Anniversary of first COVID-19 case in NC marked by calls to help the underserved

Anthony Wilson Image
Wednesday, March 3, 2021
Anniversary of 1st COVID case in NC marked by calls to help underserved
As North Carolina marks one year since it reported its first COVID-19 case, local medical professionals realize the need to reach out to marginalized communities who either mistrus

Wednesday's briefing from UNC Health professionals referenced achievements and challenges for the state posed by coronavirus concerns. They talked about the grim reality faced by hospitals and clinics, with more doses arriving in North Carolina while some people struggle to gain access to the shots.

"Today's the anniversary of the first COVID-19 case diagnosed in North Carolina," said UNC Health CEO Dr. Wesley Burks. "Last week the country passed 500,000 deaths those numbers seem hard to comprehend at times."

They told reporters that statewide, UNC Health affiliated medical professionals vaccinated more than 200,000 people since that initial COVID-19 diagnosis a year ago. Now they want to reach more people in marginalized communities who either mistrust the process or have transportation issues.

"What this pandemic has done is shine a spotlight on inequities," said Dr. Alexa Mienes Malchuck. The assistant professor in UNC's Department of Family Medicine says as someone raised in an underserved area of Queens, New York, she's working to reduce health disparities among ethnic minorities.

Now, with thousands of Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccines arriving in North Carolina Dr. David Weber, Medical Director of UNC Hospitals Departments of Epidemiology said, "UNC has made the absolute commitment that whatever vaccination we get will use, and our only limitation so far has been the amount we receive."

The UNC doctors also commended the hard-working health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic response, some dealing with the same levels of stress as their patients while providing needed care and advice.

They recommend going to for information about making appointments for vaccinations and where the shots are available.

Duke Health partners with community to support low-income families struggling during pandemic

Duke Health's COVID-19 Social Support Program is a resource currently helping low-income and marginalized communities.

The program launched in August with a $3.2 million dollar grant from the state; that funding has grown to $7.4 million. The money is funding the partnership between Duke Health and 15 minority-owned community organizations, led mostly by women of color.

Duke Health says an estimated 30,000 people have been helped across Durham, Wake, Granville, Franklin, Vance, Warren and Nash counties.

Some of the organizations are using the money to pay people's bills, provide them with boxes of food and cooked meals, COVID-19 safety supplies and transportation.

The COVID-19 Social Support program, which launched in August, has helped an estimated 30,000 people across seven counties.

Jermaine Barnes is a driver for Wisdom Care Transportation -- one of the providers transporting people who can't get to a vaccine clinic on their own.

"It's very possible I'm the first person they have seen in weeks, months, maybe since the pandemic started. They've been inside all this year," said Barnes. "I treat them like they're family. I enjoy it."

On Wednesday, Lula Evans got her vaccine shot thanks to the program.

"Very convenient, very convenient," Evans said.

Liliana Marin is the program manager at Duke for the division of community health. She leads the COVID-19 Social Support program.

"We have been able to receive some text messages from the people that we serve. This check just arrived and it was a blessing because we were able to pay our rent and stay home. Or we were able to pay for our electricity bill and my kids were able to attend school. So things like that bring joy," said Marin.

Funding for the program ends March 31.