CDC declares racism a 'serious public health threat' as COVID-19 puts a spotlight on disparities

Asha C. Gilbert, USA TODAY
·2 min read

As the coronavirus continues to disproportionately affect communities of color, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared racism a "serious public health threat."

In a statement Thursday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said communities of color were severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and were facing higher case counts and deaths compared to other races.

"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," Walensky said.

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Members of Black, American Indian or Alaska native, Hispanic and Asian communities were up to 2.4 times more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to white patients, according to the CDC. These same groups also were up to 3.7 times more likely to be hospitalized from the virus.

Walensky said the disparities exposed through the COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on a consistent underlying issue in America – racism.

Walensky outlined steps the CDC is taking "to accelerate its work to address racism as a fundamental driver of racial and ethnic health inequities in the United States." The CDC also launched a new section to their website: "Racism and Health," a hub of the agency’s efforts and a catalyst for greater education and dialogue around these critical issues, the CDC said.

The CDC joins the American Medical Association which enacted a policy last November recognizing racism as a threat to public health.

The policy by AMA described three tiers of racism: systemic, cultural and interpersonal. Each tier outlined hurdles communities of color face to reach health equity.

"Confronting the impact of racism will not be easy. I know that we can meet this challenge," Walensky said.

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Follow reporter Asha Gilbert @Coastalasha. Email: agilbert@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Racism a 'public health threat' as seen with COVID-19, CDC says