Viewpoint: Police brutality begets a public health nightmare

As thousands take to the streets to protest the injustices black Americans face at the hands of police around the country, it is happening against the backdrop of a pandemic that is disproportionately affecting people of color, writes Lauren Powell, PhD, in an opinion piece for STAT News.

Dr. Powell, who leads Time's Up's healthcare industry-focused efforts, wrote that she is watching her biggest fear unfold — "COVID-19 meets racism meets the killing of yet another black person by a police officer."

Time's Up is an initiative that aims to curb gender-based discrimination in the workplace and society as a whole.

Mass protests are continuing around the country, calling out the unjust deaths of George Floyd along with Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile and many more, as the pandemic rages on. Dr. Powell writes that the COVID-19 pandemic has also shown us the many ways in which black people bear the brunt of public health crises, including the fact that most front-line and essential worker positions are filled by black people, leaving them with a higher risk of being exposed to the new virus.

Also, a long history of residential segregation has resulted in black communities and other communities of color living in areas where social distancing may be impossible, she writes.

"Protesting racism is necessary. Doing it during a pandemic, however, is my deepest public health nightmare," writes Dr. Powell.

She urged protesters to use masks and gloves, carry hand sanitizer and try to maintain 6 feet of social distance while marching when possible. State and local police should reconsider the use of pepper spray since it prompts coughing, which can heighten the risk of COVID-19 transmission, she said.

Also, nonblack allies, especially the white community, should work to use their privilege to dismantle systemic racism, "starting with themselves, their families and their networks."

"Protester or not, all of us can take action to protect the safety and health of the black community and stand in solidarity in this pivotal moment," she writes.

Read Dr. Powell's full piece here.

More articles on public health:
Testing sites close amid unrest; 1 in 4 virus deaths tied to nursing homes — 5 COVID-19 updates
COVID-19 activity by region: Where cases are rising, falling
Americans' Top 5 COVID-19 stressors



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