The CDC Shouldn’t Treat Racism as a Public-Health Crisis

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was founded in 1946 as the Communicable Disease Center, with a simple goal: prevent the spread of malaria. The mission soon expanded to all communicable diseases and, more recently, to areas — such as domestic violence, gun control, and vaping — that, while related to health, seem far afield from the agency’s primary purpose. Today the CDC describes its mission as protecting the nation from health threats both foreign and domestic. Now the agency appears to have expanded its mandate into progressive politics.

In a recent statement, CDC director Rochelle Walensky asserts that there have been disproportionate numbers of COVD-19 cases and deaths in communities of color. She claims that the disparities were the result not of COVID-19 but rather of racism, which she labels a public-health crisis. Her statement echoes an American Medical Association policy recognizing racism as a public-health threat and similar declarations from 194 state and local government entities.

But the director’s statement is inconsistent with the CDC’s current data that show little or no increased incidence of black COVID-19 deaths. At best it reflects outdated data documenting disparities that no longer exist. At worst, it reflects a political agenda in search of a justification. Whichever it is, it suggests that public-health officials, in this case the CDC, have become distracted from their core job.

Currently, 60.8 percent of COVID-19 deaths are among whites, who account for 60.1 percent of the population. The ratio of percentage of deaths to population percentage is also essentially 1:1 for Hispanics. The ratio is increased for indigenous Americans (1.6) and slightly increased for black Americans (1.2), who are 14.6 percent of COVID-19 deaths and 12.5 percent of the population. Asian Americans, who have suffered racist attacks during the pandemic, account for 5.8 percent of the population but just 3.9 of COVID-19 deaths.

The picture was different back in September 2020 when blacks accounted for 20.9 percent of COVID-19 deaths, 1.7 times their 12.5 percent of the population. The increased death rate among blacks was attributable to three factors: employment (black workers are only two-thirds as likely as white workers to be able to work from home); worse baseline health (27 percent of non-elderly black adults, ages 18 to 64, have underlying medical conditions that complicate COVID-19, compared with 21 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 20 percent of Hispanics); and where black people live (blacks are a higher percentage of the population in the areas where COVID-19 initially hit). When weighted to reflect where COVID-19 outbreaks occurred through September, blacks represented 15.4 percent of the population.

Read the full article at National Review.