Salt Lake City officials have declared racism a public health crisis.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and the Salt Lake City Council adopted a joint resolution making the declaration during the City Council’s meeting Tuesday night. The document outlines the impacts of “structural and interpersonal racism, which are proven to have detrimental impacts on the mental and physical health of communities of color,” according to a news release.

“This is an important declaration for us to make as a city. Not only are we publicly acknowledging the existence of a grave inequity that many in our community have known and experienced for so long, we are also committing ourselves to the creation of policies and ordinances that are anti-racist,” Mendenhall said in a prepared statement.

The resolution was initially proposed by a group of community leaders with health-related careers, according to city officials. It was reviewed and approved by the city’s Human Rights Coalition and the city’s Commission on Racial Equity in Policing.

“There is no doubt of the crisis,” City Council Chairwoman Amy Fowler said. “Our society is burdened with bigotry and all the hatred that comes with it. Indeed, it is a moral imperative to combat racism, discrimination and inequities in all their forms.”  

The resolution quotes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has declared “racism is a system — consisting of structures, policies, practices and norms — that assigns value and determines opportunity based on the way people look or the color of their skin.”

The resolution also states racism is a “serious public health threat” because it is “proven to have harmful impacts to the mental and physical health of communities of color.” It adds racism “directly impacts Salt Lake City residents resulting in health disparities that are both measurable and preventable.”

Citing data from the Utah Department of Health, the resolution states the COVID-19 pandemic has “illustrated how pre-existing structural inequities created heavier burdens of the disease, death and social consequences onto communities of color.” Figures that “reveal stark differences in health between persons of color and their white counterparts,” the resolution states, include:

  • Odds of infection of COVID-19 were three times more likely in the “very high deprivation” area of Glendale, and two times more likely in Rose Park, where there are high percentages of Latino and nonwhite residents.
  • While Latino communities account for 14.2% of Utah’s population, they made up 40% of the state’s COVID-19 cases.
  • Utah’s American Indian and Alaskan Native communities had a case fatality rate that is roughly three times higher than the state’s average.
  • Black people in Utah are “significantly less likely” to be screened for colorectal cancer, but more likely to contract and die from the disease.
  • Black and Asian babies born in Utah are more likely to have low birth weight.
  • Utah Pacific Islanders have twice the rate of infant mortality than the statewide average.

Citing a “moral imperative to combat racism, discrimination and inequities in all of its manifestations,” city officials in the resolution deemed systematic racism “a threat to the health of patients, families and communities through economic and resource inequities which result in poor health outcomes.”

In the resolution, city leaders promised to work with county health officials to report and review public health data, make it available online, and work to “address systemic barriers to health including racism.”

“We commit to look internally, externally, and encourage all who reside, work and own a business in our city to commit to the work necessary to dismantle racist legacies and equitably work to repair our communities,” city leaders pledged in the resolution.