Following in the footsteps of hundreds of state and local governments, the New York City Board of Health has declared racism a public health crisis. The announcement includes a list of action items for the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The board ratified the resolution during a Monday afternoon meeting. The to-dos range from beefing up the city’s race and health data offerings to amending city policies that contribute to racial health disparities.
As part of the resolution, the health department will have to review how its own policies have exacerbated racial differences in access to healthcare. It will also make policy recommendations, including suggestions for changes to the New York City Charter and Health Code. The health department will have to report its progress to the board twice per year.
“We have chosen our words carefully this afternoon in presenting this to you as a resolution—rather than just a declaration—because we must be resolute,” New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said at the board meeting. “We must resolve to take action beyond our recognition of the problem.”
The announcement comes more than a year after the health department informally referred to racism as a public health crisis in a June 2020 tweet. In the intervening time, at least 75 local health departments, a handful of states, nearly 100 city councils and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have made similar declarations. A state bill that would do the same is currently working its way through the New York State Senate.
In the meantime, New Yorkers of color have continued to suffer disproportionately from COVID-19 and other health calamities. Black and Hispanic residents have been sickened and killed by the coronavirus at much higher rates than New Yorkers of other races and ethnicities, according to city data. And Black New Yorkers have the lowest vaccination rate, with fewer than half having received at least one dose. New Yorkers of color are also more likely than their white neighbors to be hospitalized for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.