JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared racism a serious public health threat.
In a statement, Dr. Rochelle Walensky acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the death of more than 500,000 Americans and that tens of millions have been infected. Walensky writes that the impact of COVID-19 are felt most severely in communities of color.
She writes: “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 worship and gather in community. These social determinants of health have life-long negative effects on the mental and physical health of individuals in communities of color.”
Dr. Rogers Cain, a physician in Jacksonville, agrees with Walensky.
“It’s long overdue,” Cain said. “It has been a public health threat for 400 years, frankly.”
A 2017 state and community report from the Duval County Health Department says that its interviewees commented on health care barriers of things like affordability, transportation, knowledge, lack of trust and cultural difference, as well as racism in how Black residents were treated by medical providers.
Cain relates it to the state gathering information, testing and vaccination disparities during the pandemic.
“Jacksonville is a city of bridges. And so a lot of older folks, especially the older folks the vaccine was being allowed to initially, could not get across those bridges to get the vaccine,” he said.
Cain says more health organizations need to invest in minority doctors and health care providers and educate health care providers on cultural sensitivity.
Walensky said the CDC plans to do several things moving forward, including:
- Studying the impact of social determinants on health outcomes, find more evidence of how racism affects health and propose solutions
- Make new and expanded investments in racial and ethnic minority communities through COVID funding
- Expand its internal agency efforts to foster greater diversity
The CDC is also launching a web portal called “Racism and Health,” which will serve as a hub for the agency’s efforts.