We Must Not Ignore the Toll of COVID-19 on the Bronx

Kelly Christ, Editorial Director

Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck New York City, Fordham’s Rose Hill campus has been left largely empty as classes transitioned online and students and faculty returned home. While the majority of us have left the Bronx, we cannot ignore the devastating toll that the pandemic has taken on the borough.

The disparities in the virus’ impact on the Bronx compared to the other New York City boroughs are astounding. 

The Bronx is the poorest New York City borough, which is a major contributing factor to many of these vulnerabilities. Even before the pandemic, the Bronx has consistently ranked last in overall health outcomes and quality of life in the state of New York. The ratio of primary-care physicians to residents is markedly higher than the state average, making access to adequate medical care even more challenging.

Additionally, the Bronx suffers from higher rates of unemployment and poverty before the economic devastation resulting from COVID-19. Many residents of the Bronx are unable to work from home, meaning that many of them are either essential workers or have lost their jobs.

Business Insider notes that despite a larger population, only 12% of New York City’s frontline workers are from Manhattan, while 17% are from the Bronx. Not only are these workers made vulnerable to infection in their jobs, but they must also commute there on public transportation which is still relatively crowded. 

Co-op City exemplifies the tragedy facing the Bronx. This “city within a city” is a housing cooperative in the northeast Bronx and is the largest single residential development in the country. It has been struck hard by the virus: one report from city health officials indicated that at least 155 residents, approximately 1 in every 282 residents, in the Co-op city zip code died from the virus. 

Considering the tight quarters of these large public housing units, it is nearly impossible to maintain safe social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. 

The rampant rates of poverty in the Bronx have historically led to difficulties in food security. Barriers to accessing healthy food leave impoverished residents of the Bronx more vulnerable to health issues such as diabetes and obesity. 

The Bronx’s issue with obesity is an illustration of what The New York Times referred to as “the Bronx paradox:” the residents suffering from obesity are also those who are struggling with poverty and food insecurity. With a lack of financial resources, many in the Bronx are not able to afford nutritious foods. Many impoverished areas like the Bronx do not have supermarkets filled with fruits and vegetables like many of us are used to. And even if there is one, residents are often unable to afford anything other than heavily processed foods. 

Those who are infected with COVID-19 in the Bronx are more likely to suffer more severe, and fatal, symptoms due to the health issues that may arise from food insecurity. However, this correlation must be understood to be a symptom of a much larger issue. There is a stigma associated with the African-American community in particular with obesity. In a poignant Opinion piece for The New York Times, Dr. Sabrina Strings highlights the need to acknowledge the history which has contributed to these health inequalities: “the belief that black bodies are uniquely flawed.” 

As many reports have indicated, racial biases in healthcare are far from a new issue, and the pandemic has brought them into light in a tragic way. Racial disparities in the impact of COVID-19 have become apparent across the country, and the Bronx’s high rates of infection and death compared to the boroughs with a higher white population exemplifies this. 

COVID-19 patients with underlying health issues are less likely to be prioritized for treatment. Individuals with lower incomes and people of color are often in this group, thus amplifying these issues in this pandemic. 

With a population largely consisting of Hispanic or Latino and African-American residents, the Bronx’s high rates of infection and death are undoubtedly affected by these racial disparities in healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic indicates that not enough progress has been made to alleviate these disparities. 

While most of us may be away from the Bronx, we cannot ignore the devastating situation facing the borough that we call home during the school year. 

The impact of COVID-19 in the Bronx underscores systemic problems that must be addressed. The health problems, systemic discrimination, and financial struggles of this community will not disappear when a vaccine is successfully developed. These issues require a deeper intervention, one which is broader than one virus. 

As part of the Fordham community, we each must pay attention to the struggles of the local community. Though we are often behind a closed gate, we cannot be ignorant of what is going on just outside of our campus. There is a privilege garnered behind the gate, and it is more important now than ever to be aware of that privilege.

It is a delicate balance when we call the Bronx home for the majority of the year, yet do not see ourselves as true residents of the borough. We owe it to this neighborhood to honor the Bronx spirit. We cannot let Fordham’s gates inhibit our sense of empathy and compassion.

While most of us may be away from the Bronx at the moment, the impact of this virus will heavily influence the community that we will return to in the fall. We have a responsibility as members of the Fordham community to maintain a relationship with the residents of the Bronx. We cannot let privilege cloud our perspective on this issue.

The issues underlying the devastation of COVID-19 in the Bronx are systemic and will not be solved overnight. However, I hope that we can grow from this tragedy and use it as an opportunity to rectify the faults of history. 

Kelly Christ, FCRH ’21, is an English and psychology major from Long Island, N.Y.