“Could it just be that African Americans or the colored population do not wash their hands as well as other groups?” asked Republican State Sen. Steve Huffman.
Ohio State Sen. Steve Huffman (R) sparked anger this week when pondering why “the colored population” is more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus.
Huffman, an emergency room physician, asked the offensive question during an Ohio Senate Health Committee hearing Tuesday to determine if the state should declare racism to be a public health crisis.
“I understand that African Americans have a higher incidence of prior conditions and it makes them more susceptible to death from COVID. But why it does not make them more susceptible just to get COVID?” Huffman asked.
“We know it’s twice as often. Correct? 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?” Huffman added. “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,” responded Angela Dawson, the director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health.
Dawson, who is Black, said the rationale for why some populations are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others would not be found in handwashing data.
Instead, it was down to pre-existing disparities in chronic conditions and health care, she said.
Around 33% of people who been hospitalized by the contagion in the United States are Black, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states on its website.
“Current data suggest a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups,” the CDC notes.
Huffman’s comments were fiercely condemned by Ohio Democrats and critics on Twitter.
State Rep. Stephanie Howse (D) told the Dayton Daily News that Huffman had highlighted “what racism is from a systematic perspective.” State Sen. Cecil Thomas (D) said he is “an example of why we have to have this discussion about racism and how it impacts people.”
Huffman later attempted to clarify his comments, reported The Columbus Dispatch, saying he’d asked the question “in an unintentionally awkward way that was perceived as hurtful and was exactly the opposite of what I meant.”
“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 added.