Photo: Black Covid Cases
By Genoa Barrow | Observer Senior Staff Writer
Local cases of COVID-19 have risen in the 30 days since the state emerged from pandemic shutdowns, and the number of African Americans who have tested positive has doubled, concerning Sacramento County health officials.
Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said Blacks made up 11% of the cases prior to June 15 and are now at 22%.
While there has been recent focus on variants and the rising number of people who are getting sick despite being fully vaccinated, officials still are contending with those who still haven’t gotten a single dose.
“The majority of the cases are among people who are not vaccinated,” Dr. Kasirye said.
“We have a low vaccination rate in communities of color and once the virus was introduced, especially the Delta variant that is very contagious, it’s contributing to what we’re seeing right now.”
Hospitalizations are also up. Officials said they expected the increase following the state and county reopening and have been monitoring things closely. Dr. Kasirye said the county’s case rate has risen to 10 per 100,000, more than three times the state average of 3.7.
“When you see that, it is concerning.” she said.
Officials don’t yet know to what extent July 4th gatherings may factor into the rise in COVID-19 cases. More people are out and about, travelling locally and beyond. More businesses are open and people who are fully vaccinated are allowed to enter most public spaces without a mask basically on the honor system, with no one asking for proof. Some who aren’t vaccinated simply don’t cover their faces and if asked, lie about their vaccination status.
“That’s been an issue from the start, with enforcement,” Dr. Kasirye admits. “And it’s still an issue now.”
Rhonda Smith, executive director of the California Black Health Network, says the public has a false sense of security about COVID-19.
“We need to understand that we’re not completely out of the woods yet,” Ms. Smith said. “This is important information that needs to be shared. If you’re unvaccinated, you’re at risk and putting others at risk.”
“We really need to get the vaccine out and get people vaccinated because that’s what will bring the numbers down,” Dr. Kasirye said.
It’s the same message she has touted for months, along with the importance of continued vigilance on safety measures. Yet the conversation remains the same.
At the beginning of COVID, people got vaccinated in droves at large drive-through and clinic sites, but county officials had to change their game plan, Dr. Kasirye said, and moved to smaller venues and door-to-door efforts to reach communities of color.
“We’re still doing the work,” she said. “We have pop-up events and clinics every week where we get 50-100 (people). That’s a lot smaller than the clinics when you were doing 4,000 in a day, but we know that it’s going to take extra work. That takes time.”
Continued education is vital, Ms. Smith says, to address myths and misinformation that lead to vaccine hesitancy – and vital to the even bigger picture.
“I think it’s important for people to really understand that the real choice is between life and death,” she said. “Yes, there may be some side effects with the vaccine but the benefits outweigh the risks. We all take medications for whatever health condition we’re dealing with every day and we trust those drugs to make us better. Like those drugs, the COVID vaccines were developed over time and not overnight.”
Dr. Kasirye points to outreach that has included participation at Juneteenth festivities and a partnership with a local animal shelter that gave owners the opportunity to be vaccinated while visiting for their pets’ free shots and microchipping.
The case rise is occurring in neighborhoods already identified among the hardest hit by the pandemic – in the ZIP codes of 95821 (Arden-Arcade), 95823 (South Sacramento), 95826 (Rosemont), and 95828 (Florin/South Sacramento).
“We still have work to do,” Dr. Kasirye said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Sacramento OBSERVER has been chronicling the COVID-19 pandemic, its impact on the African American community and the disparities it has unveiled and exacerbated, since March 2020. The coverage continues later this month with the launch of Senior Staff Writer Genoa Barrow’s series on vaccine equity, produced through her participation in the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism’s 2021 California Fellowship. Ms. Barrow is also asking members of the community to share their vaccination stories online at https://forms.gle/KArgXwWJxB4NgApB8, which may also appear in the paper.