As the Ohio state Senate was discussing a resolution that would declare racism a public health crisis earlier this week, state Sen. Steve Huffman (R), who is also a doctor, offered a racist theory as to why black communities have been hit harder by the COVID-19 outbreak than others.
“Could it just be that African Americans — the colored population — do not wash their hands as well as other groups?” he asked Ohio Commission on Minority Health executive director Angela Dawson, who is black, during a hearing on Tuesday. “Or wear a mask? Or do not socially distance themselves? Could that just be maybe the explanation of why there’s a higher incidence?”
“That is not the opinion of leading medical experts in this country,” Dawson responded.
On Wednesday, Huffman said in a statement that he regretted making the comment.
“Regrettably, I asked a question in an unintentionally awkward way that was perceived as hurtful and was exactly the opposite of what I meant,” the lawmaker stated. “I was trying to focus on why COVID-19 affects people of color at a higher rate since we really do not know all the reasons.”
A study by the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) found that 52 percent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. come from disproportionately black counties, which also accounted for nearly 60 percent of deaths from the virus.
However, researchers in the study pointed to “structural racism” as the cause of the alarming gap, not presumed personal behaviors by black Americans.
“Structural factors including health care access, density of households, unemployment, pervasive discrimination and others drive these disparities, not intrinsic characteristics of black communities or individual-level factors,” the researchers wrote.