An Ohio lawmaker has been fired from his job as an emergency room doctor after asking if “the colored population” is more susceptible to COVID-19 because they “don’t wash their hands as well as other groups.”
GOP state Senator Steve Huffman posed the question on Tuesday during a hearing aimed at deciding whether racism should be declared a public health crisis. The topic has gained momentum nationwide as cities continue to face protests over police brutality following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while in white police custody.
During the State Senate Health Committee hearing, the senator pondered why the black community is being disproportionately affected by the virus, the Dayton Daily News reported.
“My point is I understand African Americans have a higher incidence of chronic conditions and it makes them more susceptible to death from COVID. But why it doesn’t make them more susceptible to just get COVID,” he said.
“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 could be the explanation of the higher incidence?”
He has since been fired from his job with TeamHealth following a wave of criticism.
The physician-led company released a statement on Thursday confirming Huffman’s termination as a result of his comments, 2 News reported.
“Dr. Huffman’s comments are wholly inconsistent with our values and commitment to creating a tolerant and diverse workplace. TeamHealth has terminated Dr. Huffman’s employment,” TeamHealth told the news outlet.
Ohio Legislative Black Caucus President Stephanie Howse, a Democrat, told the Daily News that Huffman’s language reflected the very systematic racism the hearing was trying to address.
The stereotype that “black people are dirty,” she continued, has been used as a tool to justify white superiority and black oppression in the U.S. for centuries.
“He highlights what racism is from a systematic perspective,” said Howse. “He’s a full legislator but beyond that, professionally, he’s a doctor.”
She also noted that, in 2020, the word “colored” is almost universally considered to be offensive, citing its association with segregation and Jim Crow laws.
Huffman has issued an apology saying he didn’t mean to cause harm.
Here’s what you need to know about Huffman:
Huffman Practiced Emergency Medicine for Over 20 Years
An Ohio native, Huffman earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and biology from the University of Toledo in 1988 and an M.D. from the Medical College of Ohio in 1992. His resume includes work as an emergency physician with TeamHealth and an emergency room/occupational health physician with Premier Physician Services.
He ran for election to the Ohio State Senate in November 2018 and assumed office on January 1, 2019. His current term ends on December 31, 2022.
Huffman Is No Stranger to Controversy
In December 2019, the Washington Post revealed that a controversial editorial against Medicare by Huffman was drafted with the help of a lobbyist.
The Sidney Daily News column suggested that Medicare-for-all, and other government involvement in health care, posed serious dangers such as insurmountable costs to American taxpayers.
Kathleen DeLand of the pharmaceutical, hospital and healthcare insurance lobbying group Partnership for America’s Health Care Future confirmed to the Post that she helped produce the final draft.
The editorial ran on September 30, 2019, with the headline “Medicare for all not a workable solution.” It did not disclose DeLand’s involvement.
Huffman Said His Recent Comments Were ‘Taken Out of Context’
In a statement to The Washington Post, Huffman said his words were “taken out of context” and that he was only trying to better understand the virus’ trends.
He also brushed off concerns regarding his role as a practicing doctor.
“Anybody that comes into any emergency room, I give them the very best care regardless of what race they are,” he said.
In his official apology, according to Cincinnati.com, Huffman noted how his actions were “perceived as hurtful.”
“Regrettably, I asked a question in an unintentionally awkward way that was perceived as hurtful and was exactly the opposite of what I meant. I was trying to focus on why COVID-19 affects people of color at a higher rate, since we really do not know all the reasons,” Huffman said.
Experts Say COVID-19 & Racism Are the Country’s Biggest Health Threats
Both chambers of the Ohio state legislature currently have pending resolutions inspired by Floyd’s death to declare racism a public health crisis.
Bystander footage of Floyd’s arrest shows now-former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes as the 46-year-old begged for air — sparking global outrage.
Activists have since demanded justice for Floyd, citing “institutionalized racism in law enforcement agencies,” according to CNN, and decades’-worth of other victims.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus continues to disproportionately strike minority populations, according to the Foundation for AIDS Research.
The organization’s recent findings show that, while only 22% of U.S. counties are disproportionately black, black people account for 52% of COVID-19 cases and 58% of the virus’ deaths.
Experts like Boston University School of Public Health Professor Julia Raifman
say social and economic factors predating the pandemic might be the root of the cause.
Raifman believes decades of disparities in education, housing, jobs and stress levels are exacerbating the population’s risk of contracting the disease, US News reported.
The ACLU of Ohio Is Calling for Huffman’s Resignation From the Senate
The ACLU of Ohio called for Huffman’s removal in a statement posted to Twitter Thursday.
The national ACLU affiliate demanded that the senator be held accountable for his “inexcusable, racist remarks against people of color.”
An official statement posted on the group’s website adds that “there is no reality where he can remain a member of the Ohio General Assembly and make decisions that affect the very communities he undermines and clearly holds abhorrent attitudes about.”
The ACLU of Ohio, which seeks to preserve civil liberties through education and lobbying, is urging people to pressure Ohio elected officials to denounce Huffman’s rhetoric.