New York state coronavirus figures overtake any single country as mass graves appear

Within three weeks of their first recorded coronavirus death, the total number of cases in New York has exceeded the figures of any single country. The US stands as the worst hit country, with nearly 600,000 cases and 23,628 deaths caused by the virus. A significant proportion of these figures are made up of New York’s cases; 190,000 cases and more than 10,000 deaths.

The so-called ‘Big Apple’ has one of the highest rates of death regarding coronavirus in the world, constituting almost half the total number of coronavirus-related deaths in the US. Reactions to the severe outbreak in New York have been mixed, with many pointing fingers to the clear social and economic divides in the state. The Guardian used the phrase “a tale of two New Yorks,” to symbolise the divisions of class and race in New York.

The virus, which is thought to be indiscriminate in nature, has been said to have disproportionately severe and deadly effects on African-American people. Does this mean this indiscriminate virus is indeed discriminatory in nature? Many have explained that it is not simply the virus, but the racial divides and high rates of poverty which have led to a proportionally higher death rate in African-American communities in New York.

The Bronx, one of the poorest regions of New York, is made up of 84% African-American, Latino, or mixed race people, and is also one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus. Whilst the streets of most boroughs are almost eerily silent, the sidewalks of the Bronx are still largely active. The reason for this, as figures show, is that the majority of New York’s frontline workers (the nurses, subway staff, and grocery cashiers) come from BAME backgrounds. Lack of space in hospitals set within poverty-stricken regions, such as the Bronx, has also meant that the risk of spread is higher. One pediatric emergency nurse described that in the Jacobi medical centre in the Bronx “every nook and cranny of the emergency department was full of patients attached to portable oxygen tanks… 10 patients in just one hallway.” The death rate in the Bronx is reporting twice the rate of New York as a whole.

Another key problem facing New York is the overwhelming number of coronavirus deaths and severe shortages of burial space. As a result, new mass graves are being built in areas that were previously used as burial sites for people with no next-of-kin, or those that cannot afford funerals. Hart Island, off the coast of the Bronx, is now being used as a mass grave site due to the rise in coronavirus deaths. Authorities have stacked up the coffins in large trenches.

Although slight decreases in the daily number of cases are evident, exactly when the lockdown will be lifted remains unclear. President Trump has stated that he has the authority to override lockdown procedures initiated by different states. He said: “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total.” A number of governors have refuted this, stating that the decision on lifting restrictions is theirs.

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Piriyanga Thirunimalan

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September 2021
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