On June 5th the topic of discussion at the Bronx Health REACH Coalition Meeting was, "Community Conversations on COVID-19 as experienced in the Bronx." The meeting featured Pastor John Udo-Okon, from Word of Life International, Bronx Health REACH Community Outreach Worker Cheikhou Ann Oumar, Gladys Roman from Manna of Life Ministries, Assistant Principal Nicole Smith from The Family School-PS 443, and Dr. Eric Gayle, Vice President, Medical Services at the Institute for Family Health.
Word of Life International runs a weekly food pantry serving hundreds of clients, and was forced to close after family and staff working at their food pantry became infected with COVID-19. They were able to re-open in May, but to better serve the influx of Bronx residents returning to the pantry, Pastor John spoke about the need for personal protection equipment (PPE) to protect the staff from getting sick again. "If our staff gets sick, we will have to close our doors again, forcing many Bronx residents to seek other places for food." Manna of Life Ministries also has a food pantry and soup kitchen that now has 300 people coming in daily for food. "We serve a large undocumented population and there is a need for more food to meet the demand," says Gladys Roman.
Bronx Health REACH Community Outreach Worker, Cheikhou Ann Oumar spoke on how the Muslim community are at a higher exposure to COVID-19 due to many performing essential jobs such as cab drivers. Cheikhou also mentioned other challenges COVID-19 has brought upon the community. "There have been many at-home deaths and families are unable to send their deceased family members home for burial," said Cheikhou.
“We are building the plane as we are flying it,” has been Family School-PS 443 Assistant Principal Nicole Smith's experience running a Bronx public school during COVID-19. She added, "There has been some push-back from educators about remote-learning, but the pandemic has also made us re-imagine how to best teach our students in a remote setting."
Dr. Eric Gayle, from the Institute for Family Health shared how there has been a lack of awareness surrounding telehealth and virtual visits with the IFH health centers. "Better messaging is needed. Even in the current healthcare crisis, physicians are still available to treat and serve patients."
Also speaking at the Coalition meeting were Maria Angela Soto and Jaime Gutierrez, from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Division of Disease Control. Maria provided stats on COVID-19 deaths and current cases in New York State and New York City, and steps to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. Jaime spoke about NYC's Contact Tracing initiative and tracking those diagnosed with COVID-19.
At the September 11th Coalition meeting the conversation continued around COVID-19. Joining the conversation were Dennis Derryck, CEO of the Corbin Hill Food Project, Anita Reyes from the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, Bronx Health REACH's Mike Johnson, Alison Hirsh from the New York City Department of Education, Principal Rowena Penn from PS443 and Parent Gloria Corsino from the Citywide Council on Special Education.
Dennis Derryck spoke about COVID-19 through the lens of racial equity. Corbin Hill Food Project provides an opportunity for low income communities to purchase fresh, farm grown food while supporting farmers of color. "Out of the 57,000 farmers in New York state, 139 are Black farmers. Even though the food industry in NY State is a $42 billion industry, the net income for a white farmer is $42,000 and the net income for a black farmer is -$900. To change this we are asking people to make larger financial investments over longer periods of time to make our program sustainable."
Anita Reyes gave a presentation about the Test and Trace program and the importance of stopping the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a facemask, washing your hands, and getting a COVID-19 test. Mike Johnson spoke about Bronx Health REACH being one of 38 community-based organizations that have been selected to distribute signage and information about where people can go to get a COVID-19 test.
Alison Hirsh from the New York City Department of Education gave an update on what steps are being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools for those students, teachers and staff returning to NYC public schools. "We have established a rapid response team comprised of members from the NYCDOHMH Test and Trace team and NYCDOE staff so that if any DOE staff or student tests positive, we have a communications plan and process to address it. If a person in a single class tests positive, then all others that were in that classroom will be quarantined for 14 days. If there is more than one case in a school, then that school will close for a minimum of 24 hours to determine if the spread happened in the school or elsewhere."
PS443 Principal Rowena Penn spoke about the many challenges COVID-19 has brought about for her school, especially for those students trying to access the internet for remote learning. "We have the highest number of shelter students in our school district. Even though many of my students have a laptop, there is no internet access in the shelters."
Parent Gloria Corsino from the Citywide Council on SpecialEducation recommended a 3 point plan for the NYC DOE to enact so students, teachers and school staff can safely return to the schools. "We want to make sure all school staff has personal protection equipment and classrooms have proper ventilation. I encourage all families to continue wearing masks and to get a COVID-19 test."