Democrats unveil plan declaring racism a public health issue

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A trio of Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday that would label racism as a nationwide public health crisis.

The bill, titled the Anti-Racism in Public Health Act, was created by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

If passed, the bicameral proposal would establish two new wings within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): The National Center for Anti-Racism and the Law Enforcement Violence Prevention Program within the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the federal agency.

“It is time we start treating structural racism like we would treat any other public health problem or disease: investing in research into its symptoms and causes and finding ways to mitigate its effects,” Warren said. “My bill with Representatives Lee and Pressley is a first step to create anti-racist federal health policy that studies and addresses disparities in health outcomes at their roots.”

Both Pressley and Lee said that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the public health inequities in communities of color. Black and Latino Americans are both significantly more likely to contract and die from COVID-19 than white Americans.

An August report from the National Urban League, partly based on data from Johns Hopkins University, revealed that Black Americans are more than two times more likely to die from COVID-19 than White or Latino Americans. Latino Americans have the the highest infection rate — 73 cases per 10,000 people — out of the three demographics, but Black Americans still are nearly three times as likely to get sick from the virus than White Americans, who have the lowest infection rate.

The CDC acknowledges this fact on its website, saying “long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19.”

The Senate version of the bill is co-sponsored by a slew of Democrats, including Sens. Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Ed Markey (Mass.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Tina Smith (Minn.).

The proposal comes after the American Public Health Association declared systemic racism a public health crisis at the beginning of June — shortly after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, a Black man.

Since then, Michigan, Wisconsin and Colorado have done the same. At a local level, municipalities in over 19 states have also made the designation.

Tags Ayanna Pressley Ayanna Pressley Barbara Lee Barbara Lee coronavirus pandemic Ed Markey Elizabeth Warren Elizabeth Warren House Jeff Merkley Mazie Hirono public health crisis Senate systemic racism Tina Smith
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