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Waveney Ann Moore: The pandemic is not over

Waveney Ann Moore

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Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County staff hold vaccination clinics for people who attend the Unitarian Universalist Church of St. Petersburg's Friday Sunset Suppers for those who are "unsheltered." Photo courtesy of the Unitarian Universalist Church of St. Petersburg.

Dr. Anthony Fauci made big news this week when he seemed to declare that the pandemic is over in the United States. 

But Fauci, the President’s chief medical adviser, later moderated his remarks, telling the Associated Press that the country is now in “more of a controlled phase” of the pandemic.  

By no means does that mean the pandemic is over,” he said. 

In any event, it appears that few are waiting for Fauci’s pronouncement of its end. Many have made their own medical assessments, refusing to forgo sporting events, vacations or concerts any longer. They’re willing to take a chance on a pandemic that’s snuffed out the lives of almost a million people across the nation and continues to hold some in its grip with long haul symptoms. 

On the other hand, there are those who are timid and risk averse. Vaccinated and double boosted they may be, but they remain cautious. I count myself among them. No going out in public without a mask for us. As for most crowded places, better to avoid them altogether and save ourselves the anxiety. It feels a bit silly at times, but it’s a choice that does no one harm. 

The fact is, there’s still reason to be vigilant, despite a CDC announcement Tuesday of a study showing that 58 percent of all age groups in the U.S. have already been infected with the coronavirus. For children 17 and younger, the infection rate was even higher, roughly 75 percent. Still, CDC officials cautioned that though many Americans now have antibodies to the virus in their bloodstream, vaccination is still advised. 

“We still do not know how long infection induced immunity will last,” said Dr. Kristie Clarke, lead author of the study. “What we do know is that vaccination is a safe and effective way to get robust immune protection.” 

Though the initial frenzy to get vaccinated has waned, the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County continues its campaign to get more people vaccinated and boosted. Its outreach efforts also include masks, hygiene kits and tests. 

The Unitarian Universalist Church of St. Petersburg near Mirror Lake, which hosts a weekly, Friday Sunset Supper for people who are “unsheltered,” has been welcoming the Health Department to its compound for about six months.  

The department’s staff will be there again today, April 29, 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., to administer Covid-19 vaccines, as well as shots for influenza and hepatitis A. Sabine Von Aulock, volunteer coordinator for the weekly supper, and a church member, praised the health department for its commitment. One of its representatives regularly combs the streets near the church to invite people to the Sunset Supper to be vaccinated, she said. 

“They give them a food voucher and we give them $5 cash,” Von Aulock told me, explaining that the congregation has allocated funds for the program, which is open to anyone in need of vaccines. “Even if you’re sheltered,” she said. 

The need appears greatest among racial and ethnic minorities, many of whom are known to have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Using CDC data drawn from the beginning of the pandemic through April 2, APM Research Lab paints a somber picture of the disparities in its report“The Color of Coronavirus: Covid-19 Deaths by Race and Ethnicity in the U.S.” 

“Indigenous, Latino, Pacific Islander, and Black Americans all have significantly higher COVID-19 mortality rates than either White or Asian Americans once the data are adjusted to account for age distribution differences among racial and ethnic groups,” the report says.   

In Pinellas, the Health Department has focused on vulnerable communities, though it encourages any group to schedule a free adult and pediatric Covid-19 vaccination clinic at its site.  

Besides the Universalist Unitarian outreach, vaccine events are being held in coming days at locations including Mount Olive AME Church in Clearwater and in St. Petersburg at Daystar Life Center, Pinellas Technical College, Radius Church and the Campbell Park Recreation Center. 

The Campbell Park vaccinations – Covid-19, influenza and hepatitis A – will be given at St. Petersburg Police Department’s first Community Resource Fair, being held Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  

Vaccine incentives, grocery and food vouchers, are being offered at all clinics. Specifically, hygiene kits, socks, and rain gear will be distributed at the Unitarian Universalist Church, Radius Church, Daystar, an open house at the Pinellas Park Fire Department, and First United Methodist Crossroads Church in Largo. 

The point is to protect as many people as possible from this unpredictable virus. The nonprofit APM Research Lab offers food for thought: “Although over three-quarters of the U.S. population is vaccinated, vaccination rates have slowed and it remains to be seen whether the recent decline in deaths signals the end of the pandemic in America.” 

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