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COVID-19 numbers falling, but minority communities still feeling impact

For the six days ending June 9, three

For the six days ending June 9, three of the five Nassau communities with the largest number of new coronavirus cases have majority African American or Latino populations, including the Village of Hempstead. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Two weeks after Long Island started reopening businesses and protests began, the region's COVID-19 numbers continue to drop. 

Still, health care experts said it's too early for Long Island residents to let their guard down, and that minority communities remain the most impacted.

"The numbers in this region right now are very, very good," said Dr. David Battinelli, chief medical officer at New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health, the largest health system in the state, with 19 owner-operated hospitals. "But it's going up in other areas, and I've always said once people start traveling, there will be issues.

"You see photos of dozens of people sitting together in Las Vegas without masks," he added. "What happens when they go home? That's an issue."

Social distancing and mask wearing has driven down the numbers on Long Island, said Dr. Patrick O'Shaughnessy, executive vice president and chief clinical officer at Catholic Health Services, which operates six hospitals on Long Island.

"As we reintroduce ourselves to society, our new reality will include carrying a mask and hand sanitizer with us wherever we go," O'Shaughnessy said. "Even at a park, have it with you in case you end up in an area with a high degree of congestion."

The number of new coronavirus infections identified on Long Island each day has declined dramatically since the peak on April 7 of 3,265 cases, which is 44 times the 73 cases identified Tuesday.

But as it has been since COVID-19 reached Long Island, minority communities are being impacted at a disproportionate rate. The good news, however, is that numbers are down considerably there, too.

For the six days ending Tuesday, three of the five Nassau communities with the largest number of new cases have majority African-American or Latino populations. Those communities include Uniondale, Hempstead and Freeport.

The three communities saw an average of between five and 11 new infections per day. A third community with a population that is 49.1% black or Latino, Valley Stream, saw three infections per day. The remaining community of Glen Cove, with a population that is 35.7% black or Latino, saw an average of three new infections per day.

Three of the five Suffolk communities with the largest number of cases over the period are similarly predominantly minority, including Brentwood with five infections per day on average, Central Islip with three infections per day and North Bay Shore with two infections per day. The other two were Middle Island, which is 24.4% black or Latino and saw three infections per day on average, and West Islip, which is 9.1% black or Latino and saw two infections per day on average.

Health care experts said neighborhood density, disparities in access to health care in general and job insecurity has put minority neighborhoods at a disadvantage.

"Any time there is density, it will transmit easier," said Dr. Susan Donelan, medical director of Healthcare Epidemiology at Stony Brook Medicine. "Perhaps in those areas, there are more people who have jobs that are considered essential, so if they don't go to work, they don't get paid. That puts them at even greater risk."

O'Shaughnessy said socioeconomics are a big reason for the spread of COVID-19 in minority areas.

"This isn't about gene code, it's about ZIP code, and 80% of chronic health issues are attributed to social determinance, including access to primary care practices, parks and healthy food," he said. "What's happening with COVID mirrors this."

Taking into account the varying sizes of the communities, the population of the 25 communities in each county with the largest number of infections per capita continues to have a larger share of minority residents than the counties as a whole.

In Nassau, 51% of the residents of the 25 communities with the largest per capita increase in infections over the most recent six days of data is black or Latino, compared with a countywide minority percentage of 28%. In Suffolk, 50% of the residents of the 25 communities are black or Latino, compared with a countywide percentage of 26%.


Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases on Long Island:

  • April 7: 3,265 (peak)
  • June 9: 73