By Darryl Sellers
There’s rarely a day that goes by when we don’t hear or read about how the pandemic has adversely affected the lives of Black Americans, leading them on unexpected twist and turns. This is especially true for Latresa Rice, who shared a poignant testimonial of her experience with COVID-19 with attendees during the November 2021 Stay Well vaccine event in Detroit.
But her story didn’t start or end in November. Rice, a Detroit native, recently shared an update of what is now her three-episode COVID saga that started with an auspicious meeting of Albert Barber on social media in 2018, the man who would be her future husband.
“My husband actually inbox messaged me on Facebook Messenger,” Rice said. “We didn’t know each other. We had one mutual friend in common. A mutual friend, who I didn’t personally know.”
Latresa and Albert were married in October of 2019. That was just five months before Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the statewide closure of schools and offices in mid-March to try and slow the spread of COVID. It was during this time when the newlyweds’ world started to turn upside down.
“Two days before the governor closed down the state of Michigan, [my husband] got a haircut,” Rice said. “After that, he wasn’t feeling too good and I didn’t find out that he wasn’t feeling too good until afterwards. That Monday, I wasn’t feeling good.”
During that time, Barber had developed severe symptoms that were very challenging, including having trouble breathing, a fever, significant weight loss, body aches, and loss of appetite. Rice also had several symptoms, including a fever and some difficulty breathing. She was also tasked with taking care of her husband, whose conditions were more severe.
Rice was very concerned, and the next day she called a local hospital to find out if she and her husband could come in and get tested for COVID. She explained Barber’s symptoms to a nurse, who told Rice they weren’t severe enough to get tested. Rice said the hospital was very selective about who got tested during the early days of COVID.
Rice wanted her husband to go to the hospital, but Barber wanted to wait to see if his body would fight off the symptoms. The nurse suggested several things Rice and her husband could do to mitigate the virus, including taking Vitamin D3 and doing steam treatments with lemon water. But this didn’t help them feel any better.
Rice said soon after that, Barber was admitted to the hospital. Meanwhile, adding to Barber’s serious health challenges, the hospital didn’t have any available beds after he was diagnosed with the virus.
“So, they had to transport him to a different hospital where they had a bed available,” Rice said. “The hospitals were stacked.”
Sadly, Barber’s condition continued to worsen, and he died on April 2, 2020, after a three-week bout with Covid.
Rice said she wasn’t aware that she had the virus until later in the year. That’s when she found out that she had developed antibodies.
She eventually got vaccinated in April 2021. Despite dealing with her husband’s death, Rice said she still had concerns about the vaccines.
“If you look at historically with the medical field and African Americans, it’s not a good picture,” Rice said. “I felt it was this new thing coming out and they didn’t take the time to test it,” she added. “And I didn’t want to be anybody’s test dummy. That’s how I felt about it. It wasn’t until I did more research on my own that I felt more comfort with getting the vaccine.”
Rice said she has severe allergies, so she looked at research from various credible resources to gain confidence in the vaccines. Additionally, she had a strong desire to safely gather with family members again and there was a vaccine mandate for her job as the Director of Student Support with the University of Michigan – Dearborn.
Fast-forward to this January 2022, Rice had a second bout with COVID. Fortunately, she was fully vaccinated. Because of this, her second episode with the virus lasted only three weeks compared to the 90 days Rice weathered through the first time around.
“I had infections in both ears, the body aches, the chills,” Rice said. “I didn’t lose my sense of taste or smell. It was still pretty bad. But it didn’t last as long as the first time without being vaccinated.”
Rice’s second experience with COVID is a prime example of the importance of getting vaccinated, even during this time when there are fewer cases. According to recent data, Black Americans are almost two times more likely to die from COVID than our white counterparts.
However, there is some good news. The recent data also shows that Black Americans are among those who have had larger increases in vaccination rates since the end of January. So, it’s very important for people in our Black communities to keep the momentum going, have a laser focus on fighting COVID, and get vaccinated and boosted, as well as follow the safety precautions we know are effective – wearing masks in public spaces and social distancing.
The number of Black residents who have gotten boosted in Michigan are still lagging. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that only 45% of fully vaccinated Black Michiganders have received a booster. Rice said she’ll be getting boosted soon, which is also mandatory for her job. She’s thankful for the contributions Black women have made during the pandemic, including Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, immunologist, who at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) helped to develop the Moderna vaccine. This is one of many reasons to celebrate Women’s History Month.
“I think it is amazing. For the little girl it shows her she’s not stuck in one area in life,” Rice said. There are multiple routes that she can take and be okay with prospering. I love the fact that we have representation. I love it! I fully support it! It’s inspiring!”
Rice has a very inspiring story as well. Through the passing of her husband from COVID and surviving two rounds of COVID herself, there’s a paramount reason that any sadness linked to her pandemic memories has gradually faded.
“The key to my strength is my faith in God. He is the one who is always present even when you’re in transition.”
For more information and content from the Cobb Institute-We Can Do This/Stay Well Community Health Fair and Vaccine events, please visit: Stay Well events.
For more information about the Cobb Institute, please visit: W. Montague Cobb Institute.
It’s recommended that all eligible adults get a COVID-19 booster shot. For more information about booster shots, please visit: CDC – Booster shots.
To find a vaccine site, visit vaccines.gov, text your ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find locations near you.
For resources and toolkits to help you build vaccine confidence in your community, visit the We Can Do This website.
Darryl Sellers is the Director of the Public Relations Team for Creative Marketing Resources, a strategic marketing agency in Milwaukee and a partner of the Cobb Institute.