Ohio State Senator Stephen A. Huffman sparked outrage, blaming the African-American community's high COVID-19 rates on the "colored population" not washing hands, The New York Times reported Thursday.
According to The Times, Huffman was fired from his job as an emergency room physician following his highly controversial remarks. The Republican state senator represents the state's fifth senatorial district.
"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?" he said at a Tuesday Senate Health Committee hearing.
"Could that be the explanation of ... the higher incidence?" he added, according to The Times. Huffman's remark was reportedly rebuffed by Ohio Commission on Minority Health executive director Angela C. Dawson.
According to The Times, Dawson said Huffman's claims were "not the opinion of leading medical experts in this country," citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Huffman was reportedly fired from his job two days afterwards, with his employer, TeamHealth, saying, "Dr. Huffman’s comments are wholly inconsistent with our values and commitment to creating a tolerant and diverse workplace" and that it has "terminated Dr. Huffman’s employment."
As of late Friday, some 116 have died of COVID-19 in the US. According to research by AMP Research Lab titled "The Color of Coronavirus," the mortality rate for African-Americans is 2.3 times as high as that for white Americans.
In the District of Columbia, nearly three in four coronavirus deaths have been African American, The Washington Post reported Friday.
According to the CDC, the factors influencing racial and ethnic gaps in US COVID-19 mortality include living conditions, work circumstances and underlying health conditions.
Decades-long housing discrimination has played a major role in the creation of the phenomena. According to the CDC, African Americans and other minorities are more likely to live in densely populated areas, being more likely to contract and spread the virus.
The CDC also said residential segregation is linked with a variety of adverse health outcomes. Known as "redlining," the practice through which African-American areas were marked as less desirable led to the establishment of factories in these areas, causing higher air pollution.
Huffman's claims were condemned by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, also a Republican, who said his "words were inappropriate and hurtful to so many Ohioans," according to The New York Times.
"He is a doctor and is in a unique position because of that to play a significant role in the legislature to work to change this serious health disparity. I hope that he will," DeWine added.
Legislative Black Caucus member, State Senator Hearcel F. Craig, reportedly called Huffman's remarks as an example of systematic racism. "Senator Huffman also needs to understand why 'colored' is offensive," Hearcel said, according to The Times.
"Our nation has faced a painful segregationist history of ‘colored only’ restrooms and water fountains, just to cite two examples. These practices were reprehensible and so many fought to remove them from our culture."
Huffman later apologized for his remarks, saying he "asked a question in an unintentionally awkward way that was perceived as hurtful and was exactly the opposite of what I meant," adding that he 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."