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Sacramento County declares racism a public health crisis

Sacramento County this week became the latest local government to declare racism a...

Posted: Nov 19, 2020 2:26 AM

Sacramento County this week became the latest local government to declare racism a public health crisis.

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution that declared racism a public health crisis and outlined ways to promote racial equity within the county through policies, programs and further resources.

"Sacramento County is one of the nation's most diverse communities, and as such, all its citizens should have the opportunity to live their lives free from systemic racism," Board Chair Phil Serna, who brought forth the resolution, said in a statement.

"Research has demonstrated that racism adversely impacts the physical and mental health of people of color. The resolution we passed today acknowledges Sacramento County's commitment to face this crisis head-on through fair and just governance and service delivery."

While the vote was unanimous, the meeting did generate some backlash after Sacramento County Health Director Dr. Peter Beilenson referred to Asians as "yellow folks" while expressing support for the resolution.

"It's a crucial thing we need to be doing to address the issues of the African American and brown and yellow folks in our country as well as the white folks," Belienson said, according to CNN affiliate KOVR.

Belienson later apologized for his comment, KOVR reported. "In my 30-year career in public health, I've never had an issue like this before," he said. "I very much apologize for that and will certainly use Asian Pacific Islander in the future."

Treating racism as a public health issue isn't a new idea. A handful of local governments declared it a crisis, and health professionals have identified racism as a public health issue for well over a decade.

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors' decision comes as the coronavirus pandemic continues to strike a uniquely heavy blow to people of color. Black, Hispanic and Native American people infected with Covid-19 are about four times more likely to be hospitalized than others, recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows.

Sacramento now joins a handful of states -- including Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin -- and local governments -- such as Franklin County, Ohio -- that have made similar declarations.

"What we're hoping will happen is that by thinking of this through a public health lens, it will help people recognize that racism actually hurts people -- it impacts their health in a negative way," Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told CNN in August.

"Then we're hoping that once people recognize that and they take the next step, they will begin to do things to unravel that."

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