By Gloria Browne-Marshall
Gloria Browne-Marshall: Like it or not, wear a mask. A hundred years ago, the Spanish Flu was a global pandemic. An epidemic involving more than one continent is a pandemic. I am joined by Dr. Johnson, a brilliant nurse and professor at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing. What did you think when you saw the numbers initially 70% to 80% of the deaths from COVID-19 were African American, Latino communities?
Dr. Candace Johnson: If America has a cold, then Black folks have the flu. Even though we thought we had lower numbers initially, and still do in Africa.
Browne-Marshall: Too many people of color are without a mask. Some rebellious spirit says I’m just not going to do it. They’re not putting a mask on their children. These comorbidities are based on genetics, personal choices, what are we talking about here?
Johnson: Comorbidities that are really impacting COVID health outcomes. We know hypertension, heart arrhythmias or dysfunctional heart rhythms, type two diabetes and obesity are the four main comorbidities that are bringing out poor outcomes. If you have worse comorbidities like congestive heart failure, COPD or chronic renal disease you’re at even more risk and if we have family members who’ve died from these diseases or who have had these diseases. One in five African American women is walking around with heart disease and has no idea. I wouldn’t say genetic predisposition. I would say epigenetic. We inherit behaviors like poor eating habits, sedentary lifestyle. African Americans and Latinos carry a large burden of disease. COVID-19 is not genetic. This virus will take advantage of any vulnerability.
Browne-Marshall: I know healthy people have been struck down by this disease. How does this disease make us sick?
Johnson: It is an opportunistic infection that really comes into the lungs or any of the mucous airway, the mucous lining inside of the mouth, the nose, back in the throat. If you can reduce what we scientists call viral load or the amount of virus that gets on your hands and in your mouth in your nose, you can reduce the severity of the illness.
Say you’re walking through a grocery store. Someone just sneezed. You didn’t hear that person sneeze. You didn’t see that person sneeze. Moments later, you walk into the area where they sneeze without a mask. Virus just entered your nasal passage. And at that point, you have taken on such a viral load that you get really sick. Perhaps more than a person who touched an article, a cardboard box that was touched by someone with COVID-19.
The problem with COVID-19 is that we have so many asymptomatic carriers. Some 80% of people who will get this disease will and not will get through it. They’ll get through it the way they get through a cold, without going to the hospital. But, 20% of people are going to end up in the hospital. Of those 20%, large percentages 50% or more, are not making it out of the ICU alive. So, it really is for the 20%. You don’t know if you’re in that 20%. It’s better to just protect protect protect protect.
Browne-Marshall: And what about testing? I’ve seen so many different types of symptoms play out among my friends. I’m wondering if it’s like the, mutating with different symptoms for different people?
Johnson: People have different symptoms. The list of symptoms is long and pretty general. Low-grade fever, about 101, 102 [or] 103, for three or four days, is a sign. Some people get to the shallow breathing that becomes a problem for them. Severe pain when you’re breathing is a sign that you need to go to the hospital or if you feel fainting of head light, fatigue is bad with this. You can do all this through the phone, tele-medicine gives access to doctors.
Browne-Marshall: I believe there are different strains of this virus. What do you think?
Johnson: There’s some mutation going on because this is all DNA and RNA, which are traceable. With COVID-19, it’s quite possible there are milder strains and more severe ones. We will know more with research. There may be a different strain from Europe than the one that was in China. Avoid all the strains because you never know which one you would pick up.
Browne-Marshall: Also, speak to antibodies. It doesn’t mean that you’re not susceptible to getting another strain of the virus and, becoming a walking viral spreader for people, does it?
Johnson: Someone can be a super-spreader. The World Health Organization has already made the statement that you just said. Perhaps you have antibodies for a strain, but not for another strain. Or perhaps you have antibodies and you get a false sense of security, and you move out and about the community, thinking that you don’t need to worry. God forbid you’re still shedding your virus. Scientists are seeing people shedding virus for two or three weeks after they no longer have symptoms. COVID-19 is going to be with us for a while.
Browne-Marshall: The Spanish Flu from 1918 to 1920. And Ebola lasted some time too, even when it wasn’t in the news. Thank you for joining me this entire month of May. Questions for Dr. Candance Johnson, contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Johnson: I’d be happy to return I’d be happy to return.
Gloria J. Browne-Marshall is a writer, playwright and professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College (CUNY). Andres Estevez assisted in transcribing this radio interview from “Law of the Land” on WBAI 99.5FM wbai. Org. Also on podcast.