Community, Healthcare, Latest News

Food, music and COVID mitigation? Saturday gathering in Fairmont to offer all the above

So, how do you host a get-together on COVID awareness — with food, music and perhaps as many as 1,000 attendees expected — without worrying about whether people will contract the virus while there?

Nothing to it, Romelia Hodges said.

You over-articulate the message.

In a good way.

Hodges, a Fairmont woman who serves on the state’s COVID-19 Commission on African-American Disparities, is helping organize just such an event.

The “Fall Soul Festival” will be from 1:30-7 p.m. Saturday at Windmill Park, a leafy, green expanse on the periphery of a Black neighborhood in her hometown.

If you want to go, you have to present with a negative test for COVID, Hodges said.

Better still, you will have needed your first vaccine shot for the contagion.

A second shot is even better than that.

And a third-shot booster? Well, that would make her even more ecstatic, she said.

If you haven’t already, you can receive any or all of the above at the gates to the park Saturday.

“Yes, we’ll have the rapid-test kits and the vaccine tables set up,” Hodges said. “We’re hoping it will be a good event. We’re going to make it easy.”

She’s thanking the Marion County Health Department in advance for that.

Medical professionals from the department will administer the testing and dosages.

And the event, with its live music, food vendors and more, is being managed under guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now comes the pandemic

In the middle of March back in 2020, no one in West Virginia knew quite what to make of COVID, much less manage it.

Hodges, a motivational speaker and former television journalist, was boots-on-the-ground in the coronavirus fight before she even knew it.

“Yes, I got COVID-19,” she said, “and I didn’t know that, either.”

Her three children were also infected, along with her husband, who nearly died from the virus.

“All at once,” she said.

That “all at once,” she said, rocketed March 15, 2020, after a service and anniversary gathering at a small Black church just over the Marion County line in Monongalia County.

As many as seven congregations of neighboring Black churches poured into the doors of Friendship Baptist in the unincorporated community of Everettville that Sunday.

State health officials in Charleston, all the while, were assessing the threat of COVID-19.

Later that afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement advising against gatherings of 50 or more.

A day later, Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency.

On Wednesday, nearly two years into the pandemic and with 4,238 West Virginians dead from the virus, the governor was still pleading for people to simply roll up their sleeves for the vaccine.

“The more of us that get vaccinated,” he said, “the less that will die.”

‘I can get chills just thinking about it’

That’s the point of Saturday’s gathering, Hodges said, and it’s also the mission of the Dunbar School STOP Foundation, which she helped found earlier this year.

“STOP stands for, ‘Stop the Pandemic,’ ” she said.

That means testing, vaccines and all the protocols, she said.

“Our numbers are higher than ever,” Hodges said.

The foundation is housed at Dunbar, the city’s former all-black school on Cleveland Avenue, whose graduates include Tuskegee Airman George Roberts and Johnnie Johnson, the boogie-woogie piano player and longtime Chuck Berry collaborator who earned a spot in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

These days, the Dunbar cafeteria is home to the foundation’s Wellness Clinic, which went into business in August.

Hodges likes the symbolism, she said. In the days before Brown vs. the Board, Dunbar was a beacon for students and families from a then-disenfranchised community.

Now, it’s again serving a community especially vulnerable to a virus that can kill.

“It all comes back around,” she said. “I can get chills just thinking about it.”

TWEET @DominionPostWV