The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the death of over 500,000 Americans. Tens of millions have been infected. And across this country people are suffering. Importantly, these painful experiences and the impact of COVID-19 is 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.
Yet, the 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.
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. 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 gather in community.
Over generations, these structural inequities have resulted in stark racial and ethnic health disparities that are severe, far-reaching and unacceptable.
The American Public Health Association has created an interactive mapexternal icon that shows declarations of racism as a public health crisis or emergency across the United States. Currently, more than 170 declarations are featured.
“Confronting the impact of racism will not be easy. 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. ”
– Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH
As the nation’s leading public health agency, CDC has a critical role to play to address the impact of racism on public health.
- We will continue to study the impact of social determinants on health outcomes, expand the body of evidence on how racism affects health and propose and implement solutions to address this.
- With COVID-19 funding, we are making new and 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.
- We are expanding our internal agency efforts to foster greater diversity and create an inclusive and affirming environment for all.
- We are launching our new web portal “Racism and Health” as part of our ongoing commitment to serve as a catalyst for public and scientific discourse around racism and health, and to be accountable for our progress.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with an opportunity for even greater action–-a chance to achieve optimal health for all by addressing the long-standing social and racial injustices in our nation.
Confronting the impact of racism will not be easy. 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.
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 each take responsibility and work together. I am committed to this work. I certainly hope you will lean in and join me.