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Black Essential Workers’ Lives Matter – Keeping Them Safe as America Reopens

By Darryl Sellers

Dr. Reed Tuckson
Dr. Reed Tuckson

From first responders to grocery store employees to healthcare workers and bus drivers—these are prime examples of the Black essential workers who are on the frontlines every day in a number of key industries in the US labor force. Unfortunately, with that prominence comes a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. There is a disproportionate number of Black Americans who serve at the labor forefront and are putting themselves at greater risk of contracting the virus. In fact, at the height of the pandemic earlier this year, one in four deaths from COVID-19 were Black Americans.  

As more Americans start to unmask and return to gathering in groups this summer, it’s imperative that our Black labor force stays safe as COVID-19 continues to linger. With that in mind, the Black Coalition Against COVID (BCAC) hosted a Facebook Live event in late June in its Making It Plain series. In a recent episode, White House leaders, medical professionals, and labor union experts led the discussion about the critical COVID-19 vaccine decisions facing Black essential workers as America opens up.

Dr. Reed Tuckson, the co-founder of the BCAC, opened the event by saying it’s understandable that some people in the audience, including Black essential workers, their friends, colleagues, and family members, might be hesitant when it comes to getting vaccinated against COVID-19. “It’s okay to have questions and especially tonight, because tonight we have the experts who have the answers,” Dr. Tuckson said. He informed the audience that the BCAC conducted a poll that helped them collect some of the key questions viewers wanted the experts to answer about the virus.

Dr. Michele Benoit Wilson
Dr. Michele Benoit Wilson

One of those esteemed experts was Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Senior Advisor of the White House COVID-19 Response Team. She said we’re moving closer to the bright light at the end of the tunnel of the pandemic. She also reminded the audience that the Delta variant, which is the more contagious and dominant strain in the United States, is a major reason for Black essential workers and all Black Americans to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“We see with the Delta variant that’s an important one to remember, especially right now that it is easily transmissible, more so than prior versions,” Dr. Nunez-Smith said. “From person-to-person it has higher rates of contagion and has the potential of causing a worse disease. Here back at home, Delta is very much on track to become the dominant variant. So if anybody’s been waiting to get vaccinated, this is the moment, this is the now urgent situation. Delta is here and spreading. Please, please, please, please get vaccinated. I’ve been vaccinated. Everybody in my family has been. It’s what we need to do for ourselves and our communities,” she added.  

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Echoing Dr. Nunez-Smith’s call to action was Valerie Long, the international vice president for the Service Employees International Union that represents more than 2 million essential workers. She joined the discussion to reassure and encourage her union members, family members, and all Black Americans to get vaccinated.

“My granddaughter, who’s 18 now, when she was 17 caught COVID. It scared me to death,” Long said. “She came through it okay. It didn’t have to be like that, though. I have people in my family who doubt the efficacy of getting vaccinated. This is not something to play with. We need to come together and encourage each other to be vaccinated. That is the way we come out of this.”

Dr. Marcella Nunez Smith
Dr. Marcella Nunez Smith

Dr. Michele Benoit-Wilson, an OB-GYN for WakeMed in Raleigh, North Carolina, and a member of the Sister Circle, a group of six Black female doctors who work on the frontlines. Since the spring, the Sister Circle has used mobile events which have been vital to deliver vaccines to the essential workers, homeless, homebound and other populations that lack vaccine access, including in the Raleigh-Durham area.

“Those are the efforts that we need at this point,” Dr. Benoit-Wilson said. “I think early on we had to address this with large clinics because it was super important to get to as many people as possible,” she said. “But now that we’ve made some significant headway into vaccination efforts, the focus I think really does need to turn to the individual and what are their individual needs. By using a mobile clinic where small teams of people are able to enter into buildings and bring the vaccines directly to people in a way that really demonstrates our care is going to be vitally important.”

The reoccurring and key takeaway from this BCAC event that culminated in the month of June was the importance of having a collective effort to get vaccinated in order to help our Black communities and all communities conquer COVID-19. Together “We Can Do This!”

Here’s a link to everything you need to know about the Delta variant.

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Please visit the “We Can Do This” website to access all resources and toolkits.

To see a replay of this Facebook Live event in its entirety, go to BlackDoctor.org. For a list of upcoming events, COVID-19 health and wellness information, and other events, go to BlackDoctor.org , the world’s largest and most comprehensive online health resource specifically targeted at African Americans.

For more information about COVID-19, health, and wellness, see Black Coalition Against COVID-19, a key health resource for African Americans.

Darryl Sellers is the Director of the Public Relations Team for Creative Marketing Resources, a strategic marketing agency in Milwaukee and a partner of the BCAC.

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