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CDC Director: Racism in the US a “Serious Public Health Threat”

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Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Rochelle Walensky declared racism a “serious public health threat." (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)
Bay News

The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately impacted minority communities across the country, and on Thursday the nation’s leading public health agency announced a series of actions it will take to address the disparity.

On Thursday, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Rochelle Walensky declared racism a “serious public health threat,” writing in a statement on the agency’s website that the issue is “a known, but often unaddressed, epidemic impacting public health.”

“…The impact(s) of COVID-19 are felt, most severely, in communities of color — communities that have experienced disproportionate case counts and deaths, and where the social impact of the pandemic has been most extreme,” Walensky wrote in part.

The coronavirus outbreak has disproportionately impacted Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans in terms of hospitalizations and deaths. Reasons are complex, but the disparities stem from multiple sources: people of color are vastly overrepresented in frontline industries, and are therefore exposed to the disease at a much higher rate.

Of the workers in frontline industries, over a third live in low-income families — higher rates of poverty and poor access to health care are also commonly linked with more serious cases of COVID-19.

“What we know is this: racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans,” Walesnky’s statement continued. “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, 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,” she added. “These social determinants of health have life-long negative effects on the mental and physical health of individuals in communities of color.”

Walensky outlined a number of actions the agency will undertake in an effort to address the  “structural inequities” stemming from generations of discrimination.

Not only will the CDC continue to study how racial, social, and socio-economic makeup impacts health and health care, but with newly-released COVID-19 funding from the federal government, the agency plans to make “expanded investments in racial and ethnic minority communities and other disproportionately affected communities around the country, establishing a durable infrastructure that will provide the foundation and resources to address disparities related to COVID-19 and other health conditions.”

The agency is also upping internal efforts to foster diversity within its ranks, in part by launching its new “Racism and Health” portal that went live on Thursday. The site aims to hold the agency accountable to its promises on diversity, while also fostering “public and scientific discourse around racism and health.”

The Biden administration at large has made a concerted effort to address inequities in coronavirus prevention and treatment strategies, in part by sending mobile vaccination clinics to hard-to-reach areas, and also by supporting thousands of federally-funded mass vaccination sites across the country.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.