The internet, radio, and television provide insurmountable amounts of information to process and understand as people attempt to protect themselves, and their loves ones, from this potentially deadly virus. Who can we trust to provide reliable, scientific information that will protect our community and save lives?
We are fortunate to have great resources, validated by leaders in our community, so that we don’t have to navigate this pandemic by ourselves.
According to new research, led by the Washington University School of Medicine, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and reported in The St. Louis American last week, social distancing policies implemented early on by St. Louis and St. Louis County were associated with decreased hospitalizations and deaths.
In short, by following the guidance of our public health experts, “Thousands of lives were saved.” Many of those lives were in our African American communities in north St. Louis and St. Louis County.
In the Spring of 2020, when there were no vaccines or highly effective treatments for those with COVID-19, many municipalities across the United States enacted social distancing policies to reduce the spread of this virus such as, closure of schools and prohibiting large gatherings and asking residents to reduce non-essential travel outside of the home (i.e., shelter in place.)
Both the city of St. Louis and St Louis County issued emergency public health orders to reduce person to person contact and to limit the size of gatherings. By March 23, 2020, bars and restaurants were closed and a shelter in place order went into effect.
Researchers were able to project that even short-term delays in enacting social distancing policies could have resulted in thousands of additional COVID -19 hospitalizations and deaths. The political reaction in some corners of the region and country was loud and sometimes disappointing. But by following the guidance of our public health leaders we are in a much better place today.
We are not out of this storm yet. But there is hope. Over the past month, we received more guidance and direction from public health experts, this time on masking.
It is well established and scientifically validated that masks limit the spread of COVID-19 and buy us time to improve vaccination rates. This is what will end the pandemic once and for all. Masks in indoor settings provide the best chance right now for in-classroom learning, youth sports, vibrant business activity, and full employment. In the few weeks that masking policies have been in place, COVID-19 cases have stabilized. Continued masking in indoor settings and vaccinations are the path forward.
I am saddened to hear the conversation regarding masks become political, but I am heartened to see our community begin to embrace the leadership and direction of our public health experts that have proven to protect us and lead us prophetically in 2020. Let’s continue to follow their advice.
Health departments in our region are leading vaccination campaigns to get us to the other side of the pandemic. St. Louis County, my home, has partnered with community leaders, faith leaders, physicians, health systems, beauty salons and barber shops and many other local businesses to increase vaccination rates in vulnerable populations and underserved areas.
St. Louis County has done an amazing job of arming African Americans who live in ZIP codes challenged with health inequities to get vaccinated against COVID-19. With this strategy of meeting people where they are, North County is becoming one of the fasting growing areas of people becoming vaccinated against COVID-19.
In fact, since June 25, 2021, there has been a 9 percent increase in the COVID-19 vaccination rate in North County.
Let’s continue to work together. Our community needs you. The partnership of the African American community and our public health leaders is vital for our community.
While public health policies can remove some of the thunder clouds of the COVID-19 storm, the pandemic can be a treacherous, scary, loud storm. However, with good solid public health policies in place that save lives and increasing vaccine access, COVID-19 can become just a whisper for most of us.
Dr. Ingrid Taylor is a board-certified family medicine physician who practices in St. Louis. Dr. Taylor is also founder of Allies in Healthcare (AIH), LLC.
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