Virus Death Data Shows Latino & Black New Yorkers Are Hardest Hit

A woman walks by closed stores on Friday during the coronavirus pandemic in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Confirming with data what anecdotal evidence has long suggested, New York City reported Wednesday that the deadly Covid-19 virus has hit Latino and black populations hardest.

Latinos account for 34% of confirmed Covid-19 deaths, according to the figures released Wednesday, despite making up only 29% of the city’s population. The city population is 22% black, but 28% of Covid-19 deaths are black New Yorkers. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio emphasized in a press conference Wednesday morning that the data, though limited, is crucial — and unsurprising. 

“It tracks with other, profound health care disparities that we have seen for years and decades in this city,” de Blasio said. “We’re seeing folks who have struggled before really being hit hard.” 

Kailee Scales, managing director of the Black Lives Matter Global Network, noted in an email Wednesday that these numbers should not be taken in stride.

“Ethnicity data is critical because it will allow lawmakers, elected officials, and leaders to determine the resources and funds needed in communities that are hit hardest by the pandemic,” Scales said. “Decades of systemic racism and bias has created a vulnerable population of people — people who would be disproportionately impacted by any crisis — including the Covid-19 pandemic.” 

Emphasizing that the issue is also not unique to New York, Scales highlighted data that black people in Chicago, Louisiana and Michigan are dying at rates two or three times their population share.

She said all states and municipalities should be working to collect ethnic data, while addressing the issue systemically with improved access to testing and mental health benefits, adequate provisions for the poor and working poor, quality education, food and shelter, and criminal justice reform.

New York’s data shows that white and Asian New Yorkers both have death rates lower than their population — 32% of New Yorkers are white and just 27% of Covid-19 deaths are white patients, while Asians make up 14% of the city’s population and account for 7% of reported virus deaths. 

“It already tells us something we need to know, and it tells us we need to act,” de Blasio said.

Right now, the mayor added, that action will take the form of a multimillion-dollar campaign to get vital information to the populations with the highest number of positive cases by zip code, using television, radio, digital and print media.

De Blasio also said his administration would launch grassroots outreach with robocalls and texting, and allow people to use the city’s 311 call-in system to provide a “phone-a-clinician” service.

When asked why his administration did not undertake these actions earlier, the mayor said preventing the spread of the virus in the city has been a “hugely moving target.”

De Blasio’s own pronouncements have put a spotlight on his efforts. In one Jan. 24 tweet, the mayor said Covid-19’s arrival in the city was “not a matter of if, but when,”

Those early warnings, he said Wednesday, were “to try to do the thing and achieve the thing that really could have protected people so much more deeply, which was the testing.” When that failed and community spread of the virus took over the city, he said resources went to saving lives. 

New York, the hardest hit of any U.S. state by the Covid-19 pandemic, is overall beginning to see some shreds of good news, though city and state leaders continue to preach social distancing and repeat there is still a long way to go in the crisis. 

“Stick to the plan, stick to the strategy,” de Blasio said Wednesday. “Over time we’ll be able to give you more sense of how long this is going to be.” 

He said the numbers of ventilators the city needs this week, about 100 new ones per day, is fewer than the 300 new machines per day it was projected to need. 

Though New York state counted its second consecutive day of record-high deaths from Covid-19 — it says 779 have been recorded and similarly grim death tolls are still expected — the hospitalization rate appears stable.

Governor Andrew Cuomo counted the state’s overall death toll at 6,200 this afrernoon. This number excludes hundreds more who have died at home and are assumed to be Covid-19 positive, but de Blasio on Wednesday such numbers will soon be included in the city’s data.  

According to a bombshell report from The New York Times today, however, many of those deaths could have been prevented if New York City and state had adopted social-distancing measures just weeks earlier. The article says between 50% and 80% fewer people could have died. 

Cuomo on Wednesday stood by how the the timing of the state and city shutdowns were handled. 

“I think New York was early, and I think the actions we took were more dramatic than most, and frankly were criticized as being premature,” he said. 

San Francisco shut down schools on March 12 when had just 18 confirmed cases. The state of California imposed stay-at-home rules on March 19. Meanwhile in New York, the “pause” order from Cuomo came the following day did not go into effect until the 22; schools were closed March 16. 

As of Wednesday, New York had about 140,000 cases while California had about 17,500 cases and just 447 deaths, according to data from the Times. 

Though the Times reported that Cuomo tried to “force the mayor’s hand” on closing New York’s schools, the governor denied Wednesday that there was any disagreement with local leaders on the issue.

“There wasn’t a debate,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “I made the decision to close down city schools. I didn’t have a debate.” 

“If anything, in retrospect, it shows what we did is right.” 

Cuomo also announced Wednesday that all New Yorkers will be able to cast absentee ballots this summer in the presidential primary election he had already pushed to June 23 from April 28. The “temporary illness” provision on New York’s absentee voting system will cover the risk of contracting Covid-19 at the polls. Cuomo is taking a “wait-and-see” approach on whether the state will have any physical polls open that day. 

The governor repeated warnings Wednesday that New Yorkers should not try to resume their normal lives, as strict adherence to the social-distancing rules is more important than ever. “This could still turn any way from Sunday,” Cuomo said, adding that he’s still worried.

“The good news is that’s showing a benefit and flatten[ing] the curve at a lower rate than almost any of the models were projecting,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “OK, that’s the good news. So we are still in the midst of it. And the bad news, the terrible news is, look how many lives we’ve lost. I mean, it is breathtaking. So the next time … we’re getting a little complacent or cavalier, look at the number of people we’ve lost. Remember that before you decide to go out of the house because you have cabin fever.”

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