Photo by Muthengi Mbuvi/Unsplash

(The Dallas Examiner) – Medical experts have warned the public to remain cautious and aware of the risk factors of contracting COVID-19 and other viruses. But is COVID-19 still a pandemic?

Deaths and illness due to COVID-19 and its variants still affects Blacks disproportionately, even as the number of cases decline across the country, according to reports. Dallas County has seen over 709,000 cumulative COVID-19 cases, with a daily average of 221 cases, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Blacks account for 18.6 % with over 132,000 total cases and 1,745 deaths. Hispanics account for 27.6% with over 196,000 total cases and 2,473 deaths. Asians account for 4.7% with over 33,500 cases and 247 deaths, and Whites account for 28% with over 198,600 cases and 2,264 deaths.

Dr. Onyema Ogbuagu, an associate professor of Medicine at Yale asserted that the high rate of cases of COVID-19 among people of color can be attributed to a lot of systemic and structural factors.

“I think that COVID is showing the world what we’ve seen with other chronic health conditions,” Ogbuagu said. “We’ve seen with cancer for example, that people of color are treated differently, especially with regards to treatments, even screening to identify cancers when they are present.

“We know that there are higher rates of risk factors for severe COVID, like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, that disproportionately impact, people of color – Blacks, Hispanics. So, if the prevalence of those conditions is high in the community, that also so plays a role in vulnerability for severe COVID and then all the other systemic things, right?”

He said social determinants of health; housing security, poor wages, unemployment and crowding in homes, are among contributing factors to the COVID rate. He stated that the government should take more initiative in catering to those communities, encouraging alternative ways of spreading information amongst the bevy of misinformation that is prevalent today.

“Clearly certain things are important. I think how we communicate and what means we use to communicate individuals’ health information matters. Who should be the trusted messengers to take this information to people? Information that we disseminate has to factor in people’s literacy level,” he said.

“For example, when people were signing up for vaccines, and the states just had like a web page for people to sign up, that already disenfranchises anyone who doesn’t have a computer or internet access, right? These things may not be intentional, but they have some implications that may be unintended.”

The Biden administration announced that the COVID-19 national emergency and public health emergency programs will end in May. It has been in effect since January 2020.

“They are currently set to expire on March 1 and April 11, respectively. At present, the administration’s plan is to extend the emergency declarations to May 11 and then end both emergencies on that date. This wind-down would align with the administration’s previous commitments to give at least 60 days’ notice prior to termination of the PHE,” the White House said in an issued statement.

Ogbuagu expressed concern with the timing of the news.

“I kind of agree, but I think it’s premature,” he said. “I think they’ve been pulling back, piece by piece. So, it’s not functioning now at the level it was functioning, let’s say a year or two years ago. So, I think because of the unpredictability of the epidemic, you wonder what metrics they’re looking at to make those decisions, right?

“Because while it’s on the surface it appears that COVID is getting better, I think that we are not accurately diagnosing the numbers of people who are infected. Because many people are no longer testing. So, I think that the cases that we’re seeing probably underrepresent just the amount of community spread. We already have the new XBB 1.5 variants, which are very transmissible. Who’s to say that there’s nothing looming on the horizon that will continue to exact a toll.”

Ogbuagu encouraged people to stay vigilant and take precautions with COVID-19 and other viral diseases out there. He also encouraged people to wear a mask and get vaccinated, especially in areas with high levels of COVID-19 cases.

“Older people and people who are immune compromised or have some of those significant medical conditions should be more cautious than others when it comes to the risk of exposure,” he said. “And don’t forget that we are also experiencing other respiratory viral infections, influenza and RSV currently. The precautions we take for COVID also protect against other respiratory illnesses.

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