The coronavirus pandemic has been at the top of everyone's mind for more than a year, and the focus of infectious disease experts around the world. But the CDC says there's another major issue plaguing the US, and its director is now calling attention to it. "Racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans," Rochelle Walensky said in a statement, adding that the issue "affects the health of our entire nation." Walensky notes that communities of color have experienced disproportionate numbers of COVID cases and deaths, though she stresses that such an imbalance wasn't caused by COVID but simply revealed by it. "The pandemic illuminated inequities that have existed for generations," she says, adding that they're "unacceptable"
Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones, former head of the American Public Health Association, tells NBC News it's not just COVID where racism rears its head, citing "infant mortality, maternal mortality, [and] obesity" as other examples. The CDC's plans to combat racism in the public health arena include funneling COVID funds into racial and ethnic minority communities, as well as launching a "Racism and Health" portal on the CDC site. Walensky tells Time that the word "racism" was carefully chosen. It's not just about skin color "but also about where you live, where you work, where your children play, where you pray, how you get to work, the jobs you have," she says. "All of these things feed into people's health and their opportunities for health." Politico notes that more than 150 state and local leaders, as well as public health entities around the nation, deem racism a public health emergency or crisis, per the APHA. (Read more racism stories.)