Long Island’s Hispanic population centers are suffering some of the highest rates of coronavirus cases on the Island, according to a Newsday analysis of county and state data.
Six heavily Hispanic communities in Suffolk and five in Nassau are among the Island’s hardest hit based on the prevalence of infections, the speed at which the number of cases has risen or their gross numbers of cases.
“The numbers are just staggering,” said Jorge Guadron, president of the Salvadoran American Chamber of Commerce of Long Island who lives in Central Islip, one of the communities that has borne the brunt of the disease.
In addition to Central Islip, which has tallied 587 confirmed cases, the Suffolk communities include Brentwood, 1,118; Wyandanch, 250; Huntington Station, 552; North Bay Shore, 340; and North Amityville, 304. The communities have Hispanic populations that range from 67% in Brentwood to 34% in North Amityville.
In Nassau, most affected communities include Hempstead, 363; Uniondale, 211; Freeport, 199; Glen Cove, 164; and New Cassel, 106. The Hispanic population ranges from 53% in New Cassel to 27% in Glen Cove.
On average, Nassau communities have experienced 56 cases and Suffolk communities 77, the analysis shows.
Local leaders say the high caseloads are driven by factors including difficulty engaging in social distancing because of household sizes and relatively high levels of residents who are working, thus risking exposure, either because they have been deemed essential employees or have comparatively low income levels and cannot get by without work.
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The six Suffolk communities rank in the top 10 in the county in the gross number of cases, the day-to-day rate of increase in cases and the per capita rate of infections.
Three of the Nassau communities – Hempstead, Uniondale and Freeport – rank in the top 10 for gross number of cases and day-over-day change in cases.
Health experts and government leaders have championed social distancing, including working from home, as key to slowing the spread of the virus. But experts interviewed this week said working from home isn’t an option for many of Long Island’s Hispanic residents.
One significant reason for the spread of the virus in those communities is that many residents have had to continue working, said State Sen. Monica Martinez, a Democrat who represents Brentwood and Central Islip. Many are first responders, transporting sick patients to the hospital; and others are considered essential employees – working in grocery stores, pharmacies, cleaning companies, transit and landscaping.
“These individuals are literally on the front lines. They are all considered essential workers,” she said.
Many of them also work multiple jobs, said Rebecca Sanin, president and CEO of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, an umbrella organization for nonprofits.
“If you’re an essential worker, you’re absolutely more at risk,” she said.
Xavier Palacios, a Huntington Station attorney and member of the Huntington School Board, said it took some time for residents to understand the seriousness of the situation and need for social distancing.
“They work a lot. They’re not necessarily glued to the TV news,” he said.
All the Suffolk communities have an average household size that is larger than the county average of three people per household, according to U.S. Census data. In other words, more people live together in single residences.
In Brentwood, there are an average of 4.5 people per household. That contributes to their risk, said the Rev. Stanislaw Wadowski, pastor of St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church in Brentwood, because multiple families may share a kitchen or bathroom.
“People stick to the rules (of social distancing),” he said, but, “They are living closer.”
In North Bay Shore, where 65% of the population is Hispanic, an average of 4.8 people live in a household. Huntington Station, where 39% of the population is Hispanic, has an average household size of 3.3.
Census data show that all six communities also have a significant portion of residents living below poverty level. In Central Islip, where about 46% of the population is Hispanic, nearly 12% are below poverty level.
Guadron said that might have been a factor in some of the spread of the virus in Central Islip.
A number of children qualify for the free breakfast and lunch programs provided by the school district. Guadron’s wife, a Central Islip school district cafeteria worker, was called back to work March 23 to serve meals to children in the program.
Central Islip has converted to a “grab and go” program in which families stay in their cars and are given meals, district spokeswoman Barbara LaMonica said. In Brentwood, the district has asked families to pick up two days of food every other day to limit contact, according to district spokesman David Chauvin.
Sean Clouston, an associate professor at Stony Brook’s Program in Public Health who researches social inequalities in health, said the fact that minority communities are getting hit hard by the virus is not surprising because of the “long-term vulnerability of living in poverty.”
He said three factors are critical: Residents of those communities need to continue working, tend to live in bigger households and have higher rates of underlying medical conditions, like diabetes and heart disease, that result in them developing more severe symptoms of the virus.
“This disease is very risky for disadvantaged populations,” he said.
To address the higher number of cases in Brentwood, Central Islip and other communities with higher immigrant populations, Suffolk officials said last week that they would work with area religious leaders, record Spanish language public service announcements and use Suffolk police vehicles to broadcast messages about social distancing and staying home.
Still, County Executive Steve Bellone said Saturday that he remained concerned over the numbers from those communities and acknowledged that more needed to be done.
“We're looking at additional messaging and targeted testing in certain areas that will allow us to deliver the messaging that just may not be getting through,” he said.
Daniel Altschuler, director of civic engagement for Make the Road New York, a Brentwood-based immigrant advocacy group, said the higher number of cases in the Brentwood/Central Islip area shows that the virus is disproportionately affecting a population with less access to health care, higher-paying jobs and safe, affordable housing.
“On the one hand, the virus doesn’t discriminate, and everyone is vulnerable to it,” he said in an interview. “On the other hand, the virus does discriminate against the same communities who have been the most vulnerable for a long time.”
With Matt Clark
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