Emergency rooms across the country were at capacity during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021
Emergency rooms across the country were at capacity during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Credit: jhu.edu

Breanna Reeves |

As the winter season approaches, public health officials are encouraging everyone to stay vigilant against COVID-19 surges and to protect themselves by getting vaccinated with the updated COVID-19 booster and continue testing.

The Center for Healthy Communities at the University of Riverside School of Medicine facilitated their third Long Haul COVID-19 Town Hall as part of their campaign, “Stop COVID-19 in the Black Community,” to educate on all things COVID.

Hosted at the Inland Empire Health Plan Community Resource Center in San Bernardino, the town hall featured Dr. Shantell Nolen, a COVID-19 Contract Tracing Epidemiology Program Coordinator at San Bernardino Department of Public Health and Dr. Anissa LaCount, a family physician who provides care for patients throughout Southern California. 

The rate of those unvaccinated among the eligible Black populations in Riverside County is 46% and 52% San Bernardino County, according to the most recent data from the California Department of Health. Unvaccinated people are more likely to experience severe illness from COVID-19, and are more likely to have a longer recovery.

In August 2022, unvaccinated people in California were three times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than people who were vaccinated with at least a primary series (two shots).

Long Haul COVID

A recent study of thousands of people in Scotland found that one in 20 people who were infected with COVID reported not recovering at all, while another four in 10 said they had not fully recovered from their infections many months later. Using the World Health Organization’s definition, Long Haul COVID is defined as having a confirmed or probable case of COVID and having symptoms that last for at least two months with no explainable diagnosis.

During the town hall, Dr. Nolen and LaCount emphasized the importance of testing for COVID-19 and getting vaccinated to prevent the potential risk of severe illnesses that can come after contracting COVID-19. Dr. LaCount said she signed more death certificates in the first years of the pandemic than in her entire medical career.

“I’m not afraid of getting COVID. I’m afraid of the stuff that comes after,” Dr. LaCount said.

In San Bernardino County, people who identify as Black and only Hispanic or Latino died at higher rates relative to their population sizes, beginning in December 2021 with the arrival of the Omicron variant (Courtesy of San Bernardino County).

In San Bernardino County, people who identified as only Hispanic or Latino accounted for 43.4% of the deaths since December 2021, which marked the arrival of the Omicron variant as the dominant strain. Approximately, 56% of the population in the region identifies as Hispanic or Latino. People who identified as Black accounted for 10.7% of COVID-19 deaths during this period, but only make up 8% of the total population in the region.

Vaccine Boosters

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of updated boosters for children ages five to 11. Dr. Nolen explained that with the updated boosters, it is important to understand that people still need to complete the initial primary series for COVID-19 vaccines, which is two shots, before receiving the updated booster. Dr. Nolen said to consider the booster an additive to the primary series which introduces COVID-19 antibodies into the system.

Both doctors answered questions from the group regarding whether masking is still important. Both answered yes.

“Masking is about being your neighbor’s keeper,” Dr. Nolen said. As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends, wearing fitted K95 masks is one of the best ways to protect yourself and others against COVID-19, while cloth masks are the least recommended because they are not as protective.

Is it COVID or the flu?

“It’s COVID until proven otherwise,” Dr. LaCount responded to a question about how to tell the difference between flu symptoms and COVID symptoms.

For those who are experiencing COVID-like symptoms, public health officials recommend testing for COVID-19 over the course of three days. While the Biden administration has suspended the delivery of free COVID-19 at-home tests, those who work or live in San Bernardino County can visit the county website to find free testing locations and libraries who are giving away free at-home tests.

Those who are Medi-Cal members in the Inland Region can receive at-home COVID-19 tests from a Medi-Cal enrolled pharmacy. The California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) will cover up to eight test kits per month per member.

To stay informed about upcoming town halls on COVID-19, complete this form to receive updates on the next event.

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at breanna@voicemediaventures.com or via twitter @_breereeves.