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Across the nation, and right here in Spokane, COVID-19 is infecting people of color at higher rates than those who are white. 

In Spokane County, as of June 13, 2020, less than one percent of the population identifies as Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, yet that group makes up nearly one third of all positive cases in the county.

No, the virus doesn't see color, but America does. 

On average, people of color make less money, are less likely to have access health insurance and are more likely to live in multigenerational housing, meaning there are more people under one roof. 

"I think that's something that we have to acknowledge is an issue with us as a nation, that people of color have been placed into these positions. It's not because they're biologically more susceptible," Dr. Bob Lutz, Spokane County's Health Officer, said. 

Dr. Lutz said even just experiencing racism can impact health, making someone more vulnerable to catching new diseases. 

"We know that people who have been marginalized, who grow up marginalized, are under chronic stress. It's that fight or flight piece," he said. "If you live in a situation, if you live in a state of chronic stress, it makes you much more susceptible to chronic conditions, like heart disease, like diabetes, like obesity."

Dr. Lutz believes that change is possible. Protesting is one way to go about it, but he asks that it's done with caution. 

"Do it safely. Do it safely wear a mask, it's tough to physically distance but wear a facial covering, like I've seen most people do," Dr. Lutz said. He added that through contact tracing, the Spokane Regional Health District has only identified one protester who has tested positive of the thousands who have attended local protests.  

Of course, there are ways to dismantle racism within our society that don't involve taking to the streets. Dr. Lutz said it starts small, with individuals. At this point though, he believes just acknowledging it is not enough anymore. 

"We need to be active in dismantling it. Whatever organization you find yourself in... ask yourself, 'What can I do as a person? What can I do within my organization?'" Dr. Lutz said.

"We need to be actively involved in dismantling the racism that exists in our country," he said. "It's a public health issue. Racism is a public health issue."

This is a brief snapshot of how structural racism impacts public health, but there is obviously much more to this story. In the coming weeks, we are working to tell this story more in-depth through the lens of those it directly impacts. 

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