Asian discrimination.”

New York City is not the first to issue a formal statement declaring racism to be a public health crisis. As of August, 209 agencies or municipalities in 37 states have passed such declarations, according to The American Public Health Association. However, many of them don’t go the extra step of directing the government to pursue action items that will make a difference.

Earlier, in June 2020, the Department tweeted a strong statement recognizing racism as a public health crisis. By issuing a resolution this week, the Department is directing the most densely populated major city in the United States to apply its resources to combating this growing problem. The resolution calls for updating policies that have led to race-based health discrepancies, removing “structural racism within policies, plans and budgets,” improving inter-agency data reporting, and more.

   

Local governments across the country need to take note of what New York City is doing and follow its leadership on this issue. We have vaccines and other tools that will end this pandemic, but the compounded problem of racism and public health won’t get resolved unless it receives long overdue attention. It’s time for states and municipalities across the country to step over to the right side of history.

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