Community members urged not to take COVID-19 lightly

It is ‘a nasty, relentless disease’

Some believe the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t being taken seriously enough by people of all ages, especially among Blacks. “We are still learning about COVID-19,” said Children’s Minnesota Infection Prevention Nurse Adriene Thornton. 

Black Minnesotans make up at least 21 percent of COVID cases, the highest of any ethnic group. Nationwide, Blacks are disproportionately dying of the disease at higher rates than others as well. “It is not a hoax,” said Thornton.

According to a nearly 400-page unpublished White House Coronavirus Task Force state-by-state report that the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity obtained and published last week, Minnesota is in the “yellow zone” with three countries—Hennepin, Ramsey and Dakota—accounting for 47% of new COVID cases in the state.   

Thornton, a regular panelist on the African American Leadership Forum’s (AALF) biweekly series on the disease’s impact on the Black community, said last week, “We don’t know the long-term impact of COVID-19. We are still learning how to treat it.

“It is not [just] older people” even though this group is among the most vulnerable to contract the coronavirus. People of all ages can get infected, she said.  

“How did we get exposed? I don’t have the answer,” admitted Charles Johnson-Nixon, whose entire family became infected with the virus. He noted that before he got tested, he often didn’t wear a mask in public settings. He and his wife first tested positive for COVID; their three teenage children later got tested and were found positive as well.  

The Johnson-Nixon family all spoke on last week’s panel. “We kept to ourselves,” said Kristin Johnson-Nixon on their recovery. “We did have to call some people and let them know,” adding that she still is having “leftover” aftereffects from the virus.  

“It was tough,” she stressed. “We [would] feel better one day, and the next day we would be knocked out.”
“It would knock you down and you’d not want to do anything at all,” her husband noted. “You have good days, then it reminded you that you were not altogether there.”

Dr. Simon Noel-Ndely, a University of Minnesota Fairview Medical Center pediatrics doctor, reaffirmed the importance of wearing masks over your nose and mouth as “the most effective way” to not transmit the virus.”

Health experts said if everyone in the country wears a mask, the coronavirus could be controlled perhaps in about two months.  “We know that if everyone’s face is covered, COVID will not be transmitted from person to person,” reiterated Thornton.

Charles Johnson-Nixon said that he is a believer and learned his lesson: “Having had COVID and going through it, the last thing I ever wanted to do is put myself in the situation where a large group of people [are],” he said of his concern that too many people seem to not take the virus seriously.   

“People still don’t believe that this is a bad disease,” he explained. “Too many people still think this is just like the flu. I still see people not wearing a mask, not social distancing. This disease is relentless. It’s just nasty.”

When asked about opening up school buildings this fall, Johnson-Nixon, a middle school administrator, expressed wariness about it. The school population, classroom size, transportation, and installing proper safeguards are among his concerns.

“I have a school with over 900 kids,” he said. “I don’t see any safe way of bringing kids back in the fall in the building. We are discussing what we are going to do in the fall.

“We need to use the science and listen to science, and make the right decision for the kids,” Johnson-Nixon continued, adding that he understands the concerns that parents have with distance learning. Still, he reiterated, “I think putting school back to January…is a much better way to go.”

“It depends on the school system,” said Noel-Ndely on school openings, but he stressed that if safeguards aren’t in place, school kids as well as staff could be susceptible to getting sick. “I would be concerned.”

Thornton said everyone should hold each other accountable for being safe. “We have to remind each other” to wear masks and stay at least six feet away in public, wash your hands and refrain from touching your face. “This is not the time to take a couple of steps back. 

“We have to be responsible and accountable to each other to make sure we don’t transmit COVID in the community.”