‘COVID is real:‘ Black community leaders ask residents to ‘mask up'

Orange County reports more than 500 new cases Wednesday

ORLANDO, Fla. – Health experts and Central Florida leaders agree it’s time to “mask up” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the disease that continues to cause havoc across Florida and around the world.

Onyx Magazine, Orlando District 5 Commissioner Regina Hill, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, along with other community leaders, held a news conference Wednesday to plead with the Black and Hispanic communities to wear a mask to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.

Face covers prevent droplets that carry the virus from spreading from your nose and mouth to others.

All of the community members made impassioned pleas for everyone to wear a face covering as Orange County now has nearly 11,000 COVID-19 cases since March, 550 new cases of which were reported Tuesday.

Demings said Orange County continues to see a surge in new cases and the pandemic has “adversely impacted communities of color all across America, and this community is no different.”

Onyx Magazine Publisher Rich Black said the idea for the education campaign came from an encounter he had while at a restaurant in Orlando when dine-in eating was prohibited due to COVID-19. A patron said he thought he should be able to eat at the establishment because, “Regina Hill hadn’t said nothing about it.”

Black said he believes the problem was information about COVID-19 was “not being given to the African American community by people they trust.”

Onyx Magazine, Orlando Health and communities leaders launched a campaign on June 1, 2020 to encourage everyone to wear a mask and prevent the spread of COVID-19. (WKMG 2020)

Hill, a former nurse, explained hearing about Black’s experience with a resident in her community was a wake-up call. She purchased 5,000 masks and began a messaging campaign in west Orlando to tell people “masks save lives.”

“If we don’t mask up, then we continue this pandemic, we continue to infect those that we love,” Hill said. “The very life that you save might be your mamma’s.”

The commissioner said COVID-19 has also exposed health and wealth disparities in the Black community and now is the time to find resources to invest in Black health.

“COVID is real, COVID is not just real but (it) kills,” Hill warned.

Nineteen billboards will be put up next week around predominantly African American communities in Orlando, including the West Lakes and Pine Hills neighborhoods.

Demario Fountain is part of Parramore Kidz Zone and featured on the billboards.

“When the community see us reach out and see we’re taking it seriously, the community will also take it seriously also,” Fountain said.

Black said Onyx would like to expand this effort to Jacksonville and the Miami area as well. The magazine also wants to partner with other businesses throughout the state to spread the message

“There is a big movement right now from corporations, saying, ‘How can I help?’ You can help us by telling people to mask up,” Black said.

Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties have all enacted mask ordinances that require face coverings while people are in public. While Orange and Osceola mandates are ongoing, Seminole County’s began Wednesday.

All of the leaders present reinforced the fact that wearing a mask will help everyone stay safe.

Paula Hoisington, chairwoman for Central Florida Urban league, said everyone knows someone impacted by the virus. She said her aunt had tested positive Monday and by Wednesday was on a ventilator.

“We stand here together speaking to our black and brown community, with people that look like us, please mask up,” Hoisington said. “Each one reach one, each one teach one, the importance of masking up.”

Check back for updates on this developing story.