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With Omicron cases on the rise this holiday season, state & local officials must step up

By Jordan Wilson

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is on the rise, and for Gary residents, the next phase of the pandemic could be the most perilous yet. According to health officials, the Omicron variant has spread 70 times quicker than any other virus strain. Despite the federal push for infection prevention, Black Americans have been disproportionately impacted by the virus and disenfranchised from rapid testing and vaccines. This reality has created a perfect recipe for a historic surge of COVID-19 infections and deaths throughout Gary unless our state and local officials step in to aggressively ensure preventive measures.  

For the last nine months, federal progress in curbing the COVID-19 pandemic seemed promising. The national infection rate decreased as the Biden administration enabled vaccines and urged mask mandates across the U.S. With vaccination requirements, cities like Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. re-opened their economies, with scaled-back restrictions. Locally, in-person events and gatherings resumed, promising a lucrative holiday season for restaurateurs and party facilities. 

Sadly, the Omicron variant has interrupted any foreseeable plans to return to normalcy. Omicron-related infections have now occurred in every U.S. state and are expected to increase as Americans gather throughout the holidays. In an attempt to restore confidence in the White House’s ability to manage the recent surge in Omicron-related cases, President Biden insisted that testing shortages were not a failure on his behalf and that Americans should expect at least 500 million mailed to them over the coming weeks. Unfortunately, increased testing alone will not improve infection rates among Black Americans because we are vulnerable to the virus on almost every preventative front.

 Ensuring that Black Americans do not experience peril at the hands of the variant requires state and local intervention. First, our Mayor, Jerome Prince, and local Health Commissioner, Ronald Walker, must scale and better publicize the city’s COVID-19 testing strategy. Some Gary residents are hard-pressed, on any given day, to find free PCR rapid-tests (which can detect even the smallest sample of the virus). This is especially troublesome for students and Gary residents who do not have the luxury of working from home. An innovative testing strategy involves the dissemination of regular testing schedules, continued partnerships with health alliances, clergy, and private entities, and investments in mailing at-home tests to Gary residents. 

Second, our Governor must get serious about enacting mask mandates. Masking should not be a political issue, as research has proven that masks reduce the probability of infection per contact with COVID-19. With so many Gary residents working, attending school, and patronizing businesses outside of the city, an Indiana-wide mask mandate would enforce protections against the spread of the virus irrespective of where we travel throughout the state. 

Lastly, our state and local officials must work together to push back on vaccine inequity and increase the availability of vaccines to Gary residents. Vaccines and booster shots are currently the greatest defense against COVID-19. Without an equity-focused approach to making them widely available to Gary residents, our Mayor and Governor are setting us up to fail. 

The Omicron variant makes a ground-level, preventative approach to stopping the spread of COVID-19 imperative. By failing to step up, our leaders leave an impossible task to the White House by asking them to curtail the rapid spread of COVID, based on each city’s individual needs. Today Gary’s Black residents face higher rates of COVID-related deaths than any other race within the state, and we are twice as likely as any other race to contract the virus. Omicron only worsens these odds. Our state and elected leaders must act now. 

Jordan Wilson is the Co-Founder of Politicking. Through Politicking, she aims to promote voting and political engagement among young Americans by providing a mobile platform for non-partisan election news and data. She is currently pursuing her J.D. at Boston College Law School, where she serves as a Fellow with the Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy. Jordan holds a B.A. in Political Science from Howard University.

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