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February 4, 2022 29 mins

Ryan Gorman hosts an iHeartRadio nationwide special featuring Katie Wilkes, a national spokesperson for the American Red Cross. Katie discusses the American Red Cross's work responding to disasters across the country, along with the blood donation crisis we're currently facing. Dr. Rachel Villanueva from the National Medical Association also joined the show to talk about the pandemic's impact on Black communities in the U.S. 

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Welcome to I Heart Radio Communities, a public affair special
focusing on the biggest issues impacting you this week. Here's
Ryan Gorman. Thanks for joining us here on I Heard
Radio Communities. I'm Ryan Gorman, and we have some important
conversations lined up for you. In a moment, I'll talk
to a national spokesperson for the American Red Cross about
the blood donation crisis we're currently facing. Plus I'll check

(00:23):
in with Dr Rachel Villanueva from the National Medical Association
about COVID nineteen, the omicron variant, the vaccines, and the
impact the pandemic has had on black communities across the country.
Right now, to get things started, I'm joined by Katie Wilkes,
and national spokesperson for the American Red Cross, which of
course you could find online at red Cross dot org. Katie,

(00:45):
thanks so much for coming on the show, and let's
begin with a brief overview of the main mission of
the American Red Cross. Sure well, thanks for having me, Ryan.
It's a pleasure to be on the show, and I
am privileged to be in a position where I have
so much of the first in experience to say that
the American Red Cross truly does prevent and alleviate human

(01:05):
suffering in the face of emergencies, and we do this
through the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.
Something I really think stays with me and is really
important for our mission and how we reach it is
that of our workforce is volunteers. That is incredible. It's

(01:26):
how I started. It's how we can help people in
disasters that happen around the clock. As we are still
seeing its winter storms of people really need support with.
We also help supply about forty of the nation's blood.
We also teach skills that helps save lives even when
it comes to lifeguarding, babysitting, CPR, first aid, all of that,

(01:50):
and on top of that, what we see often in
the news when it comes to blood or domestic disasters
is that we also help around the globe. We are
are their positioned at a moment's notice to help with
international humanitarian aid, whether that is a large scale disaster
or a crisis like we saw what the Afghanistan refugees

(02:11):
earlier last year. We are positioned in the space where,
because of the generosity of volunteers and donors, we could
vocalize truly at a moment's notice and be ready to
go in all of these areas with the American Cross.
Let's talk about some of the issues that you've responded to,
and I'll start with a couple of hurricanes that you
were involved in, Hurricane Dorian, Hurricane Harvey, and Hurricane Sandy.

(02:34):
Tell us about your work on the ground and what
you saw the American Red Cross do in those situations. Sure, so,
I started as a Cross volunteer. UM. I currently live
in Chicago, and I was captured by the work that
we do, actually starting every day in our own neighborhoods.
In terms of home fires. UM, we see home buyers

(02:55):
three or four times a day in cities like Chicago
and really around the nation. And as I got trained
and got to know the type of response that we
support to families who are truly experiencing the worst days
of their lives. Even if it doesn't make the headlines
like one of those hurricanes that you just mentioned, it
is something that will stick with them probably forever as

(03:17):
long as they are alive. They are going to remember
who was there as a shoulder to lean on, who
was there to support things like a place to sleep
that night, where they don't know where they might go.
And all of that we see also on a large
scale when it comes to things like tornadoes and the
hurricanes that I have responded to most of the time,

(03:37):
also as a volunteer early in my Red Crops career.
So we've got folks who are specialized in lots of
ways to help on the ground. We've got people who
are ready to set up shelters, We've got people who
are ready to partner with organizations to help feed people
three meals a day, snacks, to make sure that they've
got healthcare that you know, even if you know you

(04:01):
turn your life upside down because of something of a disaster,
whether it's home fire or hurricane, you might need things
like prescription replacements. You might need your eyeglasses replaced. So
I have had the privilege of being this up close
for more than a decade. UM. I will say that
Hurricane Dorian was certainly one of the most unique responses

(04:25):
that I had been a part of. I spent um
several months down on the ground in the Bahamas um
in what disaster really did reach a lot of the
US media. The destruction was so widespread, it was so notable. UM,
but One of the privileges that I really love about

(04:46):
my role is that as a storyteller, I bring things
to the surface to help people understand that recovering relief
is still needed even after those news cameras leave. So
I can't tell you probably met hundreds of people so
that I talked to and um interviewed and and really
understood what it was like for them on months three, four,

(05:09):
even months five into six, where nobody hears about this
in the breaking news cycle. Yet they still need someone
there to make sure that they've got those basic needs
that the Red Cross certainly helps bridge um and even
refer them to partner organizations for the long call. UM. Certainly,
Hurricane Harvey was another disaster that I was there um

(05:32):
the week after it hit in Houston, And with that hurricane,
it was almost a one to punch. A lot of
us thought that the hurricane had done the damage, and
then it came circling back again. UM and really one
of the one of the areas that the Red Cross
supports that I am continually so grateful for his emotional support.

(05:54):
We have trained folks on the ground and even remotely
ready to hop on the phone or in person with
somebody with those mental health needs, because something like this,
even in areas of the of the nation in the
world that get hit repeatedly, UM, with disasters, this can
be something that really is quite traumatic. UM. So we

(06:17):
have got those folks also ready and and they're to
support um for like I said, even if it's a
home fire or a large scale disaster like a tornado
or a hurricane. I'm Ryan Gorman, joined by Katie Wilkes.
She is a Red Cross spokesperson and storyteller who has
responded to both national and international humanitarian crisis. You can

(06:38):
of course find out more and offer your support at
red Cross dot org. Again, the website is red Cross
dot Org. Katie, you also served as the Global Red
Cross and Red Crescent communications lead for COVID nineteen based
out of Switzerland. Tell us about the work that you've
done during the course of this pandemic. This is a

(07:00):
time where I think a lot of us, Um, we
see what happens in our community and we see this
ricocheting on a global scale that is still hard to process.
We are going into years three of a pandemic UM
that we have never seen before in our lifetime. So

(07:20):
UM again on the international side. As the American Red Cross,
we often have so specialized in certain areas like communications
and media myself, that we could offer up to help
on a global scale. So I love they set up
to me the Switzerland for about a year helping so
many of our national societies around the globe who also

(07:43):
have a Red Cross or a Red Crescent society that
is doing their own work to serve the local leeds
of their community in the capacity of things like the pandemic. UM.
So this made sure that all of us were all
on the same page, that we were talking about what
was going on both in the news but what was
needed on the ground in a way that made sense. UM.

(08:04):
And I truly got to know so many areas of response.
I mean some national societies of the Red Cross really
really on the front line. Many of them were UM
later helping with vaccines and making sure that testing was
available to a lot of people going door to door,
even things like helping people with groceries and medications UM

(08:25):
during quarantine and isolation. So UM, it was an incredible experience. UM.
I still bring much of that back to my work
today with the American across national media teams UM and
it's something I think that you know, even as much
as the work has to be remote, the fact that
I have seen for going on eleven years now, our

(08:47):
work up clost on the ground never leaves me UM.
So certainly we are still dealing with the effects of
the pandemic in ways that we may have not been
able to even predict almost two and a half coming
up on three year years ago. And one of those
is the need for blood. UM. COVID nineteen certainly is
an area that is complicating the need for blood because

(09:10):
every two seconds science someone in the United States needs blood.
And the issue right now is that we don't have
enough blood for everybody to need it, which is a
serious issue. And this isn't just because of COVID nineteen.
This is because of things like the current severe winter weather,
cancelations of blood drives, even the supply chain and staffing

(09:34):
challenges given omicron and what is happening with infection rates growing,
the holidays in there. All of those things have actually
led us to be in currently the nation's lowest blood
inventory in more than a decade. So this is an
issue that we really need everybody to self up and

(09:55):
help with. Whether it is being able to donate blood yourself,
making it a point meant, or volunteering at a blood drive,
or studying the word about why blood is needed. And
this is a crisis, this blood crisis that is widespread.
It's happening in communities all across the country. This is
an isolated to one particular area, that's correct. So as

(10:16):
much as one quarter of hospital blood needs are not
being met right now. I have heard just in the
last day of two different cancer patients who happen to
be teenagers who have not been able to get the
blood treatment they need and are being sent back home.
Can you imagine being a parent of that teenage child

(10:37):
saying almost feeling helpless because what can you do? And
I think a lot of people recognize that blood is
needed for comma patients and car accident victims and things
of that nature in the e er, but you know,
pregnant mothers are at risk. We have cancer patients, folks
who have critical illnesses and diseases that require blood on

(11:00):
a pretty regular basis, but also are not able to
get it right now. Um So as the Red Cross,
having you know, this role of supplying about of the
nation's blood supply, we have to be working around the
clock to meet these needs, and we can't do it alone.
We've got less than a one day supply of critical

(11:21):
blood type in recent weeks, and again we're seeing the
effects of winter weather. More blood dryers are being canceled. Um,
So we're really urging folks to be able to donate
if they can, and not to be discouraged if they're
unable to get an appointment right away, because this certainly
doesn't mean that their donation is not needed. Is that

(11:42):
we this is good. We're seeing folks steps up and
to please keep that donation appointment because it's really really important.
Right now, I'm Ryan Gorman, joined right now by Katie
Wilkes and national spokesperson for the American Red Cross. You
can find out more online and offer your support at
red Cross dot org. No, it seems like we're in
this never ending cycle of disasters that we have to
respond to, from hurricanes to wildfires to more recently severe

(12:07):
winter weather. And because it is winter, let's focus on
that for a moment. When those kinds of storms hit,
What does the American Red Cross do to help and
what are some tips you offer to help keep people safe?
Absolutely One of the ways that we can all be
prepared when it comes to severe winter weather is to

(12:27):
know ahead of time what to do. Uh you mentioned
you know, what is it that is going to strike today?
Is striked in the past. UM. And one of the
things that we can all do is to know ahead
of time what happens if we're, for example, stuck in
our car on the road. I live in Chicago. I
lived here for about fourteen years, and I can remember
several storms where both were stuck on the main highway

(12:51):
and the snow was coming down so fast, and those
shops ended up being stranded in their cars for hours,
sometimes overnight, and at that point you might not have
the connectivity with your cell phone to look up what
to do the whole time. So it's really important to
have things like a kit in your car UM with
all the essentials like a windshield raper, a small broom,

(13:14):
the small sacks of sand for making sure that traction
under your wheels is possible, UM matches in a waterproof container,
really important flashlights. One thing that I actually learned about
UM being in an area that is pretty prone to
be your winter weather is to keep something like a
brightly colored cloth probably read if you've got it. Bandana

(13:37):
is to be even an old you know, shirt or
tie so that when that snow ends up stop falling,
you can tie it to the antenna almost as an
FOLS signal. This makes you visible. UM. It also alerts
folks that you need help if you can't get out
of the car. And that's another thing is that I
think a lot of folks really think that if they're stranded,

(13:57):
they need to get out and find help. UM. This
is actually in misnomer because the best thing you can
do is if you are stranded, is to stay in
the vehicle and wait for help, and not to leave
it to search for assistance unless you see that help
is visible within a hundred yards, because you can actually

(14:19):
become quickly disoriented and confused and blowing snow if you
can believe it. So things like happing you're into your light,
stay on so that you're visible, running the engine occasionally
to keep warm. You know that you might be running
really low on gaps belief, so turning on that engine
for about ten minutes each hour, or even five minutes

(14:42):
every half hour works too. UM helps you keep warm
and also reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning while
at the same time concerning fuel. So make sure that
you are prepared. Um. There's one app that I use
all the time, and I'm not just saying it's because
I'm a Red Crosser. I've actually gotten fit family and
friends and my dad is a big advocates to you,

(15:04):
and that is the Emergency app by the Red Cross.
This thing is incredible. It actually gives you real time
alerts both who where you live and you can also
monitor friends and family that are important to you and
other parts around the country. Um, it's got truly at
your fingertips information in terms of even first aid and CPR,

(15:25):
but also what to do if you're in the path
of a tornado or if the winter storm is coming.
It will go off. I mean I've had sirens from
my phone go off when I didn't even know that
we were under a severe weather warning in Chicago before.
So make sure you download that app, stay tuned to
local weather alerts, make sure that you are prepared, even

(15:45):
with you know, having different layers. UM in the storm,
I think a lot of folks think I'm going to
pick the thickest, heaviest jacket sweat You're actually you're better
off with a lot of fin layers so that you
can easily peel these off and adjust as needed. Katie Wilkes,
a national spokesperson for the American Red Cross. You can

(16:05):
find out more, you can offer your support. You can
get more tips on how to stay safe during this winter,
whether we've been experiencing across the country, or prepare yourselves
properly for hurricane season, wildfires, all of that a red
Cross dot org is the website red Cross dot Org. Katie,
thank you so much for the tremendous work that you've
been doing for the American Rick Cross, and thanks so

(16:27):
much for coming on the show. We appreciate it. Thanks
so much, Ryan, We're happy to be able to be
able to hear her now. All right, and finally, let's
turn to Dr Rachel villan Auava from the National Medical
Association for an update on the pandemic. Dr villan Auava,
thanks so much for joining us. And with this being
Black History Month, I figured let's start with where things
stand when it comes to vaccine access and vaccination rates

(16:49):
in black communities across the country. What can you tell
us about that? Yes, Hi, Ryan, how are you? Yeah,
definitely we've seen an improvement. I think, you know, the
United States is so different that we see there's better
vaccinations in certain states than others, and that's really persisted
throughout through the pandemic. We see worse rates in the thousand,

(17:10):
the Southeast, um some better rates, and some big cities
and U States epic cities and black populations. But fortunately
we've seen a narrowing of the gap and we've seen
more Black individuals getting the vaccine, although we're still underrepresented
in the total kind of picture of who's who's vaccinated,

(17:31):
but it has it has been improving and definitely some
big boost with O macron. I think that pushed people
to get vaccinated, and that leads me right into my
next question, the impact the omicron variant is having on
black communities. It sounds like you're finding O macron is
a motivator for people to get vaccinated and boosted, and

(17:52):
you're not of the mindset that this record number of
cases could potentially be leading to fewer vaccinations. No, I
think I think exactly the opposite. I think people are
looking to get vaccinated because they see that oh Macron
has really spread so wildly and so rapidly um in
trying to protect themselves UM. And then we also see

(18:15):
that people who are vaccinated, even if they contracted O. Macron,
really had a much milder course, right, So they maybe
had a cold for a couple of days of fever,
felt kind of down and then and then we're okay,
you know, a lot fewer hospitalizations, no serious illness, fewer
deaths in that population. So really we we saw with O.

(18:37):
Macron overwhelmingly again that the unvaccinated were the group of
people who had highest rates of disease, highest rates of
hospitalizations and deaths. So I think that was a big
motivator for people to get vaccinated the booster. Now we're
coming out with another battle. Unfortunately, we know the booster.

(18:57):
We need it to get foot that maximal um immunity,
and I think rightly. So it's been two years and
people are tired. They thought just getting to go to
the vaccine was going to be enough that they need
something else. So we've seen a little bit of a
lag in people getting the booster. But but I think
that's turning around as well. Fortunately, COVID cases among Black

(19:20):
Americans are now occurring in about the same rate as
among white Americans, hospitalizations among Blacks are about two and
a half times higher deaths nearly two times higher than
what Americans. What health issues in the black community seemed
to put them at higher risk, especially when we're dealing
with these emerging variants. Right, that's a great question and

(19:43):
a great point to bring out is that we're still
disproportionately suffering from the virus even though we're getting exposed
at or contracting and at the same rate. And so
we know that there are those social determinants of health
where people eat, live, work that put them at increased risks.
So people in our communities tend to have jobs where

(20:07):
they can't work remotely in social distance, so that puts
them at higher risk. The more frontline workers, they tend
to live in multi generational homes where there's more exposure
to people there. Really, all of those things tie into
why we're disproportionately still impacted even though we're contracting at
the same rate. And then we still have those structural

(20:28):
and systemic inequities just in the healthcare system itself, unfortunately
that put up put us at higher risk. Where our
hospitals are, the type of hospitals that are in our neighborhoods,
access to care, UM, even just the mistrust that still
exists in our community of the health care system, just

(20:49):
based on history, all of those things that factored into
why people didn't get vaccinated in the first place, why
people were getting UM. We're sicker with COVID at the
very beginning, are still UM you know, are still impacting
us today as well. I'm Ryan Gorman, joined right now
by Dr Rachel Villan, a Wave of the National Medical Association.

(21:11):
We're talking about the impact of COVID nineteen on black
communities across the country, with February, of course being Black
History Month. When it comes to boosters, you mentioned this
a few moments ago. What are you telling your patients
about them, including who should be boosted and when? So,
anybody that's eligible to get a booster, so that would

(21:35):
be twelve and over should get a booster. There's no
reason not to when you're eligible. Timing live if you
and for those who received the MR and A vaccines,
it would be five months after you've received that, and
if they received that one Dost Johnson and Johnson, it
would be two months after that. Now, what about teenagers,
We've heard that age group in particular really not at

(21:58):
high risk for experience, saying the most severe effects of
COVID nineteen, why should teenagers go out and get vaccinated
and even boosted? Yes, I think I think the one
thing we've learned about COVID nineteen through this pandemic is
that there's nothing that's predictable about it, and even though
there may be somewhat of a trend at one point,

(22:19):
it completely go less and be different at a different point.
And so really to protect everybody and teenagers children, you know,
we want to protect them as much as possible. So
everybody who's eligible to get a booster should get boosted,
even though the trend right now may not be that
they're at higher risk for something in particular, you never
know what could happen, and that that, you know, an

(22:42):
individual maybe at higher risk for medical conditions that they have,
or there may be immune compromise for some reason. So
I think we should just in general, across the board,
whoever is eligible to get boosted to get that maximal
immunity should get it. What are you seeing among black parents,

(23:02):
are they getting their children vaccinated? And what information do
you typically share with parents who were on the fence
about vaccinating their kids. Well, I think the important thing
to realize is that what parents do, their children will do.
So if we have parents that they themselves don't want
to get vaccinated and have lack of confidence in the

(23:25):
vaccine for some reason, then it's going to be very
difficult for us to get their children vaccinated. So it's
really a whole family affair to try to get everyone
to get vaccinated. But I think that the real message,
the take home message for everybody is that vaccines keep
people safe and save lives whatever age that we're talking about,
and so especially for our children, we know that oh

(23:48):
Macron was not was a little more aggressive, and we've
had more children who have been hospitalized and had have
had severe disease than maybe in the very beginning of
the pen amics of some of the earlier variants. So
it is really important to encourage and support parents in
in learning and getting their as in learning about the

(24:10):
vaccines and getting their questions answered and feeling comfortable with
getting their children vaccinated. We know that vaccines have been
what we've used to keep children safe in school. We
have vaccines that are required for children to go to school,
so COVID nineteen vaccine is really just one more tool
in our toolbox to keep children and keep society safe.

(24:33):
I'm Ryan Gorman, joined right now by Dr Rachel Villanueva
of the National Medical Association. We're talking about COVID nineteen
and the COVID nineteen vaccines. Parents are probably looking ahead
those who have children under the age of five and
trying to figure out what they're going to do when
that age group is able to get vaccinated. What advice

(24:55):
do you have for them. I think again, as soon
as those those vaccines become available, and I think I
think it may be by the end of February. I
heard our beginning of March that they get those their
children vaccinated. I think the safety data and profiles are
or have been as good for all of the children

(25:18):
that children as we've been um vaccinating them. And it's
just important to keep our littlest ones as safe as
possible as well. They're not immune to severe disease or
an illness, and even though they may not be at
a higher risk, we don't want we don't want any
child to suffer. So just really encouraging again, encouraging, educating parents,

(25:40):
listening to concerns and just really just trying to make
sure we have a kind of cohesive and very straightforward
messaging as far as the importance of getting everyone in
the family vaccinated to keep everybody safe. How important is
it to continue practicing prevent to the behaviors like work

(26:01):
masks or avoiding crowds are poorly ventilated spaces. Is that
enough for most people to stay safe? Or how much
do the vaccines and the boosters also play a role
in all of that. So your vaccine and your booster
are going to be your first line to being to
getting SAT. That's really that's what everybody really needs to get.
Those other strategies, mitigating strategies are equally important, but vaccines

(26:27):
and boosters that's what's going to save your life. We
still need to know. It's been very difficult because no
one wants to continue to wear a mask, but we
really still need to keep everyone masks, especially especially if
you're indoors for ventilated errors as you just said, around
people that you don't know. And sometimes it's difficult for
us to go somewhere where our families. Maybe we kind

(26:48):
of assume because there are families that they're fine, but
they could be carrying to virus as well. So if
you're indoors with people that are not part of your
kind of normal family, and even if you're in a
in an of space, even just opening up the windows
to get that ventilation is important and can help as well.
But really we want to drive home the methods that

(27:10):
vaccines and boosters save lives. They're safe, they're effective, they're free,
so their most important. But in addition, we want to
keep doing all those other things that we've been doing
as well. Last thing I want to touch on Covidant team.
Vaccination rates are low among pregnant women and even worse
for pregnant Black women. Can you talk about why pregnant women,

(27:32):
especially pregnant Black women, have been hesitant to get vaccinated
and also the benefits of vaccination for those women and
their unborn children. Right, That's it, That's really important. Methods
that we also don't want to make sure everybody knows
is that pregnancy women who are currently pregnant, people who

(27:52):
have just had their babies, or even people thinking of
becoming pregnant, you know, they absolutely should get vaccinated and
boosted if they're if they're eligible to get boosted, because
it does put the pregnancy at higher risk. We know
their adverse outcomes. They're more susceptible to severe illness, to

(28:14):
being needing, meaning to be in the ICU, to need
mechanical ventilation or the tube down the throat. So pregnant
women have have suffered quite a bit at the hands
of omicron is I mean of uh COVID nineteen. So
getting vaccinated is very important and we understand there are
a lot of concerns, I mean, women when they're pregnant

(28:35):
have concerns about taking anything because they don't want to
do anything to to uh UM potentially impact the pregnancy UM.
But we have great data, real world data. We have
data from our clinical trials that the vaccines are safe,
they're effective, they don't negatively impact the pregnancy, there's no

(28:56):
risk of miscarriage, there's no risk of impacting person fertility,
mail or female. So it's really important for us to
make sure those messages are UM. You know, those messages
get out there and not the misinformation that let's caused
people not to want to get vaccinated. Dr Rachel Villanueva

(29:17):
of the National Medical Association with some great information on
COVID nineteen the vaccines and the impact of this pandemic
on black communities across the country. Dr Villanueva, thank you
so much for the time and insight. We really appreciate it.
Thank you all right, and that's going to do it
for this edition of I Heardio Communities. As we wrap
things up, want offer big thanks to all of our

(29:39):
guests and of course to all of you for listening.
I'm your host. Ryan Gorman will be back at the
same time, the same place next weekend. Stay safe,
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