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Obama’s Covid Case Gives Blacks Pause

By Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Senior Contributor / March 17, 2022

He is middle-aged, in relatively good health, and has had all of his vaccination and booster shots for COVID-19.

And yet, former President Barack Obama remains quarantined from the rest of the world for a few days after announcing Sunday that he has tested positive for COVID-19.

Obama, 60, experienced “a scratchy throat for a couple days” but otherwise was feeling fine, and his wife, former First Lady Michelle Obama, has tested negative and had also been fully vaccinated and boosted.

“It’s a reminder to get vaccinated if you haven’t already, even as cases go down,” the nation’s first Black president reminded all.

And there lies the rub, especially for African Americans who see mask mandates dropping all around them, COVID infection and death rates dropping, and the nation overall trying to move on beyond the pandemic.

Despite a societal movement back towards normalcy, even someone like former Pres. Obama can still contract what is a debilitating, if not for some, deadly disease.

Meanwhile, according to recent reports, China says it has thousands of new cases. The World Health Organization warns that the Russian war in Ukraine threatens to make the pandemic worse on the global stage.

And here in the U.S., the head of Pfizer says Americans may need a fourth booster shot, something that Pres. Obama might now attest to.

During a recent Black History Month virtual symposium titled, “The Village Speaks; A Candid Conversation about COVID-19 and the Pandemic,” four local African American physicians from the Raleigh-Durham area came together to offer their perspectives on the current state of the coronavirus in the Black community, and how best African Americans should still protect themselves, contrary to general signs that they can relax their guard.

To start, all four agreed that racism is still a key factor in how Blacks contract the coronavirus and are forced to deal with it.

According to Dr. Leroy Darkes, an internal medicine specialist practicing in Garner/Raleigh, one of the reasons why Blacks cannot relax their guard with COVID is because of the “vicious cycle” they’re in.

“By the time some Blacks contract COVID-19, they have already been suffering from “poor health outcomes,” says Dr. Darkes, which makes them susceptible to maladies like diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer – all of which can corrupt one’s protective immune system.

“We suffer from what we don’t know and don’t do,” Darkes warned.

Dr. Julius Wilder, a gastroenterologist with Duke Hospital in Durham, says another factor unique to African Americans and other communities of color is that their families are large, so there are more people in a household in close quarters for any disease, including COVID-19, to be transmitted.

Also, the type of work many Blacks find themselves doing involves working with many others in factories, retail and public utilities, again making transmission easy among subjects.

The result has been the fact that African Americans have died at three times the rate of Whites during the ongoing pandemic.

Dr. James Smith, a veteran psychiatrist in Raleigh, says not enough has been said about the mental health of African Americans, and the community’s inability to deal with grief, anxiety and depression when it comes to deaths from COVID-19, many of whom were elders either in the home or in nursing homes.

Dr. Shawna M. Reshard, a pediatrician practicing at Duke Primary Care Clinic in Durham, talked about how the impact of COVID-19 on children is still being studied, and that she still has questions about rescinding mask mandates in the public schools. Dr. Reshard added that at the beginning of the pandemic, health care professionals were overwhelmed and had to be innovative about how services were delivered to patients in need (Ex. doing COVID testing in cars). The need to innovate may still be required in the Black community.

Cash Michaels is a veteran reporter and editor covering state news with the Carolina Peacemaker. He is based in Cary, N.C.


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Since 1967, the Carolina Peacemaker has served as North Carolina’s leading news weekly with a national reputation. Founded by Dr. John Kilimanjaro, the newspaper is published by Carolina Newspaper, Inc.

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