Bronx ‘city within a city’ shaken by sickness, fear
NEW YORK (AP) :
Tarhia Morton and her family were planning to party this year.
She is retired after 40 years with the US Postal Service. Her sister is turning 70. A birthday bash in Las Vegas was booked for August.
That was before the coronavirus changed her life and so many others in the massive residential development in the COVID-19-battered Bronx known as Co-op City in which she lives. Before her mother was infected with it. Before medical examiners determined her father didn’t die from it – but only after she says his body was held at the hospital for 10 days after his March 27 death.
And before the virus killed at least six fellow members of her nearby Community Protestant Church.
“That’s six people that I know,” Morton said. “Someone else could have passed on, or their family members or whatever that we don’t know about, but those six people, I actually knew them.”
Morton’s story is a common one in the Bronx, which has been hit harder by the virus than any other place in the New York City metropolitan area. So far, the virus has killed nearly 4,300 people in the borough of 1.4 million, compared to about 2,800 of Manhattan’s 1.6 million residents.
And within the Bronx, almost no place has been hit as hard as Co-op City. Data released by city health officials Monday revealed that the virus has killed at least 155 people living in the zip code that covers the complex. That’s roughly one of every 282 residents.
By any of New York’s metrics, zip code 10475, with one of the largest elderly communities in the nation and a population that is more than 92 per cent non-white, was an easy target for the virus. Those who didn’t remain sheltered in the housing cooperative often left for lengthy commutes on public transportation, perhaps stepping further into harm’s way.
Cut off from much of the borough by Interstate 95, Co-op City is the largest single residential development in the US. There are about 43,000 residents in 35 towers and seven town house clusters, though only 20 per cent of the land is developed. The rest are large grass fields with walking paths, a community garden, and its own Little League baseball field.
Despite its locale, Co-op City also has some small-town feel, the kind of place where residents spend their working years, retire, and never leave. A community where parents can walk their children across the property to visit relatives.
This, said Bishop Angelo Rosario, a 29-year resident, “is a city within a city”.
The tight-knit nature of Co-op City made it difficult for some people to keep their distance from others, even after it had been recommended.
“We show affection because this is one big community, but we all love each other and so forth, and that’s just the way it is,” said Eric Bowman, who works at Circle of Christ Church and hugged fellow resident Eugene Diaz – who wasn’t wearing a mask – when they bumped into each other one afternoon.
Co-op City is a convenient commuting base for those who have a car. For those who don’t, just leaving the 52-year-old development can be a trip in itself.
Rosario has other concerns.
He has had some elderly, devastated by losses of US$50,000 or more in their retirement accounts and a sudden inability to provide for loved ones, tell him they wished to die themselves.
“It’s especially related to the virus, due to the fact before the virus, they didn’t have any problems,” Rosario said. “The economy was very good. They were doing well with their pensions, they were doing well with their 401Ks and things like that, their investments and things. They were surviving, they were making it. They were trying to live out the golden years.”
Rosario, who runs the Church of God’s Children with wife Nancy, worries about the damage that stress can inflict on seniors, weakening their immune systems and making them even more susceptible. The head of the Bronx Clergy Task Force said he has taken part in more than 65 funerals on Facebook for people of all religions in the borough.
Officials believe there were about 1,500 residents infected, but Riverbay Corp general manager Noel Ellison acknowledges that that count could be low. Even though shareholders were requested to report a coronavirus-related illness or death in their building so sanitising crews could be dispatched, he believes some didn’t because of a stigma attached to the virus, comparing it to a resident embarrassed to report bed bugs.
Without that information, Co-op City officials were hindered in stopping the spread. When there were cases of legionnaires’ disease in 2018, Ellison said the city Department of Health provided details of where the residents lived and the cleaning protocols. He said there was no such communication from the department or hospitals with the coronavirus.
But residents, particularly in the transportation industry, kept on working as usual.“This district is a working district. We are essential workers for the city of New York,” councilman Andy King said while handing out face masks to residents waiting in a line to enter a Dollar Tree store.
Those who could remain home were largely among the elderly. The three community centres run by JASA, a New York organisation serving seniors, were shut down, not only making it harder for many of the 12,000 Co-op City residents 60 or older to get meals but also halting an important part of their lifestyles.