The 2022 holiday season saw families gather in a way they haven’t since before the pandemic. But now, as the new year begins, Dr. Dwight Reynolds, the CEO and president of the Centers for Health Promotion (CHP), wants to remind Black people and the cruise industry that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over.
“I look at the cruise industry as being the tip of the spear when it comes down to people traveling and getting around because they’re on a vessel that’s like an Army barracks, where a virus goes throughout the entire barracks initially,” Reynolds told BLACK ENTERPRISE.
“So what I’ve been telling people is, don’t be disillusioned by disinformation, some people think we’re done with COVID, but COVID is not done with us. There’s been a rise in covid deaths and hospitalizations over the last month and no one seems to be willing to track that or talk about it.”
Dr. Reynolds and his medical team administered COVID-19 vaccinations to more than 68,000 cruise industry employees during the height of the pandemic, working with Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean Group, and Azamara. CHP also provided vaccinations to underserved African Americans, Hispanics, and communities with healthcare disparities.
Reynolds believes the cruise industry should be the leader of the pack when it comes to getting updated COVID-19 vaccinations, and cruise passengers should do the same to avoid the issues that halted cruises in 2020 and in Australia recently.
“In other words, get your crew vaccinated first with those updated bivalent vaccines and then you can begin to press the issue on your guests,” said Reynolds. “My point is, if the crew members can protect themselves the best they can, the lines can require travelers to have their vaccinations updated, so the biggest thing we need to do now is let the cruise industry know we still have a problem and that problem will only be magnified over the next two or three months if we don’t act on it and act on it now.”
Reynolds, a Michigan State University College of Human Medicine alum who trained at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, said getting updated booster vaccinations will not only prevent death but also decrease the number of serious diseases and hospitalizations that are likely to occur in the coming weeks and months.
According to Reynolds, the new bivalent booster was created to combat multiple strains of COVID-19 including the alpha, delta, and omicron strains and protect against severe illness and death. A new subvariant of omicron, named XBB.1.5, has raised concerns about another wave of COVID-19 cases following the busy holiday season.
“If you’re in an enclosed space like a cruise ship you want to make sure that you cover yourself first, but you also want to make sure the cruise ship has done its job too,” Reynolds said, adding that the only treatment for COVID-19 is the antiviral Paxlovid.
“I would make sure that ship has an adequate amount of Paxlovid, which kills the virus in a couple of days, minimizing the symptoms of the virus,” Reynolds added. “So if I’m on a five- or ten-day cruise ship and I test negative before I get on the cruise but I come down with something and I test positive, I don’t want to be locked in my cabin for the next six or seven days, I want to be treated so I can move around.”
The doctor is also urging Black Americans to stay updated on their vaccinations. The number of COVID-19 infections has decreased slightly among Black people, but the mortality rate is still significantly higher than their White counterparts.
“We’re not getting it in bigger numbers, but we’re more apt to die from COVID-19 and the country still has about 2,5000 COVID-19 deaths per week, so we still have a real pandemic going on and Black people better wake up.”
Reynolds also added that pharmaceutical companies will begin charging as much as $187 per dose for the updated bivalent vaccinations once the federal government subsidies expire later this year.