Special Address on the COVID-19 Pandemic
By Alexander B. Cummings, Jr., Founder, Cummings Africa Foundation (CAF)
My fellow Liberians:
It is with a heavy heart that I speak to you today. This morning, our health authorities are reporting 193 new confirmed coronavirus cases. This is 193 more people infected by the virus since yesterday. This is the highest single day reporting of the spread of this deadly virus in our country since the virus was first detected. So far, except for River Gee and Grand Kru Counties, every other county is reporting cases of the spread of the virus. The situation is bad, and getting worse.
Over the past week, I have visited several hospitals in Montserrado, Margibi and Nimba Counties. The doctors, nurses and the people trying to manage the situation have all told me that the situation is bad, and getting worse. Rural communities are at grave risks with lack of supplies and medication as simple as paracetamol. This assessment was very important to ascertain the needs of health centers generally and specifically; as the need of a public hospital could be different from that of a private hospital. Similarly, the needs of hospitals in Monrovia could be different from the needs of a hospital in Bahn Nimba county.
All of us at the Cummings Africa Foundation, including my wife Teresa, who chairs the Foundation, Dr. Wede Brownell, the Country Director, and members of the team, are deeply thankful to our doctors, nurses, and medical support staff all across the country, who continue to do their best, in these times and under very difficult, if not impossible circumstances, to save lives. We pray for their safety, and for the continued safety and protection of their families.
Our thoughts and prayers are also with all of the grieving families who have lost loved ones. We pray that God will comfort each of you and strengthen you through this difficult time for your families, and for our nation. We also offer special prayers for divine healing on all who are sick and infected.
I was out of the country when this wave began with news about people dying and the virus spreading. I immediately returned home, and offered to work with the government, as best as I can, to help see our nation through these painful and difficult times. The President has accepted my offer, and I have sent him a letter thanking him for his acceptance. In the letter, I also informed the President of what I can do, and offered to share with him a number of recommendations at the end of my assessment visits and meetings with people at the frontlines. I hope the government will favorably consider and urgently implement.
Today, however, I want to talk directly to you, my fellow Liberians. Like Ebola, this fight against COVID really belongs to all of us. I know that for too long in our country, either because of our politics, or differences in our tribes, religions or gender, we continue to be divided. We continue to treat each other with suspicion and distrust. To fight this virus, we cannot be divided. Just as we did during Ebola, we must fight together, united as one. This is not only a fight for our doctors and healthcare workers. This is a fight for all of us - teachers, students, market women, activists, community leaders, religious leaders, traditional leaders, business leaders, unions, drivers, securities, motorcyclists, and politicians. This is a fight for the private sector and the public sector. All of us need to get involved. Our country needs all of us to do our part.
This is because, again like Ebola, this deadly virus is not just a threat to some Liberians, nor is it for some other people. What we are facing is a real health risk to all Liberians. None of us will be totally safe from this virus until all of us are actually safe. And so, old or young; ruling party or opposition; Muslims, Christians and people of all faiths; educated or uneducated; across every town and village; in every county; please, my fellow Liberians, I am asking you to get involved. Do your part to protect yourself, and your family. Do your part to protect your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers and your fellow citizens.
Doing your part means wearing a mask to cover your nose and mouth. Not just your mouth but your nose and mouth. I know covering both the nose and mouth makes us feel uncomfortable, but we must do it to save lives.
Doing your part means washing your hands with soap and water plenty times in the day. Doing your part means stop shaking hands and hugging, for now. Doing your part means not being in crowded places or being crowded together. Doing your part means taking a COVID test if you are experiencing symptoms like cold, cough, fever, or body and headaches. Doing your part means taking the vaccine because right now it could make the difference between life and death, if you get infected. To our religious leaders, doing your part means not just praying for the nation but using your platform to educate your congregations and followers on COVID and how to keep safe. All of us have to do our part.
I know that our society is very low on trust. We do not trust each other. Too many Liberians do not trust the government. Some people do not trust the opposition. Plenty of people do not trust the vaccines. And even as people are dying today, some people still do not believe that the virus is real. I understand. I also admit that some of the public actions we have seen can only make one doubtful. But doubting the existence of the virus will not make it disappear. Doubts will not protect you from the virus. No more Liberians need to die for anyone to believe that the virus is real. Too many have died already. Too many families are mourning and grieving already. And if we do not act quickly, I am afraid that many will continue to die.
My people, the Corona virus is real. It is killing people. I have been to the hospitals. I have seen and spoken to those at the frontlines fighting and doing their best to save people’s lives. In Montserrado, the hospitals are full. I am getting stories of people dying in cars because there were really no available beds in the hospitals. People are sitting in chairs in hospital hallways to receive oxygen.
Funeral homes are overcrowded. Some are turning grieving families bearing the dead bodies of loved ones away. Right now, people are being advised not to come to our country as our COVID situation has been elevated from Level 1 to Level 4. In the last 8 days, we have had over 700 confirmed cases. This is no joke. It is real, and it is serious. It is so serious that if we don't act to respond seriously and quickly, we risk locking ourselves out from the rest of the world.
If we lock ourselves out from the rest of the world because of the spread of the COVID virus in our country, our economy, which is already in bad shape, will get worse. Prices of goods and food will go up. The hard times will get harder. People tell me that telling Liberians the truth will scare us. I do not agree. I believe telling us the truth will prepare us. All of us need to be prepared and ready to fight the virus. I have come to tell you what you need to know so that you make the decisions we need to make to save each other’s lives.
I also promise you that if we come together like we did against Ebola - if each of us do our part; if we put our differences aside and fight together; if we mobilize our communities effectively to prevent the spread - just like we defeated Ebola, we will defeat Covid-19. So, I am asking us to put aside our doubts. Take the vaccines when and where available. Remind each other to wash our hands and wear masks over our nose and mouth. Do your part to save your life. Do your part to protect your family. Do your part to spare our country from even more hard times ahead.
Earlier today, I had a meeting with the Minister of Health and her team. I am also hoping to meet with the Director-General of the National Public Health Institute (NPHIL) next week. I thank them for the opportunity to meet with them and the ongoing efforts they are making to help our country respond.
As I said earlier, given all that I have seen and heard, I will be submitting a number of recommendations to the President to help us strengthen the response effort to match the seriousness in the rapid spread of the virus. At this point however, it is important that a serious national public health emergency be immediately declared and more stringent measures be announced and enforced. The rules, when announced, must be uniformly applied to all Liberians and residents in our borders. And importantly, we must act to remove politics from the response effort.
My fellow Liberians, I cannot ask you to do your part, and don't do mine. At the Cummings Africa Foundation, we are doing all we can to do our part. As I speak, the Foundation is moving quickly to purchase, and hurriedly provide to hospitals, much-needed medical supplies like oxygen, drugs, masks, gloves, gowns, oximeters, cleaning supplies and hand-washing buckets. So far, we have provided oxygen for 50 tanks to Catholic Hospital and procured 20 tanks and 20 regulators for CH Rennie hospital to be delivered this weekend. These are immediate needs we decided to address while the procurement of other materials take time. I am pleased to announce that the Foundation is committing US$150,000 which is $25 million Liberian Dollars as our initial contribution to this fight. This doubles the US$75,000 the Cummings Foundation provided during the lockdown last year in food and household materials across the country. The Cummings Foundation will continue to do what we can to help our people during these difficult times, and will assist as best as we can to help the government in its response.
At the Cummings Africa Foundation, our approach is three-fold: First, we are providing support to some public and private hospitals as best as we can. The needs are many, and I know we cannot do it all, or alone. Our hands can only reach so far. But we are trying as best as we can to increase the current capacities of hospitals to respond to the increasing numbers of sick and infected people.
Secondly, we will work with community leaders, civil society organizations, and the media to increase public awareness and messaging especially around prevention. We have already released a jingle, flyers with simple messages and working on a skit for our community radio stations. As these are life-saving messages and public awareness campaigns, I am asking the media, which has been very helpful, to please continue to do their part.
Thirdly, and most importantly, we know the government bears the primary responsibility to lead this fight against the virus. We are however trying to help the government succeed in this effort. And so, working with a broader team of experts, we will regularly update the government on what we are doing, and recommend additional steps, as required, to be taken by the government to seriously fight the virus, stop the spread, and end the infections in the country.
I am getting involved and helping not as a politician, but because:
- Liberia is under serious threat, and as a Liberian, I too am threatened.
2. Unless we all try to do our best for each other, all of us will continue to be at risk, even if we hide ourselves in our homes.
3. Every Liberian life is precious. The avoidable death of one more Liberian is a loss to us all.
4. If I cannot help as best as I can, I lose the moral authority to criticize when I should. I may not be as responsible as the government is to end the spread of the virus, but as a leader, I know our country needs each of us to help all of us.
5. I know what it means to lose a loved one. I have also lost two (2) colleagues to this crisis. The truth is all of us will die one day. But if I can help one family save the life of a father or mother, a brother or sister, an uncle or an aunt, or maybe just a friend, or neighbor - if I can help to turn tears of sorrows to tears of joy - by helping a hospital or clinic improve its response capacity, or by helping a community prevent the spread of this deadly virus; I believe it will make a difference, and that difference will mean the world to me, and to our country.
Finally, my fellow Liberians, over the next few weeks and months, you will be hearing a lot from me, and other people, about this virus and what we need to continue to do to help each other survive, treat the sick and infected, and end the spread across the country. Just like Ebola, we cannot rest until the World Health Organization (WHO) declares our country COVID-free. We can do this. I know we can do this. We are a people blessed with the ability to overcome difficulties. We did it before. We overcame Ebola. We can also overcome COVID.
I will be calling on friends and business partners for help. I will be calling on Liberians in the diaspora to rally around, because we have to give ourselves the best chance to succeed and save each other lives by seriously committing to do our part - to do the things we need to do for ourselves, and for each other. I am sure people will help us, but we have to first help ourselves. This is why I say to all of you, my brothers and sisters - all of you, my fellow Liberians - please, let us ALL do our part. Don’t forget to wear your masks over your mouth and nose at all times, wash your hands plenty, avoid crowded places, go to the hospital when you feel sick, take your COVID test and vaccine. When we all do our part, together we will defeat COVID.
God Bless You, God Bless Your Families and God Bless Liberia