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SACRAMENTO — A new report by the California Budget & Policy Center highlights how racist policies and practices have led to disproportionate COVID-19 infection and death rates for Californians of color, and why state policymakers must declare racism a public health crisis to advance health equity.

The report — Confronting Racism, Overcoming COVID-19, and Advancing Health Equity — shows how the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the depths and reach of racist policies at the state and federal level on the health and everyday life of children, families, and individuals. As research, data, and personal stories have widely documented, communities of color in California are experiencing higher rates of illness, death, and overall hardship due to the virus. 

The new Budget Center report highlights one important measure on how the pandemic is harming Californians of color as of late January 2021: infections and deaths adjusted for age. Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander Californians have the highest rate of COVID-19 infections, followed by Latinx Californians, after adjusting for age. The report also found that Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, Latinx, and Black Californians experienced the highest rates of COVID-19 deaths, after adjusting for age. 

The report goes on to show that long-standing state and national policies that barred Black, Latinx, American Indian, and other families of color from high-quality housing, health care, employment, and education, and the ability to build generational wealth have direct implications on the health of families and individuals. In addition, policies that criminalize poverty, homelessness, and behavioral health conditions and the disproportionate targeting of communities of color in the justice system have lasting and detrimental effects on the health of families and communities now exacerbated by the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 infection and death rates we’re seeing for Californians of color are alarming because some racial and ethnic groups, such as Latinx Californians, are generally younger than other demographic groups. Our findings show it boils down to the damaging effects of racist policies on Black and brown communities. And this harm to Californians of color is not by accident, but by design of our policies,” said Adriana Ramos-Yamamoto, policy analyst with the Budget Center and a report author. 

California declaring racism as a public health crisis is a critical step in prompting policymakers to recognize and stop the damage of racist policies on health, housing, environment, employment, the justice system, and education for people. A declaration can also provide a path to investing resources in antiracist policies that affect everyday life for communities of color

California would join leaders in three other states and 26 regions in the state if policymakers declare racism a public health crisis. States that now have such a declaration include Michigan, Minnesota, and Nevada.

A coalition that includes the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, Roots Community Health Center, Public Health Advocates, Black Women for Wellness, and California Black Women’s Health Project submitted a letter to Governor Newsom last July requesting an executive order declaring racism a public health crisis. Senator Richard Pan has introduced a bill to declare racism as a public health crisis.

“Racist policies and practices have determined where and how Californians can live, work, receive health care, attend schools, and more. And these long-standing policies block many communities of color from the opportunity to be healthy and thrive, as we’ve seen in this pandemic and recession,” said Monica Davalos, research associate with the Budget Center and a report author. “This is why California declaring racism a public health crisis matters now,” 

Read the full report here: 

Save the Date: Thursday, March 11, at 10 a.m. for our next EMPOWER speaker series event:  Confronting Racism & Advancing Health Equity. Budget Center experts and leading advocates will talk about the findings of our new report and discuss why declaring racism a public health crisis matters amid the pandemic. Register today.


The California Budget & Policy Center engages in independent fiscal and policy analysis and public education with the goal of improving public policies affecting the economic and social well-being of Californians with low and middle incomes. Support for the Budget Center comes from foundation grants, subscriptions, and individual contributions.

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