Racquel Stephen

Health Reporter

Racquel Stephen is WXXI's health reporter, joining the newsroom in 2021. 

Racquel’s multifaceted radio background includes reporting for WAER in Syracuse and as a host for WLGZ-HD2 in Rochester. 

Racquel holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Rochester and a master's degree in broadcasting and digital journalism from S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

Racquel’s interest in health reporting stems from navigating through the developmental disabilities of her toddler son, and witnessing inequities within the health care system.

Ways to Connect

Max Schulte / WXXI News

In an attempt to persuade thousands of unvaccinated people in the Rochester area to get inoculated against COVID-19, health officials and philanthropic leaders are offering their largest incentive to date — $100 gift cards.

Now through the end of the month, people who receive their first dose of the vaccine will receive the money, which was funded by a group of community partners led by United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes.

“Incentives have played a key role in boosting vaccination rates,” said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello.

Special Olympics has received its largest single private monetary donation in its 53-year history.

On Thursday, the global sports organization for people with disabilties announced that Paychex founder, Tom Golisano, is donating $30 million to its Healthy Communities program.

The program provides health care services to people with intellectual disabilities.

“People with intellectual disabilities have always been a top priority for him because his son has intellectual disabilities,” said Ann Costello, executive director of the Golisano Foundation.

Max Schulte / WXXI News

Destiny Hannah stands in her Greece kitchen, performing a daily ritual: She downs a B-12 vitamin, followed by a shot of beet juice and a milligram of folic acid.

She takes these supplements to help boost her red blood cells and ultimately improve the flow of oxygen from her lungs to various parts of her body -- a simple biological function that sickle cell patients don’t take for granted. 

“I can definitely feel when my body's like breaking down on me,” said Hannah, who was born with the illness. 

Sickle cell disease is a blood disorder that shortens the lifespan of red blood cells and causes them to change shape from round to more crescent-like, or sickled. The altered cells can interlock while flowing through the bloodstream, disrupting blood and oxygen flow and resulting in an intense episode.

Max Schulte/WXXI News

Several hundred health care workers and their supporters gathered outside Strong Memorial Hospital on Monday, waving American flags and placards to protest the state mandate that employees of hospitals get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.

Some of the demonstrators wore scrubs and the horns of cars passing by blew in solidarity throughout the roughly two-hour protest that organizers had dubbed a "Freedom Rally."

Max Schulte / WXXI News

Motivated by their recent COVID-19 vaccine success and approval, Pfizer and BioNTech are adapting the same messenger RNA, or mRNA, technology to upgrade the flu vaccine.

“Once it became very clear how successful they were, it was sort of an obvious jump to see what other vaccines can be enhanced and improved by this technology,” said Dr. Edward Walsh, head of infectious diseases at Rochester General Hospital. 

Walsh and Dr. Ann Falsey, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, are leading local trials for the mRNA flu vaccine.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The recent approval of Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has scientists enthusiastic about the future of the messenger RNA, or mRNA, technology used to produce the vaccine. 

For RNA biologists, in particular, the pandemic has become a catalyst for modern medicine.

“It's a big step forward for mRNA-based therapeutics,” said UR Medicine’s director for centers for RNA biology, Dr. Lynne Maquat. “We've had a worldwide need. And the need has been met.”


As at-home coronavirus testing kits are becoming increasingly available, Monroe County’s Department of Public Health wants positive results to be reported through its online portal

This new feature will require the patient to upload a picture of their results, along with the testing date.

A health department representative will contact those who tested positive to place them in isolation and question them for contact tracing.

Racquel Stephen / WXXI News

Monroe County officials said Wednesday that opioid-related deaths surged in 2020.

Fatal overdoses rose by 31% in the county, from 181 in 2019 to 238 last year. While males made up half of the deaths. African Americans accounted for 26.5% of the deaths in 2020, up from 21% in 2019.

"The increase in overdose deaths we are reporting today, by and large, is unfortunately a symptom of COVID-19," public health commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza said before taking a moment of silence for the lives that were lost.

University of Rochester

Almost nine months after its initial emergency use rollout, Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been granted full approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for people ages 16 and older.  

On Monday the FDA said the public can rest assured that the Pfizer vaccine meets its high standards for safety, efficacy, and manufacturing quality. Pfizer is the first mRNA vaccine to be given this distinction since granted emergency use authorization on December 11, 2020.

Jose Rivera has been an RTS bus driver for 13 years. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, he said he always wears a mask while on the job.

But commuters don't always do the same, he said.

“There are some days that I worry that I’m going to get sick,” said Rivera, who worked throughout the pandemic. “There's a lot of times where customers do pull their mask off once they're on the bus. We have to remind them constantly to keep it up over their face.”