Sen. Steve Huffman, a Republican, asked the question during a hearing on Tuesday on whether to declare racism a public health crisis in the state.
Angela Dawson, the head of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, was testifying to senators and answering queries. She was initially asked why she thinks COVID-19, the new disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, appears to be affecting African-Americans more than other groups. She responded that previous health statistics indicate blacks die more from preventable diseases like diabetes.
“When we do not address the disparities that exist before a pandemic, when the pandemic comes and the vulnerable population is those with disparities, it will naturally move and impact those with higher disparities and health issues than those that don’t,” she said.
Patients with underlying health conditions are more likely to experience severe cases of COVID-19.
“I understand African Americans have a higher incident of chronic conditions and that makes them more susceptible to death from COVID,” Huffman told Dawson.
“But why does it not 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? Could that be the explanation for the higher incidence?”
Dawson answered: “That is not the opinion of leading medical experts in this country,” including researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This is not a scenario where we have data where populations are not washing their hands,” she added later, also saying: “Do all populations need to wash their hands? Absolutely, sir. But that is not where you are going to find the variance and the rationale for why these populations are more vulnerable.”
Huffman was fired from his job as an emergency room doctor, his employer, TeamHealth, said Thursday.
“Dr. Huffman’s comments are wholly inconsistent with our values and commitment to creating a tolerant and diverse workplace,” a spokesperson said in a statement to news outlets.
The firing came after Ohio Legislative Black Caucus decried the use of the word “colored” and said Huffman promoted “the unfounded idea that ‘Black people are dirty.'” State Rep. Stephanie Howse, a Democrat who presides over the caucus, called on Huffman to undergo racial equity and implicit bias training.
The ACLU’s Ohio chapter called on Huffman to resign and state Rep. Tavia Galonski, a Democrat, called on people to vote Huffman out of office in November.
In a statement sent to news outlets by his office, Huffman said: “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,” he added.
Huffman took to Facebook Thursday night to issue a longer statement, saying he didn’t have “malicious intent” in his use of “an insensitive and offensive term” but that he recognizes his choice of words “was unacceptable and hurtful.”
Apologizing for what he said, Huffman said he was reaching out to people he offended to seek their forgiveness.
“We all say something we regret and wish we could take back, and that’s certainly the case here for me. We need to be more careful about the words we use and the potential harm they can inflict, even when that’s not our intent,” he said.