haitian woman wearing mask
In heavily Haitian central Brooklyn, wearing a mask to stop the spread of COVID-19 is commonplace. Photo by Garry Pierre-Pierre

By Sam Bojarski

haitian woman wearing mask
In heavily Haitian central Brooklyn, wearing a mask to stop the spread of COVID-19 is commonplace. A pedestrian wears a mask while out and about in this October file photo. Photo by Garry Pierre-Pierre

At the height of the pandemic this spring, New York City hired 200 people to help COVID-19 positive residents access essentials like food and medicine during quarantine. Now, with a second wave hitting the country and large holiday gatherings likely, the city is planning to expand its program to help more immigrant New Yorkers, including Creole-speaking Haitian-Americans.

“If you know a Haitian Creole speaker who would like to work for one of our [community organizations] and become a resource navigator, we would absolutely love to have them in our fold,” said Dr. Amanda Johson, director of the NYC Health and Hospitals Test & Trace Corps.

Resource navigators are employees who help residents find services and programs to quarantine safely during the pandemic.

Through its Take Care initiative, the Test & Trace Corps is expanding its efforts to help people quarantine safely and stop the spread of COVID-19. Public health and consumer protection officials discussed these efforts on a Dec. 16 conference call. 

Although vaccination of health care workers in New York City has begun, it will be at least another month before members of the general public start receiving the vaccine. Meanwhile, the number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 continue to rise, so measures to help New Yorkers quarantine safely have taken on greater importance.

An average of 3,325 cases per day were recorded in New York City during the week leading up to Dec. 16, up 32% from the average two weeks earlier.

In Flatbush and East Flatbush, the most recent data published by the city Health Department showed weekly average positivity rates of 4.59% and 4.85%, respectively. The citywide average is 4.93% and rising. 

In zip code 11428, which encompasses northern Queens Village, positivity rates were 7.58%, compared to 4.91% in zip code 11429, to the south. 

More than 90,000 Haitian-Americans live in Brooklyn and another 40,000 are in Queens, with many of them working as staff in essential industries. Some also live in multi-generational households. These factors mean that the community was vulnerable to the pandemic’s first wave this spring, The Haitian Times reported

With the Christmas holiday approaching, concern is growing among New York’s Haitian community about the recent spike in cases, said Yolette Williams, president of the Haitian-American Alliance of New York, and founder of the Haitian-American COVID-19 Task Force.

“It’s definitely weighing on people, because for many, it’s very difficult to quarantine,” Williams said. “People live in small quarters, they only share one bathroom, for example, and a lot of times, people have to go out [of the home] for resources.” 

Free hotel rooms, food and PPE for quarantined New Yorkers

About 4,450 COVID-positive New Yorkers have been placed in hotel rooms as of Dec. 16 to prevent infected residents from spreading the virus to household members. Hotel stays include three meals daily and access to on-site medical staff, all at no charge. 

Since June, Test & Trace Corps staff have helped more than 83,000 New Yorkers quarantine inside their homes, Johnson said. Resource navigators have also helped residents obtain food and personal protective equipment (PPE).

New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, can find a resource navigator or a hotel room by calling 212-268-4319. 

NYC Health and Hospitals has partnered with more than a dozen community-based organizations city-wide to hire resource navigators. Although none of the organizations are Haitian-led, Johnson encouraged individuals with Haitian Creole capabilities to apply for available positions.

haitian americans wear masks
While many have adhered to public health guidelines requiring masks, COVID-19 is surging citywide. Photo by Garry Pierre-Pierre

Johnson could not confirm whether any current resource navigators were fluent in Creole. 

Anyone who tests positive can also contact the Haitian-American COVID-19 Task Force at 1-800-865-2950 for assistance in Creole. The task force connects callers with free food assistance and sets up consultations with doctors, Williams said. 

“If they want to speak with someone in the health field, even in mental health, we have people [to] speak with them,” said Williams.

Stopping the spread at work

Many New Yorkers are also entitled to paid sick leave, officials reiterated. Starting in late January, when the first members of the general public will likely start receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, employees will be able to use their sick leave to get vaccinated. 

“Under New York City law, there are many, many reasons for using the sick leave,” said Lorelei Salas, commissioner of the city Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, which enforces the paid sick leave law. “If you want to get a flu shot, if you want to get a COVID-19 vaccine, those are good reasons to use the sick leave.” 

While requirements vary based on an employer’s income, all private and nonprofit employers must provide some form of sick leave. This could offer some relief to essential workers in the Haitian community who have not been able to receive benefits, like unemployment. 

Earlier this year, The Haitian Times reported that employees working under-the-table, who were not officially on payroll, were unable to access unemployment benefits. Their employers, often small businesses like restaurants, could not access federal assistance to keep employees on the payroll.

New York City employees are eligible for sick leave, even if they are being paid in cash, Salas said. 

“You can take the sick leave, even if you’re getting paid in cash off the books and not on the payroll itself,” said Salas. “People just need to call us and tell us ‘I’m working.’”

To inquire about paid sick leave, call 311 and say “paid safe and sick leave,” or email the Consumer and Worker Protection Department at PSSL@dca.nyc.gov. 

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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