Black Scientists’ Task Force warns against letting down your guard against COVID

By Lincoln DePradine

Dr David Burt

Black community members were severely impacted by the Coronavirus and, with thousands of them now participating in mass festive summer activities, a call is being made for people to exercise caution against getting infected with COVID-19.

“We’re still in the pandemic,’’ warned Dr David Burt, co-chair of the Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity (BSTF). “Even if you’re outdoors, it’s important to wear a mask, especially if you’re in a dense group of individuals.’’

The BSTF was established by the City of Toronto last year with a mandate to “build community awareness of the disparities in COVID-19 positivity, hospitalization, and mortality rates, as well as the need for comprehensive prevention efforts, including knowledge of the various vaccines’’.

After submitting a report to council, the city asked the task force to continue its work.

Following a two-year absence, due to government-mandated lockdown to control COVID infection and deaths, many of the City of Toronto’s outdoor summer events have returned, with widespread public participation.

“We recently celebrated AfroFest – a two-day outdoor event – with the majority of attendees being from the Black community,” Burt said. “Our concern is that very few people wore masks, mainly elderly folks had them on; and, there wasn’t much social distancing. We all want to get to the way it was before the pandemic; however, COVID-19 and the new variant BA.5 are here, and we are definitely in a seventh wave.”

Among some of the major upcoming activities are the TD JerkFest, Jamaica Day, Carnival City in Durham Region, and the Grand Parade of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival.

Burt said while he understands “there is a lot of pandemic fatigue’’ in the population, including in Black and other racialized communities, it remains imperative that people practice COVID-19 safety protocols; and also vaccinate against the virus, including its Omicron and BA.5 strains.

The doctor noted that many people, after taking one or two vaccine doses, have not attempted further inoculation. He recommends, at least, a third.

 “The Black community has been severely impacted by COVID. And, just like the rest of the population in Ontario, there’s a lot of reluctance in terms of taking the third dose,’’ Burt admitted Wednesday in a TV interview.

“If you haven’t taken the third dose, you should do that as soon as possible. Because, it is very effective in preventing against severe disease. It’s really important to do this, if you really want to enjoy the festivities that are available,’’ he said. “The third dose does give significant additional protection against severe disease, even against Omicron.’’

BSTF members, said Burt, have decided to “accelerate’’ their messaging to the Black community about the dangers of COVID-19.

They also will be “trying to have individuals from the task force, and also from Toronto Public Health’’, to be at events “to provide information and masks, if possible’’, Burt said.

Lincoln DePradine LJI Reporter