Oct 20, 2021 - Health

New York City health board declares racism a public health crisis

 New York City Department of Health CommissionerDave Chokshi attends the opening of a vaccination center for Broadway workers in Times Square on April 12, 2021 in New York City.
New York City Department of Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

The New York City Board of Health has declared racism a public health crisis.

Why it matters: NYC Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi noted in a statement after the resolution passed Monday that the COVID-19 pandemic had "magnified inequities, leading to suffering disproportionately borne by communities of color in our City and across our nation," but such inequities aren't inevitable.

  • N.Y. State Sen. Brand Hoylman (D) said in a statement the "combined effect of institutional racism and the COVID-19 pandemic on Black and Brown New Yorkers represent an urgent call to action which we can no longer ignore as a government or society."
  • The resolution comes six months after the CDC declared racism "a serious public health threat," highlighting the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color, such as case and death counts, as well as economic and social effects.

The big picture: The NYC board's resolution requests that the city Health Department research and acknowledge "examples of its historic role in divesting and underinvesting in critical community-led health programs" and "participate in a truth and reconciliation process with communities harmed by these actions when possible," per a statement.

  • The NYC Health Department will create a Data for Equity internal working group in response to the resolution to address racial inequities and improve health outcomes, making recommendations for revisions to a health charter in the newly established Mayoral Racial Justice Commission.

The bottom line: Chokshi, one of 11 medical experts who sit on the NYC board, pointed out at a meeting ahead of the resolution passing how the pandemic underscored unnecessary disparities, the New York Times notes.

  • "Why do some nonwhite populations develop severe disease and die from COVID-19 at higher rates than whites?” he said, according to the NYT. "Underlying health conditions undoubtedly play a role.
  • "But why are there higher rates of hypertension, diabetes and obesity in communities of color? The answer does not lie in biology.
"Structural and environmental factors such as disinvestment, discrimination and disinformation underlie a greater burden of these diseases in communities of color."
— Chokshi
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