Despite comprising only 29 percent of the city’s population, Hispanic New Yorkers make up 34 percent of fatalities caused by the novel coronavirus. Black New Yorkers constitute 28 percent of the virus’s death toll, despite being only 22 percent of the city’s population.
White New Yorkers represent 27 percent of COVID-19 deaths compared to 32 percent of the overall population, while Asians make up 7 percent of deaths compared to 14 percent of the population.
Last Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed those “clear disparities” in how the virus has affected the city’s various communities.
“That’s a blatant inequality and we don’t accept it,” he said, “meaning we have to fight in new ways, we have to come up with new strategies to address what is now a documented disparity.
“We’re going to double down on the strategies that reach people who are the most vulnerable now,” the mayor added,” because we’re seeing these very troubling facts.”
De Blasio announced a new multi-million dollar ad campaign to educate the public and equip them with more detailed information on dealing with the coronavirus. The campaign will focus on communities of color and will include ads in 14 different languages.
The mayor also noted that seniors in communities of color are more vulnerable to COVID-19 because many have conditions that have not been treated “the way they could have or should have.”
Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the city’s health commissioner, said populations that have historically had higher rates of underlying chronic illnesses are the same communities hit hardest by the coronavirus.
She also expressed great concern with the large percentage of Latinos who have died from the illness. The city’s top doctor said the rhetoric across the country about immigration, as well as policies like the public charge, have had “real implications in the health” of that community.
Another factor, de Blasio said, could be language barriers, which could translate to fewer people getting the information they need.
“What’s happened in the last few years has really driven a lot of immigrants, undocumented in particular, but even folks who are documented, away from a lot of the places they would have turned for support and health care,” he said.
Dr. Mitchell Katz, president and CEO of the Health+Hospitals system, added that lower-income people are also more likely to live in intergenerational housing due to the high cost of rentals in New York City.
Additionally, multiple families may be living together in “very small spaces,” he said.
The mayor said seeing the disparities that have plagued the city made him “angry.”
“It’s sick, it’s troubling and it’s wrong,” he said, “and we’re going to fight back with everything we got.”
Local and state elected officials responded to the city and state’s release of preliminary data. Councilman Francisco Moya, who lives in Corona and represents Elmhurst Hospital, said in a statement that the disease is “decimating” black and Latino communities.
“Those with the greatest exposure to the illness are also those with the fewest opportunities themselves,” he said. “They’re people who have historically had less access to health care, fewer economic resources, are more likely to live in dense neighborhoods with multi-generational and family households with more residents increasing the rate of spread.”
Moya added that those communities are also more likely to work in the service or hospitality industries, with jobs that cannot be done remotely.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute, 16 percent of Latinos and less than 20 percent of black Americans could work remotely. Thirty percent of white Americans and 37 percent of Asians could work from home, according to the review.
“COVID-19 didn’t break the city, it exposed it,” he said. “As we put the pieces back together in the months that follow, we have to address the systemic inequalities that put us in this position to begin with.”
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said in a statement that the data confirms and reinforces decades of systemic inequalities.
“These ingrained injustices have always been there, often ignored by many in power,” he said, “but these numbers show the harsh truth. The bias has a body count.”
Williams has advocated for a city lockdown to slow the rate of spread in neighborhoods around the city. He also called for drastically expanding resources such as testing and masks, and redefining which businesses are considered essential.
“We cannot sanitize a history of neglecting communities of more color, cannot mask the resource inequality and inherent biases that spurred the spread of the virus, cannot undo the human cost of these failures,” he said. “But now, we can work to strengthen communities and save lives.”
Attorney General Letitia James said the data reveals and exacerbates the “depths of inequality in our society.” She called for expanded treatment, rapid testing and tracking with a “sharp eye toward marginalized communities.”
The former public advocate also urged increasing hospital capacity, resources for safety net hospitals and expanding language access.
Her “call to action” includes providing and requiring protective equipment for transportation workers, grocery store, delivery and warehouse workers, home health aides and nursing home workers.
“It is imperative that we also think long term about tackling inequality head on,” James said, “and ensuring that universal health care access is a right, not a privilege.”