Lawmaker asks if ‘colored population’ not washing their hands as well as others behind COVID rates

During a hearing on whether to declare racism a public health crisis, state Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, asked if “the colored population” is hit harder by the coronavirus because perhaps they don’t wash their hands as well as other groups.

Huffman, an emergency room physician, asked a witness before the Senate Health Committee on Tuesday why COVID-19 is hitting African Americans harder than white people.

SEE VIDEO (Comments in question begin at the 50 minute mark):

“My point is I understand African Americans have a higher incidence of chronic conditions and it makes them more susceptible to death from COVID. But why it doesn’t make them more susceptible to just get COVID. Could it just be that African Americans or the colored population do not wash their hands as well as other groups or wear a mask or do not socially distance themselves? That could be the explanation of the higher incidence?” he said.

Ohio Commission on Minority Health Director Angela Dawson responded to Huffman: “That is not the opinion of leading medical experts in this country.” COVID-19 impacts the respiratory system so those with chronic conditions are more vulnerable, she said.

Ohio Legislative Black Caucus President Stephanie Howse, D-Cleveland, said Huffman’s word choice and question represent systemic racism.

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“He highlights what racism is from a systematic perspective. He’s a full legislator but beyond that, professionally, he’s a doctor. When we talk about the health disparities that happen because black folks aren’t believed when they’re actually hurt, they aren’t given the treatment that they need. Do you think that someone who acknowledges the ‘coloreds’ is going to give the love and care that people need when they come through those doors?” said Howse, who attended the hearing.

She also said Huffman implied that African Americans are dirty and not smart enough to wash their hands.

Huffman said Wednesday that Howse misunderstood his question.

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“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,” he said.

State Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, who serves on the Senate Health Committee, said the audience cringed when Huffman made his remark. “He’s an example of why we have to have this discussion about racism and how it impacts people.”

Resolutions are pending in both the House and Senate to declare racism a public health crisis.

In response to the House resolution, state Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana, on his Facebook page posted a photo of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus members and commented, “I am darker than MOST of the people in this picture.” He said in his childhood, he was made fun of for his skin color and name, and called a “greasy Italian.”

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When asked about the post Wednesday, Vitale said “Do you have any idea about where I grew up or my past history? Look, their resolution is about black and brown people. I’m a brown person. I have a varied opinion on it. I don’t disagree that there are problems in our society. The question is how do we solve them.”

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When asked about the post, House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, said, “I’m not Rep. Vitale and obviously I’m not black so I really can’t tell you how that comment is taken.” He noted that members of the OLBC talked to Vitale.

Howse, though, said the discussion didn’t yield a reason for Vitale’s post. “I will let you know why he did it: It’s an undermining of notion that racism exists.”

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