The Bronx is a broken borough


To the editor:

My husband and I co-authored a public health brief that will be published by Springer International Publishing in November called “COVID-19 in New York City: An Ecology of Race and Class Oppression.”

We found that the Bronx ZIP code areas had the highest average and median cumulative percent positive swab tests, cumulative case rates, and cumulative death rates of the four central boroughs in the early post-crest time period (end of May).

We also found that the Bronx COVID-19 death rates were the epicenter of the death rates of the entire New York City metropolitan region of 24 counties.

New York was identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the national epicenter of the first U.S. pandemic wave. Unlike the other three central boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens), the Bronx ZIP code COVID-19 death rates had no association with socio-economic measures such as median income, educational attainment, housing violations per 1,000 units, rent stress and unemployment rate.

Unlike the other three central boroughs, the Bronx ZIP code COVID-19 death rates had no association with other public health markers such as diabetes mortality, cancer mortality, or premature all-cause mortality rates.

In other words, there was no lever arm either through socio-economic factors or through general rise in public health to improve the COVID-19 death situation.

The Bronx is a broken borough with respect to COVID-19.

We found this in spite of the fact that the city and state have stinted testing in the Bronx, in comparison to other boroughs. A typical example: On Oct. 7, just 0.45 percent of the Bronx population received swab tests in the five boroughs, compared to 0.84 percent in Staten Island, 0.79 percent in Manhattan, 0.71 percent in Queens and 0.67 percent in Brooklyn.

If you go to the city health department’s website pages on COVID-19, you also will find that the Bronx has had the lowest cumulative number of antibody tests per 100,000 population of all five boroughs.

Two papers by other epidemiologists have found that the intensity of testing in New York City is discriminatory by race/ethnicity and income. Thus, the populations most at risk for infection, serious illness and death are being short-changed.

A cynic would say, “Well, what do you expect?” However, when an entire borough with 1.4 million people is short-changed, the public health of the region and the nation can be at risk, as the first U.S. wave proved.

None of the 24 ZIP code areas in the Bronx with more than 10,000 population had even moderate cumulative case rates on May 31, July 14, July 28 or Aug. 17 — dates that I recently analyzed for case rate geography. Manhattan, on the other hand, had many areas with low cumulative case rates, even as late as Aug. 17.

Which of our elected officials is looking at this scandalous and dangerous public health situation?

Deborah Wallace

The author has a Ph.D., in ecology, and focuses much of her work on health inequalities and epidemiology studies. She and husband Rodrick Wallace first rose to prominence studying the Bronx fires of the 1970s, and the impact they had on health and public order.

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Deborah Wallace,