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St. Louis health panel says racism is a public health crisis

St. Louis health panel says racism is a public health crisis

Will Ross

Will Ross, associate dean for diversity at Washington University School of Medicine, speaks to a reporter in his office on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2019. Photo by Christian Gooden,

ST. LOUIS — Racism is a public health crisis, a panel advising the city Health Department declared Friday.

The Joint Boards of Health and Hospitals voted unanimously to issue that statement in the wake of widespread protests here and around the country following the death of George Floyd, a black man, while in Minneapolis police custody.

“By taking this stance — (that) racism is a public health threat — we are saying this indeed falls under the domain of the Department of Health,” the panel’s chairman, Dr. Will Ross, said.

He said he and others will urge the city to provide more funding to the department in the future and that the agency already has been working to reduce racial disparities in health statistics.

Also at the meeting, Ross, associate dean of diversity and a nephrologist at Washington University, said he would discuss with city public safety officials his concern that using tear gas in controlling protests could increase the potential for spreading the coronavirus.

“Because obviously it increases tearing and coughing and the transmission of COVID,” he said.

Ross said the issue was mentioned to him by Dr. LJ Punch, a Washington U. associate professor of surgery and a St. Louis County police commissioner.

This story has been updated to reflect the correct titles for Dr. Ross and Dr. Punch.

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