Coronavirus Pandemic Keeps Public Hostage


People struggle to stay afloat, while questions remain about safety of vaccine


It has been almost a year since COVID 19 forced Americans to adjust to a "new normal," one marked by the wearing of masks, hand sanitizers and social distancing.

During that time more than 450,000 people in this country have died and thousands more are in hospitals clinging to life thanks to dedicated healthcare workers and in some case, machines breathing for them.

The arrival of vaccines in recent months, however, offers some hope to a weary nation.

Not everyone is ready to line up for the vaccines, including many African Americans mindful of past practices where blacks were used as guinea pigs such as the infamous Tuskegee project in the name of medical science or ignored all together.

VOICE staffers reached out to African-Americans in person, where safe and via telephone living in Florida as well as those living in other states for an update on how they are dealing with the continuing fallout from the pandemic and where they stand on the issue of taking the vaccine. Those who responded ranged in age from 25 to 75 and included some family members.


Melanie Reese: Finally vaccinated

Melanie Reese said she does not mind staying at home. Reese says she only leaving for essential travel to doctors, dentist, eye appointment, twice for haircut.

"You have to get to the stores early to get toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, spray, cleanser. Food items run out quickly too," she said.

Reese, who is the executive director of a non-profit in Baltimore, said she is still able to conduct meetings and work for her organization, thanks to digital media that she also used to stay connected with family.

"I also like binge watching TV and napping. I have been concerned at times of running out of food,"" she said. 'I don't have transportation readily available to me and after the middle of the month cash is low or nonexistent."

Reese said she took the vaccine, but it was not without effort.

"I am 68 and had been waiting for an appointment slot to open up since I became eligible, Jan. 25, 2021. Even my own hospital where I receive my medical care emailed me stating that due to supply shortage, that I should sign up for an appointment at as many vaccine sites to get an appointment slot," she said. "Every day, I spent several hours looking for availability. Friday, February 6, Kamila, my daughter, signed me up at a mass vaccination site. I signed up at another. Sunday evening, I got an email that an appointment slot was available Monday, February 8, at 8:15 a.m. at the site my daughter signed me up. I was so excited to wait in line until the doors opened and then waited in line inside until my turn to get checked in and then in another area to receive my Pfizer vaccine."


Raven Robinson: Not opposed to vaccine

Raven Robinson, 27, of Forsyth, Georgia, works as analyst for a CPG Co.

Robinson said she was skeptical when the news started hitting about it in China thinking it wasn't going to travel but I was wrong. At the beginning of March 2020, she said, her employer reminded her that she didn't have to come in since she was at high risk of being pregnant. Shortly after, she said, everybody was working remotely.

"I was taking time during the day to hit the grocery store trying to find toilet paper, disinfectant spray, laundry detergent, sanitizer, and meat because what was available at one point in the day may be completely different than what was available in the evening," she said.

"I'm not worried about running out anymore family/friends have been super nice about giving us essentials when they see them. I haven't received the vaccine and I'm not sure if I can get it if I'm breastfeeding," she said, adding she was not aware of research on potential affects.

"But I'm not opposed" to it, she added.


Carlonica Hogan: Will not take vaccine

Carloncia Hogan, 34, a city employee in Fort Myers, said she is stocked up on supplies. "I'm not worried about running out of anything as we are quite full of supplies in the garage," she said.

Hogan also said she has not received the vaccine. "At this time, I believe it is way too early to get the vaccine. They still need to get work all the details out. If offered, I will refuse at this time," she said.


Carol Minikwu: Skeptical

Carol Minikwu, 52, a social service trainer in Miami, said "the impact of the virus has been a roller coaster of emotions, from anxiety, stress and even fear."

"Fear of losing family members including myself to this virus. The fear of the will we ever get back to "normal" or this new normal, staying indoors & wearing a mask forever. Stressing about should I leave the house to go get groceries or to work today," Minikwu said.

She said she initially said no to the idea of the vaccines. "But after reading and listening to health providers, I will take the vaccine if offered to protect myself and family."


Loretta Florence: Struggles with virus

For 40-year-old Loretta Florence, of Miami, the decision to get the vaccines was not her first choice.

"I have not received the vaccine. However, if it's made available to me, I will be taking it," said Florence, a program director. " That wasn't my thought when it was first released but after seeing multiple people in my family catch the virus and the impact it has had on them, not getting isn't an option."

She said the virus had impacted her life on many levels--emotionally, socially, and financially. "Initially, I had a hard time gaining access to the basic items to keep me and my family safe due to the shortage of goods and people over purchasing," she said an interview.


Mary Sabb: Anxious to take it

Retired educator Mary Sabb, of Orlando, said she is worried about the virus but not too much because she doesn't leave her house often unless she has to purchase groceries.

Sabb, 78, said she enjoys getting out to the stores ordinarily but given her age, she realizes that she needs to take precautions.

She also said that she isn't scared to take the vaccine, especially if it will increase her chances of not catching the virus.


Gareth Jones: No to vaccine

Gareth Jones, 27, said the virus did not make or break him. Jones never cared to go out, but it definitely changed his outlook on the outdoors, he said, given how easy it is to catch the virus.

Jones, who is a pharmacist, said he was not fond of the vaccine just yet. He feels as if this first go round of the vaccine isn't safe enough and there's just too many bad things being said about it right now in his opinion.

"As a pharmacist, I don't even see myself taking the virus and I work with medicine," he said.


Norman Cobbs: Received vaccine

Construction worker Norman Cobbs, of Fort Lauderdale, has received the vaccine, thanks to his job.

Cobbs, 52, said that his life has changed very little during the pandemic. He just wears now a mask every day. He goes to work every day and is also not scared to go to the stores and come right back home.


Public Affairs reporters Nadia Reese, Victor Minikwu and Samyra Jones contributed to this report.