By Sam Bojarski

New York City isn’t out of the woods yet when it comes to coronavirus, and neighborhoods with the largest Haitian populations have seen relatively high numbers of cases as of late. 

From families to businesses, the pandemic has created “a devastating situation all across the board,” said Johnny Celestin, a Haitian-American New Yorker who has covered the impact of COVID-19 extensively on a virtual broadcast he co-hosts, called the Le Mo-Jo Show

Some families, he added, have had to deal with the emotional and financial impact of having to bury multiple relatives.

Overall, the neighborhoods that have seen the most COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic are concentrated in Queens and The Bronx. But Flatbush, in Brooklyn, and Queens Village have been particularly hard-hit. As of 2018, Brooklyn had more than 90,000 Haitian-American residents by official measures, many concentrated around Flatbush. Queens Village is the cultural center of the Haitian community in Queens, which contains tens of thousands of Haitian Americans. 

A pedestrian on Jamaica Avenue, in Queens Village. Photo by Leonardo March

Earlier this month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he planned to keep an eye on certain neighborhoods in New York City that were experiencing high infection rates. Flatbush and Queens Village were both seeing infection rates of 45 percent, more than double the citywide average. 

The Haitian Times also looked at cumulative data, that shows the proportion of positive cases since the pandemic began. This data indicates that about 24 percent of residents in Flatbush/Prospect Lefferts Gardens have tested positive. In the two zip codes comprising Queens Village, 28 percent and 31 percent of residents, respectively, have tested positive for coronavirus. 

In both Corona and East Elmhurst, more than 31 percent of residents have been infected. 

Celestin said Haitians in Flatbush and Queens Village are experiencing the same problems as residents in places like The Bronx, which has also seen large proportions of residents test positive. 

Haitians tend to have concentrated living situations, with a lot of family members living in the same home, he said. 

He also said that many people are working in consumer-facing businesses like restaurants, which have stayed open for takeout, throughout the pandemic. 

A lack of trust in the formal health care system has also exacerbated the impact of coronavirus within the Haitian community, and people have stayed away for different reasons. Some of these reasons are cultural, as many residents opted for home remedies to treat coronavirus symptoms. Others were reluctant to take on medical debt. 

“There were really a lot of reasons why people wanted to stay away from the health care system here,” Celestin added. 

New York City recorded its first coronavirus case March 1. Since then, more than 215,000 confirmed cases have been recorded in the city, and more than 21,500 people have died due to COVID-19. 

Pedestrians in Queens Village wear masks, to stop the spread of COVID-19. Photo by Leonardo March

To address the communities that have been hardest hit, the city has set up community testing sites across the five boroughs. “These sites operate outside of traditional clinic and hospital settings to minimize the burden on the healthcare system,” Karla Griffith, a spokesperson for NYC Health + Hospitals told the Haitian Times, in an email. 

Mobile testing units will also be available to conduct COVID-19 screenings. 

“At full ramp up by end of July, more than 10 mobile units will bring testing to communities hardest hit by the virus, adding to the more than 180 existing testing centers. The mobile testing units will be dispatched to hotspot areas with increased COVID-19 positive tests and where increased testing is needed,” Griffith also said.

Celestin noted that access to testing is not one of his major concerns. He said that testing has improved significantly since the early days of the pandemic and pointed instead to conditions within the Haitian community that have exacerbated the pandemic’s impact. 

When it came to visiting the hospital, many Haitians “were very reluctant,” Celestin said, “and some of them for good reason, some people didn’t come back.” 

Medical experts recommend that those with symptoms get tested and isolate, if they test positive. NYC Health + Hospitals provided a list of 14 testing sites in Flatbush, East Flatbush and Queens Village: 

Flatbush and East Flatbush

  • Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, 585 Schenectady Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11203
  • NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County, 451 Clarkson Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11203
  • CityMD Urgent Care- Flatbush, 2125 Nostrand Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11210
  • Citywide Urgent Care – Brooklyn, 2361 Nostrand Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11210
  • Kamin Health – Crown Heights Urgent Care, 555 Lefferts Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11225
  • One Medical-Brooklyn (Medgar Evers College) – mobile testing center, 1650 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11225
  • St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church & Senior Citizen Center, 331 Hawthorne St, Brooklyn, NY 11225
  • Brookdale Family Care Center – Brooklyn 2, 1095 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11226
  • Brooklyn Drive Through, 2360 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11226
  • CityMD Urgent Care- Prospect Park South, 874 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11226
  • ModernMD Urgent Care – Flatbush, 916 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11226

Queens Village

  • CityMD Urgent Care- Bayside, 42-01 Bell Boulevard, Jamaica, NY 11427
  • New Covenant Church of Christ, 206-14 100th Avenue, Queens, NY 11429
  • Rite Aid #3865, 218-35 Hempstead Ave, Queens Village, NY 11429

Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America corps member. He has covered Haiti and its diaspora since 2018. His work has also appeared in USA Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Haiti Liberte. Sam can be reached at sam@haitiantimes.com or on Twitter @sambojarski.

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