Updated Apr 9, 2021 - Health

CDC declares racism "a serious public health threat"

Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Thursday declared racism "a serious public health threat."

Driving the news: Walensky highlighted the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on communities of color, pointing to case and death counts, as well as economic and social effects.

What she's saying: "[T]he disparities seen over the past year were not a result of COVID-19. 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," Walensky said in a statement.

  • "What we know is this: racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans. As a result, it affects the health of our entire nation," she added.
  • "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."
  • "These social determinants of health have life-long negative effects on the mental and physical health of individuals in communities of color."

What to watch: Walensky said the CDC will continue to study the impact of social determinants on health outcomes and make investments in racial and ethnic minority communities to address disparities related to COVID-19 and other health conditions.

  • The agency also launched a new web portal, "Racism and Health" that "will serve as a hub for the agency’s efforts and a catalyst for greater education and dialogue around these critical issues."

Go deeper: How the winter surge changed COVID disparities

Go deeper