April 13, 2020: Dispatches From New York

Credit: Ashley Winkler / Unsplash

April 13, 2020: Dispatches From New York

Over the last week, the number of COVID-19 cases in New York State rose from nearly 131,000 to 195,261 and deaths increased from 4,758 to 10,060, with New York City suffering roughly nearly 6,900 deaths. The virus has particularly punished poor and non-white residents of the City (and elsewhere), as illustrated by the city health department’s online map of COVID-19 test rates by zip code, race, and poverty.  As of April 13, Nassau (846), Wayne (704), Westchester (511), Cook (485), Bergen (453) and Essex (428) counties had also experienced high numbers of deaths. New Jersey was the second hardest hit state, with 64,584 cases and 2,443 deaths by the afternoon of April 13.  Among the tragic losses in New York City, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio announced the deaths of two pastors – both immigrants – in the Diocese of Brooklyn – Fr. Jorge Ortiz-Garay and Fr. Gioacchino Basile – and three deacons, Deacon Emilio Arteago, Deacon Jaime Pinzon, and Deacon Perfecto Santana.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio reported on “war-like conditions” in city hospitals and the need for as many as 45,000 additional “clinical personnel” by the end of April.  He called for a “national system to enlist” medical personnel to the front lines of the crisis.  Several analysts have highlighted the need to authorize, facilitate and extend the work of foreign health-care professionals, including those who have  graduated from foreign medical schools, who cannot practice in the United States, or who seek admission to the country.  New Jersey and New York have announced, for example, that they will issue temporary medical licenses to foreign doctors in good standing elsewhere.  As New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy explained earlier this month, such professionals are needed “to expand bed capacities, reopen closed hospitals, and erect field medical stations to prepare for additional COVID-19 cases.”

Carmen Maquilon directs the Catholic Charities Immigrant Services program in the Diocese of Rockville Centre. She reports that since March 16, the program’s immigration attorneys and accredited representatives have all been available remotely to the immigrant community in Long Island, “providing legal services as much as possible,” including consultations, legal screenings for unaccompanied minors, and legal orientation for custodians of unaccompanied minors.

The program’s accredited representatives continue to reach out to DACA beneficiaries to ensure that they are renewing their cases. Staff have also prioritized educating clients and stakeholders on the public charge rule, as it applies to services for COVID-19 and otherwise.

Ms. Maquilon reports that the program’s staff have, by necessity, “become quasi social workers/case managers, advising clients about COVID-19 symptoms, [and] making sure that the many unaccompanied minors that we represent do not fall through the cracks in our educational system.”  It has also advocated that local school districts provide each child with Chromebooks or tablets.  Most children in poor school districts, she reports, “are not receiving any equipment,” leaving them behind “yet again.”

Finally, case managers are using Zoom, WhatsApp and other media to assist unaccompanied minors, asylees, and refugees with cultural orientation and, especially, on how to protect themselves from infection. More than 50 percent of the program’s clients live in the areas most affected by the virus (Brentwood and Hempstead).  A high percentage is staying at home (not working), which has resulted in additional hardship. Many lack transportation and are afraid to venture outside. The office has been delivering food to these families and leaving the packages on their front doors.

The program seeks to live up to the Holy Father’s Easter Sunday “Urbi et Orbi” blessing.  “Before the many sufferings of our time,” Pope Francis said, “may the Lord of life not find us cold and indifferent.  May he make us builders of bridges, not walls.”

April 13, 2020