The Next 400: Black Americans overcoming their fears and grief to get vaccinated

This is a recording of 19 News at 7:30 p.m.
Updated: Feb. 19, 2021 at 5:44 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting the Black community. Black Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19 and die from it at a much higher rate than white Americans.

People share their painful stories of loss.

Julia Bell, 81, lost her sister Marjorie to COVID, days before her 90th birthday.

“I got a call from her nephew saying she was in the hospital and they had diagnosed her with COVID,” said Bell. “I never dreamed that would be the last time.”

Julia and her family planned to celebrate her sister special day, but instead, painfully planned her funeral. She said the loss is tough to comprehend. Her fear of COVID-19 continues. She’s had 11 family members to contract the virus.

Health care worker, Chennille Coleman said she’s had to seek counsel for her unbearable grief.

“There’s about six people that I know who have died from the virus. It’s horrible. It’s heart wrenching that we’re losing people to this virus,” said Coleman.

Among those six people was Coleman’s beloved aunt.

“Just to know that the virus took them short in their lives like that you know is devastating,” Coleman said.

Jason Lucas is the funeral director at Lucas funeral home in Garfield Heights. He said since the pandemic they’ve held services for more than 75 people who died from the virus.

“We are dealing with families who haven’t gotten to see their love ones and then once they pass, the first time they see them is here at the funeral home. It’s hard. It’s really difficult,” said Lucas.

Lucas said COVID’s dramatically changed how funerals are held. There are stricter guidelines on the number of people attending, more video tributes, virtual services, and he said he’s seen an increase in cremations. He and his staff take extra precautions that include disinfecting the building several times a day.

“We’re putting ourselves at risk so it can be very stressful,” said Lucas.

As of February 2021, African Americans are nearly twice as likely than whites to die from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“Some could be access to information that is clear and understandable and actionable. Some is perhaps access to care,” according to Dr. Phyllis Nsiah-Kumi, a public health expert and associate professor of internal medicine at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

She said the rising COVID cases and deaths in the African-American community can’t be overlooked.

“People don’t often dive right in to do what the healthcare establishment is telling them. We are now facing the availability of a vaccine and a very mixed response,” said Dr. Nsiah-Kumi.

Her response to the virus was getting the vaccine, a personal choice she believes will help save lives.

″We can’t get people to wear mask, getting people to get a vaccine that’s not one but two doses, that to them is new, that’s a challenge,” Dr. Nsiah-Kumi said.

Coleman said she overcame her initial fears and is still dealing with tremendous grief. But, decided to get the vaccine because she believes it is the right thing to do.

“I can’t bring them back but at least I can save other people I can help stop the spread of it. It just starts with one person,” said Coleman.

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