As Orlando and the rest of the state re-opens restaurants, bars, vacation rentals, theme parks and beaches, the invisible enemy — aka COVID-19 — thought to be vanquished, instead, has grown stronger, attacking anyone in its path.
While COVID-19 seems to be an equal-opportunity killer virus, there’s no question that African Americans have been its favorite target as a quarter of more than the 117,000 Americans who have died were Black. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that African Americans make up roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population but account for nearly 23 percent of this country’s COVID-19 patients.
Orange County is certainly no exception. Since Gov. Ron DeSantis began relaxing the safety guidelines in May social distancing has shrunk and mask-wearing has become less commonplace. As a result, there have been more spikes than seen in a UCF-Rollins College volleyball match, particularly in Central Florida.
Blacks represent 22.7 percent of Orange County’s population and as of June 21, Orlando had 3,448 confirmed cases, the third most in the state, and 51 deaths according to the Florida Department of Health.
So rather than play the victim, Orlando-based ONYX Magazine, recognizing how the ongoing virus has disproportionately affected African Americans, has launched a grassroots billboard campaign entitled – Mask Up! Stop the Spread! – to remind people of color to remain vigilant and don masks when venturing into public places. The initiative, supported by Regina I. Hill, commissioner of District 5 in Orlando, was unveiled on July 1 on the steps of the Orlando City Hall.
On June 18, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings got the message and issued a county-wide executive order that will require everyone to wear a face mask while out in public.
“It’s been said that when America catches a cold, the African American community catches pneumonia,’’ said Rich Black, publisher of ONYX Magazine. “Many African Americans in our communities don’t have insurance or funding that could assist them if they’re out of commission. So, we have to be proactive and do what we can do on the front end to survive COVID.
“If we can mask up, science says we can reduce COVID by 50 percent, so we must form a united front to defeat the enemy and not allow the disease to cross-contaminate.’’
ONYX champions Black achievement throughout Florida and understands the negative impact the coronavirus has had on the Black community. To that end, ONYX has distributed face masks, informative door hangers and yard signs spreading the message that just because the government has “opened up” to stimulate the economy, African Americans must continue to protect themselves and their loved ones by taking intelligent precautions.
ONYX Magazine, along with Hill, conducted a four-part virtual community town hall series on how COVID-19 is impacting the Black community. Expert panelists advised on healthcare, economics, employment and business ownership.
“The COVID-19 has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands in the African American communities,’’ Hill said. “We must continue to take preventative and safety measures to protect ourselves and surroundings from this deadly virus. We must continue to wear masks and not allow ourselves to become relaxed.
“I am very compassionate about the well-being of all people because I am also a nurse of over 28 years … and that’s why it’s so important for this “Mask Up: Stop the Spread’’ initiative to be launched.’’
“We’re doing our best to educate the community that the coronavirus is still around and that wearing a mask can help keep you and your neighbors safe and healthy,’’ said Bakari F. Burns, commissioner of District 6 in Orlando.
In the case of the coronavirus, complacency can kill.
“Masks are not 100 percent protective, however, they certainly are better than not wearing a mask,’’ Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on TheStreet podcast. “Both to prevent you, if you happen to be a person who maybe feels well, but has an asymptomatic infection that you don’t even know about, to prevent you from infecting someone else.’’
So, Mask Up! Stop the Spread!
(For those who wish to donate to the initiative or volunteer, please call 407-451-2891 for additional information.)
By Harvey Fialkov