Ohio senator fired from ER job after asking if COVID-19 disparities are because 'colored population' doesn't 'wash their hands as well'

An Ohio state senator was fired from his post as an emergency room physician after asking whether "the colored population" has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic because they "do not wash their hands as well as other groups," according to the Dayton Daily News.

State Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, MD, asked the question during a June 9 hearing debating whether racism should be declared a public health crisis. 

"I understand African Americans have a higher incidence of chronic conditions and it makes them more susceptible to death from COVID," Dr. Huffman said, posing the question to Angela Dawson, executive director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health. "But why doesn't it 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 is not the opinion of leading medical experts in this country," Ms. Dawson responded, adding that those with chronic conditions are more vulnerable to the illness.

"He highlights what racism is from a systematic perspective. He's a full legislator but beyond that, professionally, he's a doctor," Ohio Legislative Black Caucus President Rep. Stephanie Howse, D-Cleveland, told the Dayton Daily News. "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?"

In a statement to The Washington Post, Dr. Huffman said his words had been "taken out of context" and that he would give any emergency room patient the best care, regardless of race. He added that he thought "colored population" and "people of color" were interchangeable terms.

"Regrettably, I asked a question in an unintentionally awkward way that was perceived as hurtful and was exactly the opposite of what I meant," Dr. Huffman told CNN.  

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