By: Diane Bernard, Public News Service – MD

SILVER SPRING, Md. – As protests against George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer continue a national reckoning with inequality, this week Maryland’s most populous county has declared racism a public health crisis.

The resolution’s sponsor, Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando, says he was also spurred on by major health disparities between races during the pandemic.

He points out that, as in other parts of the U.S, black residents account for one in four new coronavirus deaths in Montgomery County, yet they make up just 19% of the area’s one million population.

“The resolution directly ties the history of systemic and institutional racism to the horrible life outcomes and deaths that we see in the black community,” says Jawando. “Coronavirus is just another manifestation of this, but it’s a stark manifestation.”

Montgomery County joins more than 20 other cities and counties, and at least three states – Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin – in declaring racism a public health emergency in recent weeks.

The resolution calls for training staff and helping the community understand the links between poor health and institutional racism.

Jawando notes that black women are up to four times more likely to die in pregnancy than white women, regardless of income level. And he says black men are more than twice as likely to be killed by police as white men.

“There are so many ways that we die,” says Jawando. “And connecting these poor health outcomes, these other life outcomes, directly to racism – and the system of racism that has been created since we got to this country in 1619 – that is the number one thing that this resolution does. And then, number two, it says it’s an urgent matter.”

Several doctors’ groups, including the American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, also have declared institutional racism a crucial public health issue, and vowed to end discrimination in health care.