The last two years have forced just about everyone to get still and reevaluate life in some way, shape or form. Even on the backdrop of declining COVID-19 cases resulting in less hospitalizations and deaths nationally, the pandemic left an indelible imprint on us all, one most Black families shall not soon forget.
For National Minority Health Month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is using the occasion to underscore the importance of getting a COVID-19 vaccination and booster, especially those in underserved communities where health disparities continue to be a part of an everyday existence.
And while the world tries to recapture some semblance of normalcy, the pandemic isn’t over. Social, economic and health issues remain constant particularly in the Black community, where CNN reports, the crisis remains. An analysis of CDC data from mid-March revealed that weekly hospitalization rates are still highest among Black people and Native Americans.
BET.com spoke with CDC Senior Policy Advisor Dr. Desmond Banks about the ongoing threat COVID-19 still poses to the Black community, what long-haulers should keep in mind, where they stand on new tests to hit the market and what measures we can take to lift the heavy burden placed on Black families by this horrific disease.
BET.com: Some experts are warning about the prevalence of long COVID in the Black community and a lack of access to treatment. What exactly is long COVID?
Dr. Banks: Long COVID is when the acute symptoms of COVID persevere for three or four weeks or more. Most individuals recover from an infection within a short period of time. But for a certain percentage of the population, those symptoms do continue for weeks and even months.
We are still learning and that's why we emphasize the importance of staying vaccinated and staying boosted.
BET.com: Is the Black community more vulnerable to Long COVID?
Dr. Banks: Lives in the Back community are more vulnerable to every single health outcome that we have. That goes back to the start of the pandemic when we saw much higher rates of morbidity and mortality among Black people.
BET.com: What sort of symptoms would someone expect if they're suffering from long COVID-19, indicating a need to seek treatment?
Dr. Banks: Excellent question. Some of the current known symptoms of long COVID are similar to acute symptoms of COVID: shortness of breath, flu-like symptoms, any sort of abnormal health conditions and health outcomes that you're experiencing. After testing positive for COVID-19, if you're still feeling ill weeks or months afterward, people should absolutely go to their primary care provider because that could actually be an indication of long COVID.
BET.com: There are new COVID-19 testing options available including at-home rapid tests and the FDA just authorized a new breathalyzer test that detects COVID. How effective are they?
Dr. Banks: We are seeing that [at home tests] are effective. They're a powerful tool for combating COVID-19 in our tool belt, along with masks and our number one tool, vaccinations. We're encouraging all individuals to utilize the home tests as best as they can. As far as the breathalyzer tests go, we're still learning more, but I can say that it's exciting. Any potential tool that we see that can help in our defense against COVID-19 is exciting. We're letting the FDA handle that as far as testing goes. But I can say that we're excited. And we are looking forward to hearing more.
BET.com: How important is it for our community to get boosted, as second boosters shots are becoming available?
Dr. Banks: It is of the utmost importance to get vaccinated and boosted. Those are our number one tools, and our number one weapon against fighting COVID-19. So, it’s incredibly important.
BET.com: As summertime approaches, what should the Black community do to prepare for a possible increase in COVID-19 cases, or maybe a new variant?
Dr. Banks: We need to stay ready and protect ourselves. The best way that we can protect ourselves is by being vaccinated and wearing masks whenever we're indoors. Churches are reopening, people want to travel and do things for the summer. Those things are important, particularly important to our culture. We're trying to get back to normal or a new normal. The best way to do that is to be vaccinated and boosted.
BET.com: At this point in the pandemic, are we over the hump?
Dr. Banks: We don't know, but we are constantly tracking the data. We learned from the Omicron variant that things can be unpredictable. What we know as Black people is that when America comes down with a cold, we catch a severe flu. So we need to stay ready. I know one thing. Saying vaccinated and boosted is going to help protect us from whatever comes next.
For the latest on the coronavirus, check out BET’s blog on the virus, and contact your local health department or visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.