Part doctor, part politician sees two pandemics linked
Santiago says rallies against racism, COVID-19 wrath connected
An emergency room doctor who also serves as an elected official sees a critical connection between the protests against racism and the coronavirus pandemic, which is having a disproportionate impact on people of color.
On weekends, Dr. Jon Santiago works at the Boston Medical Center ER, where he has seen firsthand the impact of COVID-19. In his weekday job, he represents his district in Boston at the State House, where he is working to address the inequalities fueling demonstrations here and across the country.
“We've seen two pandemics, really,” Santiago said, describing a link he sees between protests against racism and the higher rate of death and sickness from COVID-19 in minority communities.
Dr. Jon Santiago:
“We've seen the coronavirus tear apart this country,” Santiago said. “One hundred thousand-plus deaths. We've seen it disproportionately impact communities of color, while simultaneously we've seen something that's already existed -- but now it's been more upfront -- which is the scourge of racism. My hope is that people really understand that these two things are inextricably linked.” Santiago said the coronavirus feeds on poverty, air pollution and a lack of access to healthcare. “And so what people are protesting about, it's not just the life and death and legacy of George Floyd, but his death comes as a result of these systemic issues in our society,” he said.
Santiago said he is concerned about the possibility of the virus spreading at crowded demonstrations, but also understands people's decisions to attend rallies.
“It's hard for me to tell someone to not practice their right to protest when they feel, whether it's true or not, that they are more likely to die from police brutality than coronavirus,”
Santiago shared one of his own experiences with racism which happened when he was in graduate school in Seattle.
“I know what it feels like to be biking home from college, studying for a test, and just because [you] have a hoodie on a cop indiscriminately stop you and throw you on a police car and search you illegally,” Santiago said. “And I think you don't ever forget those feelings.”
5 Investigates asked him what goes through his mind when he sees masses of people protesting peacefully. “It makes me believe in America,” he said. “It gives me hope.”
And what he thinks when he sees people looting: “There are people that are taking advantage of the chaos, of the desperation, of the hunger and the economic fragility that we're seeing in today's society, and shame on them.”
And finally, what happens next? “It's a great question. My hope is that we as elected leaders, we as health care leaders, will continue to step up and fight for justice and equity. I am hopeful that we will make progress here in the state of Massachusetts and in the city of Boston, and I am hopeful.”
Santiago has been working on Beacon Hill this week to expand voting rights and accessibility during the pandemic and on a restaurant relief bill.