Lady Yvonne Willis had just spent the summer breathing mostly through a portable oxygen tank with assistance from her children. “That in itself was just so demeaning,” said the Oakland native, and pastor, as she recalled her harrowing journey with COVID at a virtual gathering of Black women organizations, leaders and COVID survivors back in September.
Like Willis, Chubby Powe also recounted his personal battle with COVID, hooked onto a respirator for weeks. “Get the shot,” pleaded Powe, a minister and small-business owner. “You would be unwise to walk through playing Russian Roulette with your life.”
It was a poignant moment and a stark warning to the unvaccinated. Four months later it’s even more relevant, as the nation, and much of the world, are once again struggling to contain the spread of the virus.
The country has come a long way since, with about 63% of eligible Americans fully vaccinated according to the latest report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, public health officials across the state and the country are sounding the alarm, as Omicron cases spread rapidly, threatening economic gains and efforts to return to normalcy. As of January 14, California positivity rates have hovered around 22.9%, the highest since the beginning of the pandemic.
But for California’s Black community, the situation is even more dire, compounded by disinformation online about COVID, as well as vaccine hesitancy amongst communities of color, partly driven by distrust towards the government and the medical establishment.
Are you (or is someone you know) on the fence about getting vaccinated?
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According to the state’s COVID tracker, since the beginning of the pandemic the death rate for Black Californians is 214 per 100,000, which is 15% higher than the statewide average.
While some are cautiously optimistic given the downward trends in COVID deaths and availability of vaccines and booster shots, nevertheless, Black-led organizations, churches and business groups are rallying to vaccinate Black communities.
“This is why Black churches have become indispensable in COVID vaccination efforts in California and throughout the nation,” said VaShone Huff. She is project co-director for Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA), which launched Black+Vaxxed last fall to boost Black vaccination rates. “Churches are taking on the tasks of dismantling stigma and distrust through education, awareness and mobilizing members.”
Huff, like many, acknowledges the road towards COVID recovery will be long and difficult with the flu season underway, and some school districts and universities making a return to virtual instruction, and others contemplating it. The campaign feels compelled even more to double down on its efforts to vaccinate vulnerable groups, including young people, especially as hospitalization rates among children ages 4 and younger continue to rise based on the CDC’s tracker.
“I know we’re all tired of wearing masks and social distancing,” pleaded Carl Davis Jr., president and CEO of the California African American Chamber of Commerce in a PSA shown at the group’s December virtual symposium on the pandemic’s impact on the Black business community. “But the pandemic is not over.”
“COVID-19 has devastated our community for too long,” added LaNiece Jones, executive director of BWOPA. “We will not sit idly by and be silent about something that is causing such harm.”