SCHENECTADY — Following criticism by the Schenectady NAACP and spiritual leaders over the county’s sluggish response to addressing how the coronavirus is breaking out along racial lines, county Manager Rory Fluman has pledged to step up efforts to communicate.
“If I could take those first 30 days of the pandemic back, we would have done things differently,” Fluman said.
Statewide, the virus has ravaged minority residents in economically distressed neighborhoods and emerging county-level data reveals similar trends.
Schenectady County came under fire by the Schenectady NAACP and Clergy Against Hate last week for being slow to address how racial disparities are manifesting themselves in a city that’s both more racially diverse and poorer than its regional counterparts.
Fluman and other county officials huddled with Schenectady NAACP in a conference call last week in an attempt to improve communication and address community needs.
But the administrator stressed it was a struggle to pull demographic data together in the early days of the pandemic.
“So many things happened so quickly early on during the COVID-19 process ... issues like race, age and gender [did not] make it onto our screening forms when we were contact tracing or when we taking test results from Ellis [Medicine],” Fluman said.
A fresh round of antibody tests reveal the coronavirus is continuing to spread through low-income and minority communities in New York City.
Recent antibody studies reveal 27 percent of people tested in low-income neighborhoods had COVID-19 antibodies compared with 19 percent of the general population.
In the Bronx, the number shot to 34 percent.
"Where is the spread continuing? Low-income communities, communities of color," said Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday. "They tend to be high Latino, high African-American population."
The survey of 8,000 people was conducted in conjunction with community churches and Northwell Health.
Cuomo said the numbers are likely to be similar upstate and directed local governments to expand testing in low-income communities and develop outreach programs designed to address the disparities.
“Focus on low-income communities, do the testing and do the outreach,” Cuomo said. “That's where the cases are coming from.”
City Councilwoman Marion Porterfield welcomed the governor’s push for localities to bolster community outreach.
“It needs to happen,” said Porterfield, who is also a Schenectady NAACP member. “People definitely need to understand the impact on minority communities.”
And many residents, she said, could use a reminder that the virus isn’t just a downstate issue.
“I think there’s a disconnect and people really need to have information and how it’s impacting us locally,” Porterfield said.
Of the 621 people who had tested positive in Schenectady County by Wednesday, 51.6 percent are white.
Blacks constituted 17.9 percent of positive diagnoses despite constituting 12.4 percent of the population.
And those self-reporting as Hispanic returned 10.4 percent positive results, slightly above 7.4 percent.
Twenty-two percent identified as “other” or declined to provide information.
In New York City, the hardest hit neighborhoods in Queens and the Bronx are home to a higher concentration of first responders and essential workers.
At the same time, longstanding disparities in inner-city communities have reduced access to health care, insurance and preventative screenings.
African-Americans are particularly vulnerable to hypertension, diabetes and kidney disease.
Healthcare providers recently concluded three weeks of community testing at inner-city Schenectady neighborhoods, including Hamilton Hill and Mont Pleasant.
While he acknowledged communication gaps, Fluman defended the county’s response to keeping food lines open during the crisis, noting 85 percent of deliveries by the county’s emergency relief operation have been to city residents, and the county has been aggressive in distributing masks.
Fluman called the disproportionate impact of the virus in minority communities in New York City “chilling” but wondered if the numbers in Schenectady are comparable.
More antibody testing is needed to know for sure, he said.
“We certainly have a call and invitation out to the Governor’s Office if he would want to do this antibody testing in our neighborhoods in Schenectady,” Fluman said.