CDC says that racism ‘a serious public health threat’

Agency head Dr. Rochelle Walensky says it will be 'accelerating' its work to address racism as a key driver of inequity.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared racism a “serious public health threat” in this country.

Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, who was named head of the agency by President Joe Biden, said the CDC will be “accelerating” its work to address racism as a fundamental driver of racial and ethnic health inequities in the United States. 

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has declared racism a “serious public health threat” in this country. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Walensky began her statement by highlighting that the COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted communities of color, populations that have “experienced disproportionate case counts and deaths, and where the social impact of the pandemic has been most extreme.” 

“Yet, the disparities seen over the past year were not a result of COVID-19,” she wrote. “Instead, the pandemic illuminated inequities that have existed for generations and revealed for all of America a known, but often unaddressed, epidemic impacting public health: racism.” 

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“What we know is this: racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans,” Walensky maintained. “As a result, it affects the health of our entire nation.” 

“Racism is not just the discrimination against one group based on the color of their skin or their race or ethnicity,” she continued, “but the structural barriers that impact racial and ethnic groups differently to influence where a person lives, where they work, where their children play, and where they worship and gather in community.” 

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The American Public Health Association, she notes, “has created an interactive map that shows declarations of racism as a public health crisis or emergency across the United States. Currently, more than 170 declarations are featured.”

“These social determinants of health,” Walensky wrote, “have life-long negative effects on the mental and physical health of individuals in communities of color.” 

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She said the CDC will continue to study the impact of social determinants on health outcomes, expand the body of evidence on how racism affects health and propose and implement effective solutions to address it. 

The agency will also use coronavirus relief funding to make new and expanded investments in racial and ethnic communities that were affected by COVID-19, as well as expand its internal efforts to create a more diverse environment. 

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CDC is launching a web portal called Racism and Health, with resources for minority communities. 

“We will only be successful in undoing the entrenched systemic and structural barriers,” Walensky writes at the end of her statement, “if we work in collaboration with our public health partners, and deeply within our communities, across the country.”

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