Racism is a ‘serious threat’ to public health, CDC director says

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Racism is a “serious threat” to public health in the United States — and the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the inequities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday the coronavirus has “most severely” impacted communities of color with disproportionate case counts and deaths.

“Yet, the disparities seen over the past year were not the result of COVID-19,” Walensky said in a statement. “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 noted that the American Public Health Association has created an interactive map showing more than 170 municipalities that have declared racism as a public health crisis or emergency in their jurisdictions nationwide.

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

Walensky said racism is not “just the discrimination against one group” based on their race or ethnicity, but the “structural barriers” that negatively impact where people of color live, work, play and gather with others.

“Over generations, these structural inequities have resulted in stark racial and ethnic health disparities that are severe, far-reaching and unacceptable,” Walensky said.

To address the disparities, Walensky said the federal agency is making “new and expanded” investments in minority communities and will study the impact of social determinants on health outcomes.

The agency is also launching a new web portal, “Racism and Health,” that it hopes will serve as a catalyst for public discourse on the topic.

“Confronting the impact of racism will not be easy,” Walensky said. “We must recognize that we are working to overcome centuries of discrimination.”

Minorities in the US experience higher rates of illness and death compared to their white counterparts for conditions like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and heart disease, according to data cited by the CDC.

“Additionally, the life expectancy of non-Hispanic/black Americans is four years lower than that of white Americans,” the CDC’s new web portal reads. “The COVID-19 pandemic, and its disproportionate impact among racial and ethnic minority populations is another stark example of these enduring health disparities.”

More than 560,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 as of Friday, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Minorities who contract COVID-19 are more likely to die than their white counterparts, according to CDC data from March, including American Indians, who succumbed to the disease at a rate 2.4 times greater than whites. The mortality rate was 1.9 times higher for blacks and 2.3 times higher for Hispanics, data shows.

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