Daytona resident, health official and business owners are urging local Blacks to take the virus seriously.

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories about COVID-19 and its impact on residents in Volusia County, especially those living in Daytona Beach’s historically Black neighborhoods.

Billy Bell of Daytona Beach was diagnosed with COVID-19 in March. “It’s nothing to play with,’’ he said.


In Volusia County, there are 18,364 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 390 deaths.

Blacks make up 2,108 cases (11 percent) with 43 deaths (11 percent) in Volusia. In addition, 162 Blacks have been hospitalized (14 percent).

A 2015 Florida Health report stated that 32114 was the poorest and unhealthiest zip code in Volusia County with high amounts of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, high blood sugar, new HIV/AIDS cases, and other major illnesses.

Health officials say much hasn’t changed, which contributes to COVID-19 risks.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some social determinants of health that place ethnic and racial minorities at increased risk are discrimination, healthcare access and utilization, working in essential positions, education, income and wealth gaps and crowded housing conditions,” said Holly Smith, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County.

Education, testing

Revised CDC data now shows that Blacks and Hispanics are dying at a rate of almost three times that of White Americans.

The CDC recently noted that Blacks and Hispanics in the U.S. were dying at a rate of about one and two times higher than Whites, respectively.

Smith said there are ongoing efforts to promote education and testing locally to the minority population.

“We have done and will do community testing centers to protect our most vulnerable locations. We’ve done two testing centers in Midtown with the city. The health department has distributed face coverings in these areas. We are also teaming up with local governments and organizations providing information,’’ Smith said.

A resident’s journey

Billy Bell, 72, is a Daytona Beach native living in the 32114 zip code; he was diagnosed with the coronavirus back in March.

“I don’t remember much about it. I was in a coma and intensive care much of the time. I wasn’t even in my right mind,’’ he told the Daytona Times this month.

Bell said his symptoms started with him being lethargic and having shortness of breath in early March. He didn’t get tested until later after family and friends urged him to go to the hospital.

His friend, D’Mtri Burke, recalled, “He was exposed to the virus and was informed that a relative had it. He had symptoms except for high fever. He went to the Veterans Affairs (VA) clinic, but they wouldn’t test him since he didn’t have a fever. At the time, they didn’t associate fever with it.”

“He ended up going into the hospital. He had pneumonia. His condition got worst. He was induced into a coma. Due to his size and anxiety, the medical staff felt he would be easier to treat that way,’’ Burke noted.

“From the time he first contracted it to getting tested to getting out of the hospital ran from about early March to May 4.’’

Lost a brother

Bell was fortunate to recover but his brother, Richard “B.B.” Bell died from the coronavirus and other health issues in April.

At one time, the brothers occupied the same hospital room, but Bell didn’t know it.

“You really don’t have any feelings. Your emotions are at an all-time low. It’s like starting life over again. When they told me about my brother, it was a dead feeling. It really didn’t start hitting me until later. It was tough for me and my entire family,” expressed Bell.

Bell had to go through physical, occupational and speech therapy.

Even though the virus is gone, side effects remain.

Bell explained, “I don’t think it ever goes away. I still don’t feel the same as I did before the virus. I wasn’t supposed to live. I’ll never be the same person I was before. There are days I don’t feel right.”

Having experienced the virus, Bell is advising others to take it seriously.“Take it very seriously.

It’s nothing to play with. Get tested if you got symptoms. Wear masks in public and avoid large crowds. If you have anyone dealing with it, just stick with them, love them, pray for them, do what you can and be there for them,’’ he added.

Pastor Derrick Harris stands in front of his Daytona Beach barbershop.

Toll on businesses

The 32114 zip code is home to some popular attractions and businesses in Daytona Beach.

Bethune-Cookman University, Daytona State College, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Turie T. Small Elementary, Campbell Middle, Mainland High, Bethune Grill, Steak N Shake, Krispy Cream Doughnuts, Crab Stop II, Pine Haven, Garden Apartments, Dickerson Center, Midtown Educational & Cultural Center, Howard Thurman’s Home and the Dickerson Library are all located in the area.

Local Black-owned businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Soul Foods Café, at 456 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., used to be filled during lunch time.

“The coronavirus has definitely hit local businesses, even Black-owned. Many are hurting. Some have shut their doors for good,’’ said Cynthia Johnson, who owns the restaurant.

Despite Governor Ron DeSantis easing restrictions and allowing restaurants to operate at full capacity, Soul Foods remains takeout only.

Johnson emphasized, “I could do dine-in, but I don’t think it is safe. I just don’t trust it. I don’t want to get sick or hospitalized. Most people got the virus from dinning out or attending parties and get togethers. I’ll continue takeout, which is safer.”

‘Learned to adapt’

Pastor Derrick Harris owns Cut Master’s Hair Care Center at 918 Orange Ave.

“The pandemic has given us an imagination to work, which has actually been a blessing. It’s still challenging. We have to social distance and take precautions. People lost their jobs. People lost their lives,’’ Harris stated.

“People don’t get haircuts when they are not working. I get a lot of senior citizens. We have maintained because of our history with our customers.’’

Harris is also pastor of Master’s Domain Church of God in Christ at 511 Freemont St.

“There was a lot of panic and uncertainty at the beginning, but we as Black people have always known how to make do. I’ve seen people be resilient,’’ he said.

“We have learned how to suffer peacefully, which is sad, But a lot of what our counterparts are going through now, we are used to it. We have learned to adapt, which is what we have always done.”

Church online

COVID-19 has made churches adapt. Worship services are now streamed online on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Donations are also taken online.

“We now have outdoor service, including drive up. Neighbors sit on their porches and listen. It rained one Sunday but people still came out. We’ve had to come out of our walls and comfort zones,’’ Harris explained.

“We’re reaching more people. People are listening and donating online from other states. We had to reach out to the young folks. Pastors in their 70s and 80s are now on social media. We will never go back to normal.”

Note: Do you have COVID-19 story you’d like to share that might help others? If so, contact the Daytona Times at news@daytonatimes.




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