Latresa Rice, a Detroit native is just one of the many Black Americans affected by COVID. (Courtesy Photo)

By Darryl Sellers,
Special to the AFRO

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 twists and turns. This is especially true for Latresa Rice, who is on a mission to share her poignant testimonial of battling COVID-19– twice.

Rice, a Detroit native, recently shared an update of what is now her three-episode COVID saga. It 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 2019. That was just five months before Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the statewide closure of schools and offices in mid-March, attempting to slow the spread of the coronavirus. It was during this time that 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 afterward. 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 ache and loss of appetite. Rice also had several symptoms, including fever and some difficulty breathing. She was also tasked with taking care of her new 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. 

Latresa Rice and her husband, Albert Barber, on their wedding day in October 2019. (Courtesy Photo)

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.”

Rice did all she could to help her husband during his three-week bout with COVID-19. 

Albert Barber died on April 2, 2020.

The newlywed was devastated. Her husband had passed and the pandemic forged ahead claiming more than 900,000 more lives in the past two years.

When vaccines became available, Rice considered her options. Despite dealing with her husband’s death from COVID-19, Rice said she still had concerns about the vaccines. Eventually, she got vaccinated in April 2021.

“If you look historically [at] 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 comfortable 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, Rice was fully vaccinated. Because of this, her second episode with the virus lasted only three weeks compared to the 90 days she weathered during her first round of COVID-19. 

“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. 

Latresa Rice, a Detroit native, shown here with her late husband, Albert Barber of Columbia, SC, is just one of the many Black Americans coping with a COVID-19 loss. (Courtesy Photo)

However, there is some good news. The recent data also show 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. 

Rice said she’s thankful for the contributions Black women have made during the pandemic, including Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, immunologist, who helped to develop the Moderna vaccine at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 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-19 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,” she said.

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. 

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