Pictured Above: Suffolk County’s map of positive cases of Covid-19. Dark red areas have more than 500 cases, while light yellow areas have between 1 an 20 cases. Gray areas have no confirmed cases. See the interactive map.

While East Enders have been worrying about whether New York City residents coming east are bringing Covid-19 with them, the disease has instead been quietly spreading in predominantly working class immigrant and African American communities throughout Suffolk County.

The trend has been identified by the Suffolk County Health Department as statistics in other parts of the country have show staggering disparities in the death rate for the virus among African American and Latino residents.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who has hesitated to date to declare any neighborhood in the county a Covid-19 “hotspot” due to a lag in testing for the disease, said on his Wednesday press call that, now that more than 36,000 people have been tested, and more than 17,000 people confirmed to have the virus in Suffolk, “it is clear we see higher rates in certain communities in the county, in some immigrant communities and communities of color.”

The county has not been compiling racial or ethnic data on people who are tested, confirmed to have or die from Covid-19.

Mr. Bellone added when asked by a reporter from the Wall Street Journal if New York City residents coming to the East End had spread the disease here that “we do not have any data that suggests there has been an impact from that.”

“By and large, we think we have gotten compliance,” from New York City residents who were asked to stay isolated when they arrived at their summer homes, he added.

Mr. Bellone said the county is opening a “hotspot” Covid-19 testing site today in Huntington Station, and will open up two more testing sites on Friday at the Hudson River Health Care clinic at Riverhead’s County Center and in Brentwood.

The Hudson River Health Care clinic is at Riverhead’s County Center at 300 Center Drive. To make an appointment, call 845.553.8030. The center will be testing people who have a temperature greater than 100.5 degrees, severe shortness of breath or a persistent cough. All are welcome to call, regardless of insurance or immigration status, and Spanish language information is available.

“This testing will hopefully help us better understand what the numbers are and connect people to resources that may be necessary,” he added.

Though Suffolk County has provided a link on its health department website to information in 30 different languages from Harvard Health Publishing, the website does not contain any local information in Spanish.

Our colleague Maria Piedrabuena at RiverheadLocal has poignantly highlighted the dangers of not having this information readily available in Spanish.

Governor Andrew Cuomo also acknowledged the disparities in cases between different ethnic groups Wednesday, as the state health department released more detailed data that shows that, especially in New York City, people of color are dying of Covid-19 at a much greater rate than white people.

In New York City, as of April 8, 34 percent of the fatalities have been Hispanic people, who make up 29 percent of the population. Fatalities among African-American New York City residents are at 28 percent, though black people make up 22 percent of the population. White New York City residents make up 32 percent of the population, while in the city they make up just 27 percent of the deaths.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said Tuesday that “the coronavirus does not discriminate, but our response and polices and lack thereof have.”

He added that a majority of ‘essential workers’ in New York City are “black and brown people.”

“These folks are not expendable,” he said.

Statewide data shows 18 percent of fatalities are among black residents, who make up just 9 percent of the population. Fourteen percent of the statewide fatalities to date have been Hispanic people, who make up 11 percent of the population, and 62 percent of the fatalities have been white people, who make up 75 percent of the population.

“The disparity in New York is not as bad as in other parts of the country,” said Mr. Cuomo, but he did say that, especially in New York City, people of color make up a great percentage of the essential work force.

By far the most striking disparity to date has been found in the city of Chicago, where 29 percent of the residents are African-American but 70 percent of the people who have died are African-American.

“It always seems to be the poorest people who pay the highest price… People who don’t have a choice but to drive the bus or the train or show up for work,” said Mr. Cuomo. “Why? Let’s figure it out. Let’s do the work, do the research, learn the lessons and do it now.”

The governor said he is directing researchers at SUNY Albany, the New York State Department of Health and Northwell Health to study these disparities.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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