Sunday, July 21, 2024

First Latina surgeon general urges people to wear masks and get COVID-19 vaccine

Dr. Antonia Novello, the first Latina  to serve as U.S. surgeon general, is spending her birthday administering COVID-19 vaccines at a health center in San Juan, Puerto Rico as well as urging more Latinos to get vaccinated and wear masks.

She was surgeon general under President George H.W. Bush and now she divides her time between her native Puerto Rico and Orlando, Florida, where she’s based. In Florida, masks have become a hot issue, as the new school year begins.

At least seven school districts have defied Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ requirement to allow parents to opt out of having their children wear masks. Last week, the state gave two districts, Broward and Alachua, 48 hours to comply with DeSantis’ order or face the withholding of funds equivalent to the salaries of the superintendent and school board members.

Orlando’s mayor asked residents to stop watering their lawns and washing their cars, saying water usage needed to be cut back because the city’s liquid oxygen supply used for water treatment had to be diverted to hospitals for COVID patients. Dozens of doctors from Palm Beach County staged a walkout to encourage the community to get vaccinated and explained the exhaustion they feel as they continue treating unvaccinated patients.

“It’s very difficult to know why they don’t want to get the vaccine; the science is there. This is especially concerning since there are countries that don’t have the same access to vaccines that the U.S. has.” said Dr. Nestor Galvez, a neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida.

Novello believes that in addition to vaccines, the only way to eliminate the virus is by wearing masks and practicing social distancing as well as proper hygiene. “I always say if you are in a close containment, wear your mask. … At this stage of the game, the mask and the distancing are your salvation,” she  said. She said it’s important to have localized education campaigns to remove fear and vaccine hesitancy, especially among Latinos and other communities that could be facing obstacles, including language barriers.

“At this moment, people have to make a decision and decide what’s more important: what governments say as they downplay the importance of masks or the salvation of your life and your child. You can obey the government, or you can obey your own common sense, because the livelihood of your family is at risk,” said Novello.