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La Crosse County Health Department: “racism is a public health issue”

Kaitlyn Riley

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Hundreds gather for a peaceful protest in Riverside Park Wednesday night.

On Tuesday, many hit pause to publicly oppose racism and reflect on the movement sparked by George Floyd’s death. Instagram and Facebook were filled with blank, black photos with #BlackOutTuesday.

Among those who participated included the La Crosse County Health Department. The Health Department postponed its media briefing and chose not to post its case count on social media. Some comments on the post were critical saying the health department should not take a stance as public employees, nor should they be withholding information in a pandemic.

Health director Jen Rombalski countered saying racism is a public health issue and read part of a resolution put forth by the Wisconsin Public Health Association.

“Racism causes persistent discrimination in housing, education, employment and criminal justice,” Rombalski read. “More than 100 studies have linked racism to worse health outcomes.”

Rombalski added the way our society is structured inherently benefits some more than others.

As hundreds if not thousands of people gather to protest or memorialize George Floyd across the globe, she did express concern about COVID-19 risks.

“I think what would be extremely tragic is if exposures during peaceful protests about a topic of importance might lead to disease, especially in a population that has been hit harder with this disease than others,” Rombalski said.

She encouraged everyone to continue wearing masks and social distancing when necessary.

Kaitlyn Riley’s passion for communications started on her family’s dairy farm in Gays Mills, Wis. Wanting to share agriculture’s story, she studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In college, she held officer positions with the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club while volunteering as a news reporter for the college radio station. She also founded the university’s first agricultural radio talk show, AgChat. In her professional career, Kaitlyn has worked in both radio, print and television news doing everything from covering local events to interviewing presidential candidates, and putting back on her barn boots to chat with farmers in the field. Today, Kaitlyn can be seen covering local stories that matter to you in the La Crosse area.

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