Media Statement from CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, on Racism and Health

Today, Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the CDC, declared racism as a serious threat to public health. She emphasized the CDC’s commitment to addressing racism as a fundamental driver of health inequities, and stated that they will accelerate their efforts to take action. Additionally, she unveiled a new website called “Health and Racism,” which will serve as a hub for the agency’s efforts to promote dialogue, education, and greater awareness of these critical issues.

Statement from Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The social impact of the pandemic has been the most extreme, with communities of color experiencing disproportionate case counts and deaths. These painful experiences and the impact of COVID-19 are most severely felt in communities of color. Importantly, people across this country are suffering, and tens of millions have been infected. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in over 500,000 deaths of Americans.

The disparities seen over the past year were not a result of COVID-19, but instead revealed and illuminated the inequities that have existed for generations in America, impacting public health as a widespread and unaddressed epidemic of racism.

We are aware that racism is a serious public health threat as it affects the health of our entire nation. It is not just discrimination against one racial or ethnic group based on the color of their skin, but it also impacts the lives of individuals in communities of color, influencing their physical and mental health throughout their lifetime. These social determinants of health gather in communities where people work, play, worship, and raise their children. It is important to recognize that structural barriers and the differential impact of ethnicity and race can have negative effects on the health of these groups.

Throughout generations, these systemic inequalities have led to significant health disparities based on race and ethnicity that are severe, widespread, and unacceptable.

The CDC, as the nation’s leading public health agency, plays a critical role in addressing the impact of racism on public health.

  • We will continue to study the impact of social determinants on health outcomes by expanding the evidence of how racism affects the body’s health and proposing solutions to address this.
  • With the aim of addressing disparities related to COVID-19 and other health conditions, we are expanding investments and providing resources and foundation to establish durable infrastructure. This includes making new investments in communities around the country that are disproportionately affected, particularly minority ethnic and racial communities.
  • We are enhancing our internal agency initiatives to promote increased diversity and establish an inclusive and supportive atmosphere for everyone.
  • As part of our ongoing commitment to progress towards accountability and to serve as a catalyst for scientific and public discourse around health and racism, we are launching a new web portal called “Health and Racism”.
  • Confronting racism will not be easy, but I know that we can meet this challenge. I know that together, we can create an America where all people have the opportunity to live a healthy life. I am committed to this work and I hope that you will join me and take responsibility when we lean in.