This summer New York City’s public-hospital system identified the areas most at risk of a resurgence of Covid-19 and enlisted community-based organizations to help educate residents and test and trace for the virus.
Now, with the new coronavirus resurgent across pockets of the city, some say this summer’s effort was insufficient and focused on the wrong neighborhoods.
Earlier this week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered new restrictions on communities around the state where the virus has rebounded. The affected areas have higher positivity rates of Covid-19 than the rest of the state and include communities in nine ZIP Codes in Brooklyn and Queens that the city has been tracking for weeks as hot spots. Large Orthodox Jewish communities reside in most of the hot spots.
Of the nine ZIP Codes targeted by the city, only one was listed as a high priority this summer by the Health + Hospitals system in a request for grant applications from community-based organizations to help test and trace the virus. Five of the nine ZIP Codes were listed as a low priority and three weren’t listed at all.
Health officials said the neighborhoods under scrutiny now weren’t as high a priority in the summer when other areas were experiencing worsening numbers or were improving at a slower rate than the citywide average.
None of the community-based organizations awarded grants under the program were from the Orthodox community. But officials said that many organizations had now been enlisted to help with the response to the surge in Orthodox neighborhoods.
Officials said that one aim of the city’s outreach to community-based organizations was to address structural conditions of racism that exacerbated the effects of the pandemic. City data show that the pandemic disproportionately affected low-income neighborhoods and people of color compared with whites and higher-income neighborhoods.
Christopher Miller, a spokesman for the city’s hospital system, Health + Hospitals, said: “We continue to identify new organizations to partner with as positivity increases in certain neighborhoods.”
The city’s health department, which also does education on the virus, said since February it has done extensive outreach in the communities that are now under lockdowns. The outreach includes advertisements in local newspapers in multiple languages, community round tables and talks with leaders, including rabbis. In late August, officials also began distributing masks at synagogues and conducting testing, according to the health department.
City officials said they have also recently increased testing in these communities.
Carlina Rivera, the Democratic chairwoman of New York City Council’s committee on hospitals, said the hospital system hasn’t been forthcoming about the methods it used to prioritize certain areas or about how many contact tracers speak languages such as Yiddish.
“We think Health and Hospitals is doing their best, but that just might not be enough for an organization that is used to emergency treatment inside a hospital,”