Columbia health director calls racism a public health emergency

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Columbia health director calls racism a public health emergency

COLUMBIA — Stephanie Browning, director of Columbia and Boone County’s Public Health and Human Services, wrote a letter to the community Friday addressing recent protests. 

“Over the last two weeks, community members have joined local and national protests in response to the killing of George Floyd and many other Black lives that have been taken through violent and racist acts,” Browning said in the letter. “These acts are the result of centuries of systemic racism that is ingrained in our society. Systemic racism is a public health emergency.” 

Browning encouraged steps to make protesting safer: 

  • If you are sick, please stay home and utilize alternative means to make your voice heard.
  • Whenever individuals gather in large numbers, there is a potential for the virus to spread, so it is important to maintain social distancing, including at least 6 feet of physical distancing or more.
  • Shouting generates more droplets which can spread the virus further, increasing the chances of transmission. Therefore, everyone should wear a mask when physical distancing is not possible.
  • Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol often.
  • Avoid touching objects and surfaces that others have touched.
  • We recommend everyone who participates in protests or demonstrations monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms. Anyone with symptoms should seek testing right away. Those who do not have symptoms who believe they were exposed to someone with the virus may want to seek testing 5-14 days after they believe they were exposed. That allows individuals to learn if they are positive earlier.
  • It is important for anyone that believes they have been exposed to minimize their contact with others for 14 days after their possible exposure.

Black people are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic, Browning said.  Black people make up 9% of the population in Boone County, but account for 28.4% of COVID-19 cases in the county, Browning said. 

“This is an extremely difficult time for many of our residents,” Browning said in the letter. “Tending to the physical, emotional and mental health needs of our community continues to be the foundation of our public health response, especially now. We encourage everyone to check in on their family, friends and fellow Boone Countians.”

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