As the world nears the two-year mark of COVID-19, the pandemic continues to be a reality in the Bronx and across the five boroughs and the Omicron and Delta variants are driving up the number of positive cases and hospitalizations from COVID-19.
Data from the NYC Department of Health reported on Jan. 11 that in the previous seven days, 23,518 city residents had tested positive (confirmed or probable) from one variant or the other. Mott Haven and Hunts Point registered 2,267 new cases for every 100,000 people – just a notch above the citywide average — while Melrose and Morrisania had slightly lower new case numbers.
The percentage of residents who have received two vaccination shots is 68% in Mott Haven, 63% in Hunts Point and Morrisania, and 75% in Melrose, while the median rate citywide is 74%, according to city data.
Since the start of the pandemic, Bronx-based SOMO Community Care has been a key player in fighting the pandemic through its testing and vaccination program. SOMOS has 70 trilingual testing sites nationwide and has administered over 1.5 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
SOMOS is a network of community doctors nationwide; its NYC facilities include the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan. Dr. Luisa Perez is one of those community doctors who works at the Lehman College testing site and has her own office on 96th Street in Manhattan.
Dr. Perez answered some much-asked questions about Omicron and the vaccine over the phone.
How does one protect themselves from COVID and its many variants? For example, the Omicron variant?
The most important way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated.
How is the Omicron different from the other variants? And how do we look out for Omicron?
You basically don’t look out for Omicron, you look out for COVID, for any viral infection that has to do with any of the COVID variants. Omicron just is new now, because it has been here in the US for a little while. And it has a very high rate of transmission, but you won’t be able to see, [what] are you getting, you know, Delta, Omicron…. That’s not something that a person looks for. A person should look to be protected, to keep the social distance, wear a mask, wash your hands when you touch surfaces, and get vaccinated.
Does the vaccine and the booster protect against Omicron?
Yes, it does. The booster does protect. And the vaccines that are available now,, they’ve been studied, they’re well known that they do cover Omicron.
What do you tell people, especially people of color, who are apprehensive about the vaccine and the booster?
I find what [are] their barriers, what is it that they don’t understand, what is keeping them away from the vaccines. Whether it be that they think it was made too quick, I say well….Now we can do instant message FaceTime….so technology is more advanced….. if that’s their barrier, you know that it’s too quick…we defuse that, and pending whatever barrier they have, we work at it and we tell them that we’re just trying to protect society, make sure that us humans are healthy and that we can survive. And the intentions are to keep us healthy and alive.
How did you raise vaccination numbers in the Bronx when it once had the lowest vaccination rate?
Well, the main thing was education. From SOMOS Community Care, we have been all over the Bronx and actually all over New York City educating people on those barriers. I work at a vaccination site and we’ve done business in the East Bronx by the Edenwald houses, and we’ve done 90,000 vaccines….At the end of the day, we work with them, letting them know that the vaccine is to protect themselves and everybody around them. I say I want to do the vaccine for you so that you can be protected and everyone around you could be protected.
Is the vaccine safe for kids who are between the ages of five to eleven?
Yeah, you know, when vaccines are approved for a certain age group, it’s because studies have been done that it’s mainly safe for that age group. And things are not done randomly, there really [have] been studies and now studies are able to be quicker. … Today, if you want a million patients to test on, you put on a website, and anybody can sign up and you will get a million people in no time…This is why things are working…. Enough people have gotten vaccines, they’re able to determine what percentages were effective, what is the most common side effect, and the data is much quicker…. So the due diligence has been done. And now it’s just on the part of the patient to trust the process and get the vaccine so they don’t get the disease.
Since we’re almost two years into this pandemic, what do you think we need to do in order for this virus to be managed?
Get vaccinated…Because in the hospitals, the people that are in the hospital, that have COVID, a lot of people are being positive for COVID, even people that have been vaccinated, right. But the ones that are most affected, are the [people] that [have] not been vaccinated and that is going to put a big burden on the medical platform to take care of so many people sick at the same time.
What would you say to folks who are feeling vaccine fatigue?
In life, you have to do what you need to do. We all want something, but it is what it is. We all want sunny days and we all [want] nights with bright stars. But that’s the reality. So you have to be in tune with reality. Remember, you’re the one that determines how you feel about things. And so you can determine to be okay with it. You know, we’re all fatigued. But I have to move forward, I have to continue to see my patients. And that’s my reality, I have to live it. I can’t say well: I’m not gonna deal with it, I’m tired. No, you have to be responsible and move forward. Our job is to live responsibly, and to have a healthy, happy, long life. And whatever it takes, we have to do [it].
Is there anything else you would like to say or to tell people?
I would just like to tell people to try to get the vaccine….to live in this world, in this society, that’s needed. It’s one way that we can assure that we can fight the fight. At least we have a weapon to fight with. Without the vaccine, you have no weapon to fight with. So get your weapon. Fight. Live.