When Maria Jordan-Awalom, of Freeport, contracted the coronavirus last year, she said that one of her main motivations to recover was so she could protect her 84-year-old parents from the viris.
As soon as she was cleared and healthy, Jordan-Awalom, a Freeport School District Board of Education trustee, became a public advocate to help disseminate information about the coronavirus to people like her parents, Spanish-speaking seniors who have trouble accessing the internet, and the bulk of the information on the virus and the vaccines that can prevent it.
“I was afraid that people like my parents wouldn’t be able to recover from the virus like I did,” Jordan-Awalom said. “I decided to help spread the word and help educate others with facts.”
On Feb. 4, Jordan-Awalom joined State Sen. John Brooks and a panel of health experts in a webinar to discuss the impacts of Covid-19 and the vaccination rollout on Long Island.
Dr. John Zaso, a board member of the Nassau County Department of Health, and Dr. Andrew Clair, a pharmaceutical consultant for Pfizer, urged people to register for the vaccine as soon as they could.
Zaso, of East Meadow, said that while vaccine supplies are limited, residents who currently qualify for them should check the county’s website daily to find an open appointment. He and Clair said that those with pre-existing health conditions — like hypertension, obesity and diabetes — should definitely get vaccinated, because the Covid-19 virus can affect the entire body.
“While some who get the virus only experience light or no symptoms at all, others can experience very severe illnesses caused by Covid,” Clair said. “The virus can attack the brain, eyes, nose, heart, blood vessels, liver, kidneys and intestines.”
The doctors shared stories about colleagues who continue to suffer from Covid-19-related symptoms a year after they were first infected.
Steven Jordan, a critical care nurse from Maine, also shared his stories of patients dying of Covid-19 in the intensive care unit.
Jordan, who has worked as a nurse for a decade, said that as patients came in with Covid-19, they often became sicker and sicker as the virus ravaged their bodies. He added that as hospitals overflowed with patients, family members were not allowed to be with their loved ones in the ICU, so it was usually nurses who stayed with dying patients during their final moments.
“You’ve probably heard stories about patients dying on ventilators and nurses holding their hands through it all,” Jordan said. “It’s all true. It’s been a very difficult experience for all of us.”
After seeing the devastation of Covid-19 firsthand, Jordan signed up for the Covid-19 vaccine and was among some of the first health care workers to receive it in December. While the first dose only left his arm a bit sore, the second dose left Jordan with a fever, headache and greater soreness.
The side effects are common. A day after Jordan received the second dose, he was fine and back hiking in the woods with his wife.
Jordan-Awalom said the possibility of side effects seemed to scare her 84-year-old parents, but she explained to them that any side effects would be mild compared to what Covid-19 could do to them.
“Luckily they haven’t gotten any symptoms after their first dose,” Jordan-Awalom said. “They’re feeling anxious about the second dose they’re scheduled for, but I’m reassuring them.”
What had been more difficult, Jordan-Awalom said, was helping her parents get the initial appointment to receive the vaccine.
She described a chaotic and stressful time as she and her sister needed to guide her parents through the whole process, since they do not have a computer and face a language barrier, as English is a second language to them.
These barriers came as no surprise to Zaso and Clair, who emphasized how Covid-19 revealed the racial disparities in the U.S. health care system, as Blacks and Latinos have suffered from the virus at higher rates than their white counterparts.
National studies have shown that majority-minority communities like Freeport have had higher rates of Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths than predominantly white communities since the pandemic began last March, and in November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that African-Americans were 1.4 times more likely to contract Covid-19 than whites, 3.7 times more likely to be hospitalized for the virus and 2.8 percent more likely to die from it.
Clair added that while “white Americans like me can hunker down and work from home,” residents in communities of color often work in essential businesses and are thus at higher risk of exposure. In Freeport, more than 4,200 residents worked in health care support services in 2018, roughly 2,300 worked in sales and more than 2,200 worked in education services, according to census data.
Communities of color have the highest number of Covid-19 positive cases, with Freeport consistently standing as the third hardest-hit village in Nassau. As of Feb. 8, Freeport had had about 4,700 positive cases since the start of the pandemic, according to the county Department of Health.
“We have to get creative on how we can disseminate information to our communities to make sure the vaccine is accessible to everyone,” Jordan-Awalom said. “There’s never enough that we can do.”
Zaso said that while New York only receives 300,000 vaccines and about 7 million people are currently qualified in the state, officials are working to get the vaccines to the most vulnerable populations.
He added that there would come a time when nearly everyone will have received the vaccine, including those who have already been infected with Covid-19, as the antibodies produced from natural infection are not “a good proof of immunity.”
“The vaccine is another tool we must use to fight the pandemic,” Zaso said. “You must still remember to wear your mask, social distance and wash your hands. And make sure to get the vaccine when it’s your turn.”
“We’re in a better position than we were in the past, but we still have a lot of work to do,” State Sen. John Brooks said. “We got to stay tough. We got to stay smart.”