Dr. Anthony Fauci, the primary U.S. health official in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic said that the “undeniable effects of racism” have resulted in health disparities that have harmed people of color in America as COVID-19 worsened.
“COVID-19 has shone a bright light on our own society’s failings,” Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a virtual address at Atlanta’s Emory University’s graduation ceremonies on Sunday (May 16).
He told the graduates that many members of minority communities work in essential services jobs that could potentially leave them exposed to coronavirus. Also conditions like hypertension, obesity, chronic lung disease, and diabetes increase the possibility of infection.
“Now, very few of these comorbidities have racial determinants,” Fauci said. “Almost all relate to the social determinants of health dating back to disadvantageous conditions that some people of color find themselves in from birth regarding the availability of an adequate diet, access to health care and the undeniable effects of racism in our society.”
The effects of racism, Fauci said, will take decades to change, but he told the graduates that they should work to be part of that solution.
“Not since the influenza pandemic of 1918 has humanity faced a public health crisis of this magnitude,” he said. “Each of you deserves enormous respect for your extraordinary adaptability, resilience and dedication to learning, completing your studies and graduating despite immense difficulties and uncertainties.”
Fauci, who was awarded the Emory University president’s medal on Sunday, also tasked the graduates to overcome the divisions in the country that have become exacerbated since the advent of the pandemic.
“Societal divisiveness is counterproductive in a pandemic,” Fauci said. “We must not be at odds with each other since the virus is the enemy, not each other.”