The Bronx is the capital of coronaviruses in New York

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“People see Times Square empty and they see the heart of New York. I get it. We are not the heart, ”she said through a disposable mask for which she had paid $ 10. “But we are the legs. “

In the midst of this unfolding public health crisis, New York was distilled for its essential staff. The Bronx, for the most part, is the place where they live, crowding daily into subway buses and trains that take them to Manhattan. As the city gathers around a “New York Tough” mantra, the marginalized here – among them, transit workers, garbage pickers and health care workers – know that New Yorkers don’t aren’t really all in the same boat. According to health department data, there are now more coronavirus infections per capita than in any other area of ​​the city.

The Bronx is not only the poorest neighborhood in the city. The 15th district, or NY-15, its main congressional district, is the poorest in the country. Of all the troubling data points that emerged during the pandemic, one is among the 1.5 million people who live here: of the 62 counties in New York State, the Bronx is the latest death of all measures .

NY-15 has a median income of $ 30,483 and the worst rates of asthma, diabetes, hypertension and obesity in the state, putting residents at disproportionate risk of death if they develop covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Even before the crisis, life expectancy here was 75 years, 10 years less than that of the wealthiest pockets of Brooklyn and Manhattan.

“Poverty ages you,” said Ritchie Torres, 32, a New York City council member who was raised in one of the tens of thousands of NY-15 social housing units and spent much of of his youth hospitalized for asthma and suffers from chronic underweight. He recently recovered from a confirmed covid-19 infection.

“I was born in a leaky and moldy apartment,” said Torres. “It was not a decision. It was a circumstance that was imposed on me. Her mother still lives there in social housing.

As in other struggling communities across the country, the coronavirus crisis could hardly have come at a worse time for the Bronx, which had seen its high unemployment fall and approaching the start of the Yankees baseball season – the six month window each year which drives a huge share of the local economy, especially for the low paid workers. Major League Baseball has delayed the start of its season and, even after certain parts of the US economy begin to reopen, it risks playing in empty stadiums.

The crisis also arrived, while the Bronx is at a political crossroads. Representative José E. Serrano, a Democrat who has represented the region in Congress since 1990, suffers from Parkinson’s disease and is retiring, with a dozen aspirants (including Torres) struggling to gain the support of voters before a primary scheduled for late June. And, in January, Rubén Díaz Jr., president of the borough since 2009, abandoned his aspirations for mayor and announced that he would leave his functions in 2021, organizing a cocktail party in February instead of the traditional address of the state of the borough.

Díaz quickly finds that in January, the unemployment rate fell below 5% for the first time in decades. Now, he added, “It is our entire workforce that continues to be hit hard because the essential workers are bus drivers, train drivers, minimum wage workers, industry of delivery, the food industry. It’s us. They are black. They are Latinos. These are bronxitis. “

This congress district is home to nine waste transfer sites, as well as at least three medical waste sites. CitiBike, the city’s self-service bike program, only made its debut in the Bronx last year, six years after its launch in Manhattan. A heather stretch of four freeways, diesel truck traffic and manufacturing operations combine to form what is known locally as the South Bronx’s “Asthma Alley”. A covid-19 test site was announced for the neighborhood this month, but Manhattan – the city’s least affected neighborhood with less than half the Bronx infection rate – converted its Javits Center convention center and a piece of Central Park in makeshift hospitals. What about the Bronx?

Serrano, the outgoing MP, said he was saddened by the federal government’s response to recent crises, including the natural disasters that struck his native Puerto Rico. But, he said, he finds inspiration in the public response. “Daily applause is not noise. It’s music. This is awareness, “he said of the New Yorkers’ 7:00 pm time. ritual saluting the essential workers of the city.

Torres, the city council member, noted that before the crisis, this community remained generally unknown. “Now,” he said, “there’s no denying that the Bronx, as a vital neighborhood, is looking everyone in the eye. My hope is that a post-covid-19 world will succeed in the Bronx. “

He added: “The bubonic plague put an end to feudalism”.

Cary Goodman, a teacher who became executive director of the business improvement district around Yankee Stadium, said he hasn’t seen any transformative positive change here since 1974. The Yankees season, which spans generally from April to October, accounts for 80% of local annual income here, he said. “Restaurants and Broadway are closed in Manhattan. Okay. But they collected money. Our guys were on the verge of making money, “said Goodman. “This is a new level of degradation. It was bad and tenuous. The worst. Now? Boom. Even worse. “

He continued, “It is an insult to our dignity to see such a great resource as the Yankee Stadium drain into it. How many suites could be shelters or hospital rooms? How many concession kitchens could serve meals to the needy? “

When describing the Bronx and its people, politicians tend to put it mildly. They use terms like “socio-economic status”, “access to resources”, “grain”, “heart” and “passion”. But grain is not a vaccine, people say, and landlords don’t accept rent paid with passion. Platitudes can also be exhausting in 178th place for groceries.

A few hours after arriving outside the market, Ozuna, the driver of Uber without work, passed a sign detailing the mall’s code of conduct: 14 bans, the fourth of which prohibits “gathering or strolling in groups of three or more without being actively engaged in consumer activity. It was published years before social distancing entered the national lexicon.

When the mall was built, it replaced a popular wholesale fruit and vegetable market with big box stores. Then in February, the Food Bazaar supermarket opened to community applause.

She touched the whole sad picture: the line, the Bronx, the city, the nation. “They take and take,” said Ozuna. “So we think we are accomplishing something by recovering what belonged to us from the start. We never leave empty handed, but we never leave satisfied. “

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