New York City declares racism a public health crisis

Board of Health tells health department to ensure a ‘racially just recovery’ from COVID-19

New York
NYC's health department is one of the largest public health agencies in the world, and one of the oldest in America | Photo: Binoo K John

The New York City Board of Health has declared racism a public health crisis and issued orders to ensure a “racially just recovery” from COVID-19. 

The board called on the health department to work with other agencies to review the city’s health code and find ways to combat structural racism.

The department will deal with a range of issues including land use, transportation and education. It will also improve data-collection practices and examine both the health code and its own history for structural bias. 

NYC Health Commissioner Dr Dave A Chokshi is also one of the 11 medical experts who sit on its board. At the meeting on Monday, he noted: “Why do some nonwhite populations develop severe disease and die from COVID-19 at higher rates than whites?”


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He said underlying health conditions “undoubtedly play a role. But why are there higher rates of hypertension, diabetes and obesity in communities of colour? The answer does not lie in biology. Structural and environmental factors such as disinvestment, discrimination, and disinformation underlie a greater burden of these diseases in communities of colour”. 

He added: “The COVID-19 pandemic must render unacceptable that which has been condoned for generations.” 

The NYC health department is one of the largest public health agencies in the world, and one of the oldest in America. The members of its board are appointed by the mayor with the consent of the City Council. They serve without pay and oversee the health code. 

More than 200 similar declarations have been made by municipalities, health agencies and elected officials across the United States, according to a database maintained by the American Public Health Association.