Rochelle Walensky
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky on Thursday called racism a "public health threat."

The CDC will conduct research on "social determinants on health outcomes" and make "expanded investments" for "durable infrastructure" in minority communities, Walensky said, and the agency will "foster greater diversity" in the ranks of the CDC.

"What we know is this: racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans," Walensky said in a statement. "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."

The coronavirus pandemic brought to light "severe, far-reaching and unacceptable" disparities for minorities, added Walensky, whom President Joe Biden appointed Jan. 20.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the death of over 500,000 Americans. Tens of millions have been infected," she said. "And across this country people are suffering. Importantly, these painful experiences and the impact of COVID-19 are 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."

She continued: "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. Over generations, these structural inequities have resulted in stark racial and ethnic health disparities that are severe, far-reaching and unacceptable."

Walensky will make sure all COVID-19 guidance is "free of politics," she said prior to assuming her post.

"On my first day, I will ask Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director, with 32 years of experience at the C.D.C., to begin a comprehensive review to ensure that all existing guidance related to COVID-19 is evidence-based and free of politics," Walensky wrote in a Jan. 12 New York Times opinion piece.