Protect yourself and others
According to the COVID Tracking Project’s racial disparity dashboard, Blacks in the U.S. have lost their lives to the virus at 2.3 times the rate of White people. The Black community has one of the worst mortality rates in the country—as of October 13, one in 920 Black people had lost their life to the disease.
While Black people have not campaigned actively against public safety measures to limit the spread and impact of COVID-19, they have not been as vigilant as they should. In some areas, Black folks have been lax in following COVID-19 prevention protocols, which include wearing masks and social distancing which limit the spread of the disease.
In other words, there is a sense that despite its disproportionate effect on Black Americans, some in the community are not taking it as seriously as they should. While much of this stems from disparities in health and healthcare, nothing prevents the Black community from doing what it can to protect itself.
“The intersection of systemic racism and the administration’s failed response put the Black community at particular risk,” according to the COVID Tracking Project. Adding to the problems is African Americans’ disproportionately high rates of pre-existing conditions (comorbidities), which are associated with higher rates of hospitalizations and deaths to the virus. Black patients are hospitalized with the virus at three times the rate of White patients.
“Blacks have the second highest rate of infection in the state of Minnesota. It’s bad. It does not look good. The Health Department is doing all it can with its messaging but we have to do our part,” said Adriene Thornton, infection preventionist at Childrens’ Minnesota.
Asymptomatic vs symptomatic
“The biggest problem I have with us is we are trying to figure out ways to get around it [safeguards]. I keep seeing notifications about come to this event or come to that event and we are going to be social distancing, but I see the pictures and people are sitting in booths eating.
“That’s entirely too close. Unless you are with the person you live with, you shouldn’t be in there [social gathering] with all those people,” Thornton stressed. “You can have COVID and not know it. You can have it without even a runny nose, but still have COVID,” she added.
Thornton was referring to people who are asymptomatic, they have COVID-19 without outward symptoms of the disease. Symptoms of COVID 19 include sore throat, loss of taste and smell, chills, body aches, a cough, muscle aches, fever and shortness of breath. The asymptomatic person doesn’t show these signs but is infected nevertheless and can infect others.
“What the science is showing is that people develop COVID within 14 days of exposure. That’s the incubation period. It will either be growing and spreading throughout your body,” said Thornton, who explained that this is the reasoning for the 14-day quarantine period for anyone suspected of being infected.
Even if you are symptomatic, if you follow the guidelines it limits others’ exposure.
People who have what are termed as comorbidities or pre-existing conditions—including hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and chronic kidney disease—are at higher risk for having more serious complications if they contract COVID-19, including a higher risk of not recovering. People who are severely obese, smokers, and those with compromised immune systems are also at greater risk, along with pregnant women.
According to Thornton a comorbidity which is also referred to as a pre-existing condition is a chronic illness for which there is no cure that people have to live with all of their lives and impacts the way they live. Most of the time the illness can only be controlled with medication.
“So if people don’t take their medication, then that places them at higher risk. We all have relatives, aunts and uncles who say ‘My pressure is fine, so I stop taking my medicine.’ What happens when you don’t take it [medicine], now that comorbidity is not under control. Add that to COVID and that makes you at higher risk.”
Thornton encourages anyone having a comorbidity to take their medication and follow up with their doctor. She also encourages people who are at higher risk to get a flu shot. She said that it would be extremely difficult to fight COVID and influenza at the same time.
Masks are effective
Thornton shared an anecdote of the effect of mask wearing. She recalled a story of two local hairdressers who had tested positive for COVID-19 and worked with over 130 clients while infected, but none of their clients or co-workers contracted the disease. According to Thornton, both hairdressers wore their masks and their clients and co-workers did as well.
“We know that wearing masks and social distancing works; we have the science to prove it,” she said. The best mask, according to the preventionist, is a mask with layers to it. “If you can blow out a candle with your mask on, it’s not effective,” said Thornton. Bandanas are not as effective because they are thin and don’t have layers.
There is lots of misinformation about the disease. Taking a test and registering negative does not guarantee that one will be negative days later.
“Just because you test negative today does not mean you will test negative tomorrow. It is just safer not to gather because we know people are not going to wear their masks the entire time,” continued Thornton. “They are not going to sit around with their masks on. They will have to take their masks off to eat.”
Thornton has had personal experience with COVID-19; she contracted the disease in February and her teenaged son contracted it as well.
Thornton attributes the increase over the last few months to several factors. “High ranking officials ignored the danger,” she noted. “We opened the schools back up. The results of that were when the kids went back to college they were out partying and so transmission went up right away. We had over 4,000 cases among K-12 students. How they got it is anybody’s guess. Adults could have given it to the kids; the kids could have been giving it to each other.”
“Young people are thinking I may get COVID, but I won’t get that sick. That is true, but you could spread it to someone else,” said Thornton. Seniors from ages 80 to 89 have the highest rate of fatality.
“You are doing this because you don’t want someone else to be sick. We have to get out of this me me me frame of mind and think of others. You don’t want to be that person that gives COVID to your 85-year-old neighbor or your aunt or uncle or grandparent and they end up dying as a result,” she warned.
Thornton pointed out that Australia, which currently has a minimal amount of cases, has been much more successful at limiting the spread of COVID-19, and was not hit by a second wave like what has occurred in the U.S. “They put everything in place early,” she stated.
“Australians tend to have this us and we thinking, so when the government told them what had to be done, they said, ‘the government said we have to do these things’ so they did it,” said Thronton. “They are wearing masks. Their kids are in school and they have to go through certain checks.
“Our biggest problem is we have not had a unified message from our government. I don’t know what it’s gonna take to get our people to listen. Should we get Barack Obama to talk to Black people to tell them to wear their mask?” mused Thornton.
Dozens of interviews of families who have lost loved ones in this pandemic show them trying to come to terms with what some have termed the unfairness, unpreparedness, and lack of coordinated response that could have saved the lives of their loved ones. But they are all adamant about the living being vigilant and doing all they can to prevent COVID-19 from taking out others.
Mel Reeves was the community editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder until he passed away on January 6, 2022. He had a long and storied history working at the MSR.
Find more about Reeve’s life and legacy here: spokesman-recorder.com/category/remembering-mel-reeves.