Photo courtesy of Pamela Collins
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On June 6, 10,000 healthcare and public health workers marched from Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center to City Hall to demonstrate against racism and police violence.  DGH leadership, faculty, staff  and students participated in the march. 

“I recognize we're in the middle of another pandemic, but this really is an issue that's fundamental to health in general and has been with us, and it's time to [pursue] actual actionable changes that make an impact on the Black community and improve health,” said Jen Balkus, a member of the Department of Global Health's Kenya Research Training Center (KRTC) and the UW/Fred Hutch Center for AIDS Research (CFAR).

Balkus echoed the thoughts of countless people around the world, saying, "This is not a one-day event. This is not a one-month event. This has to be a turning point for all of us to do this work every single day.” 

Protestors from UW Medicine and other healthcare facilities joined the march wearing masks and donning their scrubs or white coats to show solidarity from the medicine community and to make these demands:

  • Declare racism and police violence a public health emergency.
  • End policing that is violent against marginalized populations, particularly our Black communities (e.g. racial profiling, stop and frisk, gang injunctions, criminalization of houselessness). 
  • Redirect funds from law enforcement agencies to community-based programs for harm prevention, intervention and transformative justice. 
  • Stop and reverse militarization of law enforcement.
  • Eliminate legislative and union contract provisions that shield the police from accountability.
  • Declare records of all investigations of law enforcement brutality with associated materials as public property and ensure public accessibility.
  • Immediately end the violence against protestors. We stand in solidarity with them.

Infectious disease experts at the University of Washington also wrote a letter, that circulated nationally and drew more than 1,200 signatures, saying that protests against systemic racism “must be supported.”

They wrote that the protests, even amid the pandemic, are “vital to the national public health and to the threatened health specifically of Black people in the United States.”

Dr. Jared Baeten, vice dean of the UW’s School of Public Health, was one of dozens of UW faculty, medical students and staff to sign the letter calling for support for the protests, despite the risks of gatherings.

Baeten said that COVID-19 and structural racism are both epidemics and both public health emergencies, and both need to be addressed simultaneously.

“Of course there is tension but these are two epidemics that are layered on each other,” Baeten said, citing higher infection and death rates among people of color.

UW Medicine also offered advice on how to protest safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic:

  • Wear a mask or facial covering that fully covers your nose and mouth.
  • Strongly consider wearing or having ready access to goggles or eye protection for added protection (avoid wearing contacts).
  • Bring hand sanitizer and use frequently.
  • Avoid sharing drinks, carrying other’s signs or touching objects that others have touched.
  • Attempt to limit your group size and maintain 6 feet of physical distance whenever possible during the activity.
  • Try to avoid crowded activities that involve shouting or singing in close proximity to others and avoid those who are not wearing masks or face coverings if possible. Bring your own water, food or other personal items.
  • After participating in local protests self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days after this activity. If you develop even mild symptoms consistent with COVID-19, do not go to work, self-isolate and call your doctor to get tested for COVID-19.

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