Huffman, an emergency room physician, asked the offensive question during an Ohio Senate Health Committee hearing on Tuesday to determine whether the state should declare racism a public health crisis.
“I understand that African Americans have a higher incidence of prior conditions and it makes them more susceptible to death from COVID,” Huffman said. “But why it does not make them more susceptible just to get COVID?”
He continued: “We know it’s twice as often. Correct? 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 just be maybe the explanation of why there’s a higher incidence?”
Check out Huffman’s comments from the 49:40 mark in the video here.
“That is not the opinion of leading medical experts in this country,” responded Angela Dawson, the director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health.
Dawson, who is Black, said the reasons why some populations are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others would not be found in handwashing data. Instead, it was preexisting disparities in chronic conditions and health care, she said.
Around 33% of people who have been hospitalized with the contagion in the United States are Black, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Current data suggest a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups,” the CDC notes on its website.
Huffman’s comments were fiercely condemned by Ohio Democrats and people on Twitter.
State Rep. Stephanie Howse (D) told the Dayton Daily News that Huffman had highlighted “what racism is from a systematic perspective.” State Sen. Cecil Thomas (D) said Huffman is “an example of why we have to have this discussion about racism and how it impacts people.”
Huffman later attempted to clarify his comments, reported The Columbus Dispatch, saying he’d asked the 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.