High COVID-19 death rates in Brooklyn areas ‘no surprise’ to leaders

People line up inside of Christian Cultural Center in prepation for COVID 19 testing. One of their zip code areas, 11239, was one of the highest per capita death rates in the city. (Photo by Lloyd Mitchell)

Southern Brooklyn had some of the highest rates in the city of COVID-19 infection and deaths, with one area, while not totaling a very high death count, had the highest per capita rate of virus-related fatalities. 

There are 13,393 people living in this small area of Spring Creek and East New York, Brooklyn, making the death toll far higher than most communities in the city.

Comparably, neighboring Canarsie, with a population of 93,877 had 261 deaths from COVID-19 complications, but at a smaller percentage than the neighboring zip code.

The city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene unveiled on Monday the ZIP code map, displaying where many of the worst hit neighborhoods were in the city.

Areas such as Harlem in Manhattan, Elmhurst in Queens and Northeast Bronx and Far Rockaway were found to be having very high death rates from Covid-19. Western Coney Island was also said to have very high death rates.

But even though just 76 people died in the Spring Creek area, the death rate per capita came out to 612 deaths per 100,000 people – considered very high for such a small area.

Within that area are a nursing homes and a few senior housing complexes where many of those fatalities occurred, including Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Council 3 located at 99 Vandalia Ave., and the Spring Creek Nursing Home and Rehabilitation located at 660 Louisiana Ave.

Ambulance crews removed Covid-19 suspected cases from Spring Creek Nursing Home and Rehabilitation located at 660 Louisiana Avenue. (Photo by Lloyd Mitchell)

As a result, the state has established testing sites in the community including at the Christian Cultural Center on Flatlands Avenue which was one of 25 church testing sites established through a partnership with New York State and Northwell Health to help communities of color. Another church testing site has been set up at the St. Paul’s Community Baptist Church.

State Senator Roxanne Persaud said she was not surprised by the numbers in her district where in that zip code, more than 50% of the population are people of color.

“It’s a distressing situation and we knew there were short comings across the district,” Persaud said, “so when it hit, it was no surprise certain areas hit hard. The density, limited resources we’ve been working with – we’ve known for a while so the numbers are not news to us.”

Persaud is determined to make sure this doesn’t happen again. She said “the minority community shouldn’t be suffering like this,” adding, “it reminds of Hurricane Sandy, when Canarsie was hit, no one saw the mass destruction so its the same thing with this and people say oh wow, Starrett City and Flatlands got hit – there are 19 housing developments alone in my district so there is no surprise here.”

Persaud said 11239 particularly has many senior citizens who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, but also, she said the community is vastly under served as hospitals are not close to her communities.

“Health care resources have been sufficient for a long time so this is what you get when you don’t pay attention,” Persaud said. “None of the hospitals, Brookdale and Kings County are close by and its a trek – there is limited public transportation and that is a factor too. What we discussed in a state hearing yesterday was what happened in our minority communities and its a shame.”

People line up inside of Christian Cultural Center in prepation for COVID 19 testing. One of their zip code areas, 11239, was one of the highest per capita death rates in the city. (Photo by Lloyd Mitchell)

She said they had been waiting “a long time for testing” in the community. She noted the horrors at nursing homes where mortality was high, the debacle at the Flatlands funeral home of Andrew Cleckley where bodies were piled in U-Haul trucks, and “we are going to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

“I don’t think anyone could believe what we were seeing at that funeral home and my staff is looking into it,” she said. “The funeral home regulations have so many hands in the pot that we have to see what we need to do going forward – they said they were overwhelmed with the number of deaths –  someone decides to take those bodies and they knew their capacity – they must take responsibility.”

Councilman Alan Maisel represents much of Persaud’s district west of 11239. His district extends from Canarsie, Flatlands and into Marine Park, where many people have lost their lives to COVID-19. But he understands why some areas were hit more than others.

“Just to the east is Spring Creek towers, Vandalia and Wortman have nursing home and senior housing, Fairfield Towers, and so they have a lot of seniors,” said Maisel, noting that Canarsie had 250 deaths alone.

“The concentration of buildings, people touching elevator buttons, so before you knew it you had it,” Maisel said. “There are a lot of older people, a lot of people who are first responders, health care aids (in 11239), and Canarsie also has that population and a lot of nurses, doctors, transit workers, whoever works in city in Canarsie. We also have NYCHA housing and they had similar issues. A lot of people simply were not exercising social distancing too.”

Maisel says there would’ve been fewer deaths if there were more tests and earlier from when it started on March 1.

“We should’ve had tests rolled out and to find out where hot-spots were, but if you don’t know where the cases are, we found out after it was too late, so what are we supposed to do,” Maisel said.

Editor’s note: Alan Maisel is not related to the article’s author.

A Brooklyn Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Home was keeping scores of dead bodies from Covid-19 in unrefrigerated U-Haul trucks in front of their Flatlands building, showing the extend of the many deaths in the community. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

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