Republican lawmaker asks if ‘coloured population’ hit by coronavirus because they don’t ‘wash their hands as well’

Senator said afterwards his comments were ‘unintentionally awkward’

Gino Spocchia
Thursday 11 June 2020 16:26 BST
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Ohio Republican asks if 'coloured population' hit by coronavirus because 'they don't wash their hands as well'

A Republican Ohio state senator has been condemned over comments which suggested “African Americans or the coloured population” suffered more from Covid-19 because they “do not wash their hands as well as other groups.”

Steve Huffman’s remarks were made during a hearing on whether to declare racism a public health crisis in Ohio, on Tuesday.

“I understand African Americans have a higher incidence of chronic conditions and that makes them more susceptible to death from covid. But why does it not make them more susceptible to just get covid?” asked the senator.

“Could it just be that African Americans or the coloured population do not wash their hands as well as other groups? Or wear a mask?”, he continued. “Or do not socially distance themselves? Could that be the explanation for why the higher incidence?"

Mr Huffman, an emergency room doctor, told The Washington Post afterwards that his comments had been “rhetorical”.

“That is not the opinion of leading medical experts in this country,” said Angela Dawson, who heads the Ohio Commission on Minority Health.

She later added: “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.”

Mr Huffman’s comments, which were soon criticised on Tuesday, came amid demonstrations against systemic racism sparked by George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis police custody on 25 May.

"When we talk about the internalized racism that is deeply ingrained in our institutions and the obstacles black Americans face in ever achieving meaningful change, this is exactly what we are talking about," said congresswoman Stephanie Howse, a Cleveland Democrat.

The state Representative added that the “dirty” stereotype had been used throughout US history to oppress black Americans.

"Regrettably, I asked a question in an unintentionally awkward way that was perceived as hurtful and was exactly the opposite of what I meant,” said Mr Huffman in his apology. “I was trying to focus on why COVID-19 affects people of colour at a higher rate, since we really do not know all the reasons".

On Wednesday night, the US recorded two million Covid-19 cases since the pandemic — which has disproportionately hit black Americans — began.

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