The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday said that racism in the United States is “serious threat” that structurally impacts racial and ethnic groups, including where they live, work and gather in a community.
“Confronting the impact of racism will not be easy,” Director of the CDC and Peabody native Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “I know that we can meet this challenge. I know that we can create an America where all people have the opportunity to live a healthy life. I know that we can do this if we work together. ”
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC labeled racism an epidemic.
The pandemic thus far has disproportionately affected communities of color. Those communities have experienced higher numbers of infections and deaths linked to the virus.
“The disparities seen over the past year were not a result of COVID-19,” Walensky said. “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.”
CDC expanded the definition of racism beyond discrimination but said it also included the structural affects it has on communities. The CDC said over generations systemic inequities have resulted in “stark racial and ethnic health disparities.”
“Confronting the impact of racism will not be easy,” Walensky said. “We must recognize that we are working to overcome centuries of discrimination. We will only be successful in undoing the entrenched systemic and structural barriers if we work in collaboration with our public health partners, and deeply within our communities, across the country.”
In addressing racism, the CDC shared an interactive map created by the American Public Health Association that depicts communities in the United States that have declared racism a public health crisis or emergency. Currently, there are 170 declarations nationwide, including 19 in Massachusetts.
Only California with 27 and Ohio with 25 have more declarations within a state.
The CDC plans to address the crisis in a number of ways.
The agency plans to continue studying the impact of social determinants on public health and share the evidence on how racism affects pubic health.
Through COVID funding, the CDC plans to expand investments in racial and ethnic minority communities that are disproportionately affected by COVID or other health conditions.
The agency also is expanding its efforts to foster greater diversity within the CDC.
Finally, the federal agency is launching a web portal called “Racism and Health,” to serve as a catalyst for public and scientific discourse around racism and health.
“I know that we can meet this challenge,” Walensky said. “I know that we can create an America where all people have the opportunity to live a healthy life. I know that we can do this if we each take responsibility and work together.”
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