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LIVESTREAM REPLAY: CDC’s Chief Health Equity Officer Talks New Virus Variant, Safety with the Black Press

Coronavirus Pandemic

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is monitoring a new strand of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom.

The agency is in constant communication with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Dr. Jeffrey E. Hall, the CDC’s COVID-19 Chief Health Equity Officer, said during a live interview with the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

Dr. Hall noted that the CDC and state and local health departments are continually monitoring and studying the virus spreading in the United States to detect any changes quickly.

“We just put up a website about the new variant, and it lays out the full story,” Dr. Hall remarked.

“One thing to note about the conversation about mutation, everyone tends to be frightened by that … those things tend to plant these concepts of what happens in nature that could lead to negative outcomes, but this is a situation when it comes to virality, that science, mutation is part of what is expected where that process is concerned. Because of the profile of COVID-19, people are understandably concerned. But our agency is watching this intently.”

The interview with Dr. Hall primarily centered on the CDC’s tips for celebrating virtually with loved ones and offering guidance to those who choose to enjoy the holidays with friends and family outside of their homes.

After many ignored warnings and skirted guidelines for holiday travel and gathering during the Thanksgiving holiday, the coronavirus cases rose dramatically across the country. The CDC is hoping to avoid the same occurrence during Christmas and New Year’s.

“We understand that, naturally and socially, everyone wants to be around their loved ones,” Dr. Hall said. “But the one thing we do advise if at all possible, to celebrate the holidays at home with people that you live with. “We are still in a very critical stage, and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and the ones you love.”

The CDC also implores everyone to wear masks and be socially distant to help create the safest conditions.

“If travel does happen, do so in a way that’s safe,” Dr. Hall maintained.

“Use mitigation strategies at your destination, including the consistent use of masks, the consistent use of hygienic approaches like regularly washing your hands, and social distancing. Get testing if possible. We know that people will make their own choices, but we hope they will make choices to keep others safe.”

Dr. Hall, who holds degrees in epidemiology, general sociology, and psychology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, previously served as a Lead Behavioral Scientist in the Surveillance Branch of the Division of Violence Prevention of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

His professional interests include developmental epidemiology and social psychology applications within violence prevention, structural and environmental methods for reducing violence-related health disparities, and community-based models for violence surveillance, research, and prevention.

A medical sociologist by training, Dr. Hall’s work has focused on topics across the life span, including infant homicide, youth, young adult violence, and elder abuse.

As an African American, Dr. Hall said he understands the Black community’s hesitation about the new vaccines approved to fight the virus.

“To be able to heal and progress and really approach this opportunity from an informed position, we have to take into account all the things that might influence people,” Dr. Hall surmised.

“We can’t dismiss the importance of the Tuskegee Experiment, the Cincinnati Radiation Experiment, and we know the Henrietta Lacks story.”

Each of those medical experiments went awry.

In Lacks’ case, doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore gave Lacks’ cancerous cell samples to a researcher without her knowledge or consent.

Lacks’ cells turned out to have an extraordinary capacity to survive and reproduce.

Today, work done with what is now referred to as HeLa cells have been involved in critical discoveries in many fields, including cancer and infectious disease. One of their most recent applications has been in research for COVID-19 vaccines.

Lacks’ family has never been compensated and are barely recognized for her immense contribution.

“These stories often pop up as African Americans,” Dr. Hall said. “When new social injustices arrive, it can call our faith into question. But, for us to potentially benefit from opportunities for health, we have to lay it all out on the table and talk it through and look at what’s represented in opportunities like flu vaccination, COVID opportunities, and preventive services.”