President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to lead a task force that will address racial disparities in the coronavirus response, suggested earlier this year that advising protesters to stay home in the wake of George Floyd’s police custody death would undermine the fight against police brutality – even though the country was experiencing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.
The comments from Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, an epidemiologist and Yale professor, were carried in a June 7 report from The Financial Times. She was one of several scientists and epidemiologists quoted as saying, in essence, that racism posed a greater health risk to the country than the pandemic.
Nunez-Smith, who has done extensive research on the health inequalities among racial and economic lines, said that expecting protesters to say home – particularly when they work in, for example, nursing homes or grocery stores – was “hypocritical at its core.”
“In many of these communities the idea of ‘Stay home, stay safe’ was never reality for them anyway,” she said, deriding health experts for not delivering an alternative message for those who do not have the luxury to work from home.
At the time of the report, less than two weeks had passed since the police custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd’s death sparked a wave of global protests against racial injustice and police brutality. But the protests exploded as the nation was experiencing a steady rise in daily coronavirus cases.
Some blamed the resurging cases on the mass protests, while others pointed out that much of the country was reopening anyway.
Fox News has reached out to Nunez-Smith for comment but did not hear back by the time of publication.
In an interview with the Associated Press last week, Nunez-Smith said addressing racial disparities in the U.S. coronavirus crisis cannot be an afterthought.
She said that when testing and vaccination programs are designed and implemented, they must consider fairness and equity along with efficiency in order to be truly effective.
“We cannot get this pandemic under control if we do not address head-on the issues of inequity in our country,” she said. “There is no other way.”
Biden’s choice of Nunez-Smith to help lead his pandemic task force signaled his intention to address the pandemic’s unequal toll on minorities, who disproportionally have jobs on the front lines, medical conditions associated with severe disease, higher rates of poverty and poor access to health care.
For Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans in the U.S., the rates of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 are two to four times higher than for whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.