Racism and inequity are ‘public health crisis’ – Orange County Register

Orange County Supervisors have declared racism and societal inequity a public health crisis, citing a recent spike in race-based attacks and violence and studies that have tied racism to negative impacts on the health of people of color.

The goal, as explained in a resolution the board passed Tuesday, is to review county policies and practices to ensure they support racial and health equity, make county government more inclusive and diverse and educate the public about “systemic inequities from a health and human services perspective.”

One clear example of the problem was seen during the pandemic — the rates of hospitalization and death were significantly higher for Black, Hispanic, Native American and Alaskan people compared with White people, OC Health Officer Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong said in an interview.

“We know nationwide that there are certain racial and ethnic minority groups that have experienced much higher rates of chronic illness” on average than White people, she said.

“It’s not a clear line directly connecting between a chronic condition and racism, but we do know that when you’re impacted by it either directly or indirectly, it does take its toll,” sometimes in the form of anxiety, depression, stress or poor health choices, Chinsio-Kwong said.

The county has already taken steps beyond the board’s symbolic statement. Chinsio-Kwong said the health agency is working on the “Equity in OC” initiative, which is funded by a $22.8 million federal grant and includes reaching out to the county’s diverse communities; gathering data and setting goals to improve community health; and offering information, training and support for changes such as giving people better access to health information and healthy foods.

The OC Supervisors’ declaration of racism as a public health crisis is not the first. OC Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau told the board that more than 200 cities, counties and states have taken the same step. Riverside and San Bernardino counties did it in 2020.

Chaffee said his office worked on the resolution “for some time and we wanted to introduce it before I left the office of Chairman.”

He echoed Chinsio-Kwong’s comment about the greater impact of COVID-19 on the county’s underserved communities and higher mortality rates among non-White people.

“(The board) supporting and affirming this resolution not only recognizes the inequities but allows us to work towards rectifying issues with policies and procedures as well as resources,” he said.

For Supervisor Andrew Do, who was born in Vietnam, the issue may be a personal one. He spoke at the meeting about how, while living in Huntington Beach, he had bottles and other things thrown at him many times while out for a run

Board members unanimously approved the declaration, ignoring the jeering from a crowd that had come to decry the county’s November election results as riddled with fraud and to demand that they rescind the local health emergency declared due to spiking respiratory illnesses among children.

Do fired back at the hecklers, who booed and yelled epithets while he and Chau were speaking: “Really? ‘Go back to China,’ and you think racism is dead?” Do said.

Chinsio-Kwong said that at the beginning of the pandemic, “there were a lot of kids in school who were told, ‘Go back to Wuhan,'” including her own children.

“I think if anything, just being in that room (Tuesday) and hearing the sentiments of the public comment … it demonstrates that racism is very alive in Orange County and many people are probably experiencing it on a daily basis,” she said.

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