CDC director says racism is 'serious public health threat'

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday declared racism a "serious public health threat," becoming the largest federal agency to do so.

"A growing body of research shows that centuries of racism in this country has had a profound and negative impact on communities of color," CDC Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyApple restores mask mandate at most stores: report Retailers face tough decision on requiring masks again CNN host presses CDC chief on mask guidance: 'Why the hell' do vaccinated 'have to pay the price' MORE said in a statement published on the agency's website.

Walensky noted the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt most severely in communities of color, which have experienced disproportionate case counts and deaths.

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"To build a healthier America for all, we must confront the systems and policies that have resulted in the generational injustice that has given rise to racial and ethnic health inequities," the agency said.

The declaration is part of a new agency-wide initiative called Racism and Health, which the CDC said is meant to be a hub for its research into the effects of racism on health, and efforts to achieve health equity.

The initiative is meant to go beyond studying the issue and focus on taking action.

For example, Walensky noted that the agency has new funding to address COVID-19 disparities by making investments in racial and ethnic minority communities, as well as other disproportionately affected communities around the country.

“Confronting the impact of racism will not be easy,” Walensky said. “I know that we can do this if we work together."

According to the American Public Health Association, more than 170 cities, counties and public health agencies in the U.S. have made similar declarations, including the American Medical Association, which praised the CDC's move.

"As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately plague Black and Brown communities, it’s clear that collective action from all stakeholders is needed to dismantle systemic racism and confront, embed, and advance equity across our health care system," AMA President Susan Bailey said in a statement Thursday.

Updated at 6 p.m.