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COVID-19 surges in Miami, heartbeat of Florida’s Haitian community

By Sam Bojarski

New coronavirus epicenters have sprung up in the southern United States, including areas with large Haitian populations. 

Nurses everywhere, including members of the Haitian American Nurses Association of Florida, first learned how mentally and physically exhausting it was to care for coronavirus patients in March. 

As cases surge in Miami and statewide, “I’m starting to see that same sense of anxiety from my members,” said Pauleen Louis-Magiste, president of the organization. 

“And now we’re not just hitting a peak, but the numbers are doubling from what they were a month ago,” she also said.

Miami-Dade County, home to Little Haiti and well over 125,000 Haitian Americans, has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida ‒ more than double Broward County, which has the second-highest total. While access to testing and the employment situation within the Haitian community has improved somewhat since the pandemic began, the recent surge in cases is the latest reminder that the pandemic is far from over. 

Health authorities in Miami-Dade reported 2,304 additional COVID-19 cases July 2, bringing the county total to more than 40,200 cases. Florida has confirmed over 158,000 cases in total. 

New York City, previously an epicenter of the virus, last recorded more than 2,000 new cases on April 30. Cases have declined in New York, if unevenly, since then. 

Community members distribute supplies at Miami’s Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center. Photo courtesy of the Sant La Center

Many Haitians in Miami still have not returned to work, despite the partial reopening of the economy. Low-skilled, low-wage employees in particular, are more likely to lack access to the technology needed to conduct a job search and work remotely, according to Leonie Hermantin, communications director at the Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center, a social services nonprofit in Miami.

An estimated 40 percent of the Haitian population in Miami, which the center serves, is employed in the service industry. Hermantin said that 90 percent of Sant La’s clients fall under the low-wage, low-skilled category.

Parents who previously placed their children in summer camps are now supporting their children at home. The city of North Miami, for example, had about 500 children enrolled in camps last summer, but only 32 this year. 

To help community members in need, Hermantin added that Sant La has an emergency fund to help cover expenses like food and rent. The center, she said, is constantly running out of emergency funds.

In March, a coalition of leading Haitain professional and grassroots organizations came together to discuss the impact of the pandemic and advocate for solutions that could benefit Miami’s Haitian community. 

The coalition advocated for a walk-in site, and one opened in April, at Holy Family Catholic Church in North Miami. While there are also drive-in sites and drug stores in and around Little Haiti, getting the walk-in site was important to serve the numerous community members who do not have cars, according to Hermantin.

“At the time it was launched, there weren’t many takers, people were just not coming in,” Hermantin said. “Now, you can barely get an appointment there.” 

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Sam Bojarski

Sam Bojarski

Sam Bojarski has been covering Haiti and its diaspora for The Haitian Times since 2018. He is currently covering New York's Haitian community as a Report for America corps member.
Sam Bojarski
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Jul. 03, 2020