Edwin Buggage Editor-in-Chief
COVID-19 Changing Our Lives Forever
It’s been over one year since the COVID-19 Pandemic has ravaged the world, ensnaring it in a web of tragedy, death, and uncertainty. It’s created new norms as mask wearing, social distancing, zoom meetings, endless facetiming, mental health challenges, longing for and missing the intimacy of friends and loved ones.
But today, we are seeing the potential of brighter days ahead, as vaccines are available, and the CDC recently amended its guidelines in regard to vaccinated individuals in small groups being able to gather indoors mask-less or larger groups being able to gather outdoors.
This is welcome news, for many have not seen family, friends, or relatives in over a year. It is the embrace of grandparents seeing children and grandchildren or friends reuniting, that is so desired in a City where intimate connections are so much a part of everyday life. It is the lifeblood that runs through the veins of the people of New Orleans.
Data News Weekly recently spoke with New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell about the state of the City during COVID-19 and our path forward.
Leadership…Vaccines and Re-Opening
“We continue to be a leader at the state and national level and now our challenge is the race to get our people vaccinated,” remarks Mayor Cantrell, who has led the City’s effort during COVID-19. Following the science and sometimes pushing back against pressure from some segments of the City and state to re-open.
A move that many have lauded Cantrell for her courage to push back, that over a year later one could reasonably argue have saved lives. This fact, given early in the Pandemic New Orleans was considered the epicenter of the virus.
As vaccines are available in New Orleans including the Johnson and Johnson dose after an 11-day suspension, more people are getting shots in arms. Of course, many know that New Orleans is a City with a unique culture, approach, and outlook on life. And in an attempt to get people to get the vaccine is no exception.
We have had our culture/bearers second lining, vaccine festivals with music and bars offering a shot of liquor for getting the vaccine and of course more conventional outreach efforts, with the goal to get to herd immunity.
“We need to get to 75-80% of the population being fully vaccinated to get to herd immunity. We are making some ground and are not there yet.” says Cantrell.
While there are many who are rolling up their sleeves in this race to that number there is some reluctance among some of the citizens.
The Road to Herd Immunity
LaToya Cantrell, whose work as a community leader before becoming Mayor of the City of New Orleans is using some of these skills to go into neighborhoods in this effort to meet people where they are to promote the benefits of taking the vaccine.
“We are meeting people doing direct outreach. We have identified where the needs are, but we have to do a much better job in our Black and Brown communities.”
Despite what some believe because of gentrification going on across the City, African Americans are still 59% of the population. Therefore, for the City to reach herd immunity, it is important that more African Americans roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated.
While many of the barriers have been removed relating to access, with RTA, UBER offering free rides and meeting people where they are, whether it is local pharmacies, drive through mega sites, everyone 16 and older can receive the COVID-19 Vaccine.
But much in the name of myths and misinformation continues to swirl around the community that is preventing some from getting the vaccine.
“I understand why there is reluctance among some of our citizens, but we are working hard to educate and build trust among our people and get them to move past myths,” says Cantrell.
“Many are concerned about side effects, and I was speaking to someone in Parkway Bakery, who voiced these concerns. And I told him the biggest possible side effect if you are not vaccinated is death, not just to yourself but those you love if they do not receive the vaccine.”
Equity…The New Normal
While getting the vaccine is priority one, a full recovery for the City and what a new normal look like is an open question. This is something that Mayor Cantrell is considering as she and her team are charting the course for how to govern and create policies that will help all the people of the City.
“We had disparity gaps in our City and as always I am looking at things through an equity lens and how we can empower more of our people,” remarks Cantrell of what will guide the priorities of her administration.
To illustrate her point Mayor Cantrell speaks of the hospitality industry, which employs many in the City of New Orleans.
“I’ve talked to some of the leaders in the hospitality industry who are eager to getting people back to 100 percent capacity. But many already have a lack of staffing capacity, because some of those who worked in the industry have pivoted and not looking back.”
Continuing she says, “Some are making more on unemployment than the industry pays. I believe moving forward, we should put the focus on the industry to raise their wages.”
Mayor Cantrell believes that the hard-working people employed in New Orleans should be able to live a better quality of life.
“We want them employed, we want them to have more than a living wage, we want them to have healthcare as well and this coming out of COVID-19 is all of our opportunity to help build bridges to the middle class for more of our citizens.”
Mayor Cantrell has forecast that hopefully by October the City would reach herd immunity, but says it is up to the people to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated.
“Our benchmarks have to be clear; we will not be going to 100 percent for a while and when we reach herd immunity it will be different, and it is my hope that can be a new day for our folks.”