Coronavirus risks are quite real


To the editor:

We write as members of the Riverdale and surrounding communities who are very concerned about the dangers the novel coronavirus — SARS-CoV-2 — crisis creates for our neighbors and ourselves.

We have been thinking about our community and what others and we can do from a variety of points of view — health care professionals, educators, lawyers and grassroots activists.

The pandemic forcefully reminds us of the inter-connectedness of our world on a very personal level — the health and well being of ourselves and those we love is closely tied to that of everyone.

We cannot wait for government to make it go away. We must take informed action ourselves. We hope that this letter helps by point out the diversity in our community, and specific steps we can take.

The increasing rampage of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, is alarming. On March 11, the World Health Organization characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic. On March 13, President Trump declared it a national emergency. In New York, community spread is accelerating rapidly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expects most of the U.S. population will be exposed in the coming months.

Testing is becoming more widespread, but still lags way behind need. A vaccine to protect against COVID-19 is more than a year away, and medications approved to treat it are not expected to be available much sooner.

If large numbers of people need medical care at the same time, our current public health and health care systems will become overloaded. Public health interventions will be the most important response strategy to try to delay the spread of the virus and reduce the impact of the disease.

Our immediate community includes some who may be the hardest hit because they are among the most vulnerable to the virus, or will have difficulty accessing health care or withstanding the resulting economic downturn. The more than 120,000 people who live within the Community Board 8 area include both some of the wealthiest New Yorkers, and some of the poorest. The median family income of about $55,000 reflects a range from $72,000 in Riverdale to $36,000 in Kingsbridge Heights and masks that about 18 percent are below the poverty line district-wide, and 33 percent live in poverty in Kingsbridge Heights.

Although people of any age can get very sick, “elders” (about 20 percent of our community) are greater risk, whether they live independently or in one of the nearly 15 nursing homes or other senior care facilities in our area.

Some neighbors cannot read or speak English. Undocumented immigrants who live and work here bear the greatest risk of asking for help despite assurances that they will not be detained and deported.

Students and teachers at our public and many private schools have already been impacted. Workers and owners of restaurants, bars and other small businesses — many of which were already struggling to stay afloat — are suffering economically.

The 10,000 people jailed at nearby Rikers Island are also on our minds, as jails are significant vectors of infectious disease for incarcerated people, staff in jails, and the surrounding communities.

This is frightening and can leave us feeling out of control and helpless about our own lives, and there are things we can do. Besides, we need to relax in the midst of vigilance and uncertainty — stress decreases immunity.

We must act together and individually to keep our broad community — and ourselves — as safe as possible and united, even in the face of social distancing.

Ellen Chapnick, Helen de Pinho

The authors are writing on behalf of a group of concerned residents who include Raquel Batista, Sue Ellen Dodell, Morgan Evers, Helen Krim, Daniel Ranells and Kathryn Solomon.

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