Racism Is Declared a Public Health Crisis in New York City

The new resolution outlines steps toward a ‘racially just recovery’ from the Covid-19 pandemic for all New Yorkers

Group of protesters during black lives matter marches holding a black lives matter sign
The city’s Health Department informally acknowledged that racism was a public health crisis following the police murder of George Floyd in 2020. Phil Roeder via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

Earlier this week, the New York City Board of Health declared racism a public health crisis in a first step toward addressing the staggering health inequities that communities of color have faced during the Covid-19 pandemic. The resolution outlines actions for a “racially just recovery” and calls upon the city to take specific measures to combat the impact of systemic racism on people’s health and wellbeing. The steps outlined in the plan range from improving access to healthcare and education to investing in critical transportation and housing infrastructure.

"To build a healthier New York City, we must confront racism as a public health crisis," says New York City health commissioner Dave Chokshi in a statement. "The Covid-19 pandemic magnified inequities, leading to suffering disproportionately borne by communities of color in our City and across our nation. But these inequities are not inevitable. Today is a historic day for the country’s oldest Board of Health to officially recognize this crisis and demand action."

New Yorkers of color have historically faced higher rates of HIV, obesity, maternal mortality, mental health conditions, and physical violence than white residents, and experts say those discrepancies have been magnified by the pandemic. New York City has consistently investing in health services in wealthy, white neighborhoods, the board said, while overlooking lower-income communities. The resolution notes that Black and Latino New Yorkers suffered disproportionatley steep drops in life expectancy during the pandemic, and are less likely to be vaccinated against Covid-19. The resolution comes six months after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared racism "a serious public health threat" amid the pandemic, reports Rebecca Falconer for Axios.

"The disparities seen over the past year were not a result of Covid-19. Instead, the pandemic illuminated inequities that have existed for generations and revealed for all of America a known, but often unaddressed, epidemic impacting public health: racism," said CDC director Rochelle Walensky in a statement earlier this year.

The board also asks the city’s health department to investigate and acknowledge its own history of underinvesting health programs for residents of color. They requested that the department "participate in a truth and reconciliation process with communities harmed by these actions when possible.” The resolution also directed the health department to improve data-collection practices and scrutinize policies, health codes, and budgets that could perpetuate this structural bias, reports Karen Zraick for the New York Times.

Last year, the city’s health department informally acknowledged that racism was a public health crisis, following the police murder of George Floyd. The recent resolution is an official request that the agency takes a series of specific actions toward addressing structural racism, according to Jordan Williams for the Hill

“Covid-19 was like a magnifying glass for us to see what has already been in existence for a long time,” says Kitaw Demissie, dean of the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, to the New York Times. “Now the most important thing is to see its implementation, to see the investment, and to see the changes that are going to come.”

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