Tackling COVID-19 in Mobile, one step at a time

Sep 3, 2020

Alabama Public Radio has been focusing on issues regarding the coronavirus outbreak in our state. One concern is how Black Americans in the State are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that Black and Hispanic children are also more likely to be hospitalized for the virus than white children. Health care providers say some of these concerns focus on economic inequality that leads to health problems among Black Americans. Some Mobile residents are responding with exercise.

As the Coronavirus spread through Mobile, the MobPacers began walking through downtown and midtown to take better care of their health. As word spread, more people joined and started seeing results.

“We are doing the same route as yesterday. About six Miles. Charleston to Government to Old Shell. Are we good? Let's hit it,” says Carl Cunningham, Jr.

The MOBpacers exercise group in Mobile.
Credit APR's Lynn Oldshue

He’s kicking off another seven-mile walk with the group he started with friend Nicole Edwards. She had just lost her mom to renal disease and Carl's father was recovering from a stroke. Both wanted to act now so the same things wouldn't happen to them.

“This was birthed completely out of Coronavirus because just being isolated in the house, neither one of us don't function well like that,” she said. “And we both went out and were lucky to get a bike because the bikes were scarce. Carl bought a bike. Then I bought a bike and that's how we initially started talking. We ended up walking and it just became our afternoon thing.”

There appears to more than physical fitness at stake. Alabama health care providers documented how African Americans were more likely to have serious reactions if the catch COVID-19. An April report from the Alabama Department of Public Health said Blacks made up almost forty percent of coronavirus cases in the state, and close to half of COVID deaths. The afternoon walks of five to seven miles with Carl became Nicole's way of dealing with the grief and loneliness of losing her mother during the quarantine. Their parent's health problems inspired both to use diet and exercise to prevent history from repeating in their own lives.

The MOBpacers
Credit APR's Lynn Oldshue

“My mom got diagnosed with diabetes in her late thirties,” Nicole recalls. “That's one thing in the black community is things like people don't take hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol, serious. That's just what you get and you deal with it or you die from it or whatever. I remember my mom not managing it, which again, developed into other problems. The past 20 years I watched her health decline. She turned 65, four days before she passed. Me and my sister used that to fuel us. She would often say learn from me what not to do."

Nicole and Carl posted their walks on their personal Facebook pages and others started joining in. The group grew to as many as 48 on the largest walks. Some they knew, most they didn't. A few became rekindled friendships. Many had never exercised before or hadn't walked in years. Some joined the group who didn't live in Mobile but posted pictures of them walking in their own cities. It is more than the walk, it is the location through downtown and the Oakleigh Garden District. Where people on porches yell out encouragement, pick it up, or "I will be with you next week after I finish my cake." They pass neighbors on Palmetto having social hours or Carl's parents waiting in their rockers for the group to walk by. His family has lived in Mobile since 1875 and Carl tells a bit of history as he walks and talks. Andrea and Silas say they have been surprised by the positive support of strangers. Carl's church, Christ Cathedral, now hosts the group. They placed a banner on the fence and provide cold water at the end of each walk. The walks begin with stretches at 5:30 on weekdays at 6:30 a.m. on Saturdays. They also offer a modified route.

MOBpacers gather before the day's walk
Credit APR's Lynn Oldshue

“We come from families that have the check marks,” said Nicole. “My mother had the checkmarks and enough to give to five more people. We knew that a disease or virus would come that would affect people with those preexisting conditions and now it's here.”

MobPacers post before and after pictures of members with slimmer bodies to show that walking works. They are hoping diet and exercise can eliminate some of the checkmarks, and provide them with more defense against the coronavirus.