On a day when the case count flattened, the death toll rose and the racial skew to COVID-19’s impact began to come into focus, a list of possible explanations emerged for the disproportionate presence of Latino and Black New Yorkers amid coronavirus deaths. Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the city’s health commissioner, blamed the prevalence of underlying conditions in those neighborhoods. Dr. Mitchell Katz, head of the public hospitals, pointed to the likelihood that housing costs has fostered multigenerational and multifamily households in those communities.
On Wednesday’s Max & Murphy Show on WBAI, Queens State Sen. Jessica Ramos and City Councilmember and hospitals committee chairwoman Carlina Rivera identified other potential factors, with an underfunded public-health system at the heart of the problem.
“In low-income communities, where for the most part, unfortunately, there are illegal conversions that haven’t allowed for social distancing that is mandated,” Ramos said. On a lighter note, she added, “For Latinos, like my family, who like to kiss each other and hug each other hello, it took many people a little while to stop.”
But Ramos, who represents much of the area at the epicenter of the crisis in Queens, says health resources are a huge factor in the disparities.
“How many hospitals have been closed in Queens in the past twenty years? It’s astronomical! Of course, we weren’t going to have enough beds. We continue to defund other things that we are going to need in order to provide New Yorkers with the safety net that is necessary in order to rebuild our economy,” she said. “Our public health system has been underfunded and neglected for my entire life. I don’t know what it is like as an American and as a New Yorker to have a public health system that is responsive to my health needs.”
Rivera, who represents the Lower East Side, said the presence of underlying conditions overlaps with gaps in the health system: “It’s very clear what is happening in our immigrant communities of color. We have 3.1 million immigrants, over 150 languages spoken in New York City, over 2 million immigrants in Brooklyn and Queens which is where we’re seeing some of the highest cases, and those statistics that exist around who has diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and obesity. We know where those underlying conditions are. We know where comorbidity is most prevalent and they’re really around our public system.”
“Lincoln, Woodhull and Elmhurst, these are all public hospitals that are seeing surges. When you look at those neighborhoods, it is the same demographic and communities that have some of these underlying conditions that happened to be people of color,” she continued. “Every single year Health and Hospitals asks us to fund EKG machines and trauma slots and these are things that I don’t think the City Council should [have to] be funding. This disaster has pushed us to look at what the priorities are which housing, food, education, and of course, healthcare.”
Hear each interview or the full program below:
State Senator Jessica Ramos
City Councilmember Carlina Rivera
Max & Murphy: Full Show of April 8, 2020
Show co-hosted by Ben Max of GothamGazette.com. With reporting by Anika Chowdhury.