CHAMPAIGN — While coronavirus infections continue to spiral, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District may be poised to declare another public health crisis in Champaign County — racism.
A resolution to that effect will be considered by the local board of health Wednesday.
If it’s passed, the local public health district will join a growing number of cities and other units of government — among them Champaign schools — plus public health and medical groups across the country in declaring systemic racism to be a major public health crisis.
Board Chairwoman Danielle Chynoweth said the public health district resolution will address racism not only targeting Black Americans but also immigrants and Latinos.
It will also focus on more than violence against minorities as a health issue but address a broad spectrum of issues — such as housing, unemployment and access to healthy food and health care — as having an impact on health.
“Black citizens in Champaign County have been limited to areas with restricted access to healthy foods and a disproportionate amount of convenience and liquor stores,” the resolution states. “They have also been historically restricted to areas with less essential resources, such as safe and affordable housing, sidewalks, streetlights and parks, leading to a variety of other health issues, including reduced life expectancy, higher rates of infant and maternal mortality and higher rates of lead poisoning.”
Take, for example, a recent COVID-19 outbreak at the Champaign County Jail satellite facility, Chynoweth said.
“I would say that is a public health concern, that we have pretrial detention for people who can’t afford bail,” she said.
The public health resolution is also intended to do more than raise awareness, Chynoweth said.
It includes action in the form of establishing an equity council to be made up of public health employees who will be compensated for their specialized knowledge to assess internal policies and procedures to make sure equity is a core element in all organizational practices.
The document also resolves that Champaign County “will assess our current and proposed laws (ordinances and health regulations) and our policies, as well as their implementation” to promote health for minorities in the community.
The proposed resolution further states that the board of health urges other governmental bodies to declare racism to be a public health crisis and to take immediate steps to address and support methods to reduce the long-term impacts of racism.
Among many national groups that have already declared racism to be a public health crisis are the American Public Health Association, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Surgeons, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Family Physicians.