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Cuyahoga County Board Of Health: Racism Is A Public Health Crisis

CCBH's Romona Brazile talks about her own experience with racism. [Cuyahoga County / Facebook]
CCBH's Romona Brazile talks about her own experience with racism. [Cuyahoga County / Facebook]

Cuyahoga County Health Commissioner Terry Allan said on Friday the Cuyahoga County Board of Health stands with community partners that have declared racism a public health crisis.

“We have to open our hearts and minds to understand our own biases and our own privilege,” Allan said.

CCBH’s Romona Brazile said racial health disparities are evident during the pandemic, as there’s been a disproportionate impact on the black community.

Cities across the country are protesting police brutality after George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, was killed by a white police officer who kneeled on his neck for at least seven minutes.

“To learn through reports that Mr. Floyd had survived COVID-19, but not the cruel hands of racism, is too much,” Brazile said.

Brazile talked about her own experience with racism and how she has been coping with Floyd's death and the protests that resulted. 

"I cannot explain what it means to fight for your existence in every space you enter, often with people who have no authority over you," Brazile said. "I've learned your numbers of years of education, the credentials behind your name, or years of experience in your profession cannot save you from the constant expectation to prove why you belong in the space you occupy."

Infant mortality is another example of racial health disparities, as black mothers are more likely to lose their babies than white mothers.

“That’s not due to poverty, that’s not due to lack of education,” Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish said. “If you take a highly educated African American who has a good career, she’s still more likely to lose her baby than a poor, white woman with a high school education.”

Budish said structural racism is the only explanation for why that would happen.

Although the CCBH meeting on Friday was meant to provide an update to the coronavirus pandemic, the majority of time was spent discussing the health impact of racism in the county and across the country.

“I cannot brief you on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on our community this morning without first discussing the impact of the larger epidemic in this country that has killed far more people than coronavirus, and that is racism,” Cuyahoga County Medical Director Dr. Heidi Gullett said.

Gullett said racism leads to unjust, preventable diseases, such as a higher rate of chronic diseases for people of color.

She said she has been working with the health partnership HIP-Cuyahoga, which has previously declared eliminating structural racism as one of its priorities.

When asked about the spread of COVID-19 at the George Floyd protests, Allan said he's seen many people wearing masks, which should limit spread. He said since the protests are outside, that also lowers the risk of spread. 

He said we may see an uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases in the next weeks, but the protests are just one factor. People are increasing their number of contacts as the weather gets warmer, which is also a factor in potential spread.

lisa.ryan@ideastream.org | 216-916-6158