By Kevin Deutsch and Sasha Gonzales
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A new program aimed at supplying New Yorkers with COVID-19 face masks will launch next week without any planned locations east of the Bronx River—a swath of the borough that includes some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods in America, officials said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday said city workers will hand out 100,000 cloth masks to residents at city parks across the five boroughs from May 2nd to May 5th.
The Bronx will have 11 of the city’s 55 planned locations, officials said, but none will be located in the East Bronx: a sprawling area with some of the highest poverty and coronavirus death rates rates in the nation, as well as more residents of color than any other borough.
“Where are the locations for East and Northeast Bronx? Michael Stinson, Manhattan Borough Director for the office of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, said in a Tweet Thursday. “How is there only one site east of the Bronx River? My neighbors need access to masks too!”
Bronxites have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, city data show, with the highest rates of COVID-19 hospitalization and death in the city, data show.
The borough’s rate of death per 100,000 residents is almost twice that of Manhattan, the city’s wealthiest and whitest borough, which currently has the lowest rates of coronavirus hospitalization and death.
All New Yorkers are required to wear a mask or face covering when out in public and in situations where a 6-foot distance from others cannot be maintained. But quality masks have been hard to come by in the Bronx’s poorest neighborhoods.
Dr. Rishi K. Wadhera, an investigator at the Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Center for Outcomes Research and physician at Harvard Medical School, helped lead a recent study highlighting the borough’s disparities in COVID-19 outcomes.
“We need to understand the extent to which underlying comorbid illnesses, occupational exposure, socioeconomic determinants of health, and race-based structural inequities explain the disparate outcomes among boroughs, to help shape ongoing public health strategies and policies that aim to mitigate and contain COVID-19,” Wadhera said.
De Blasio said the face mask program will “keep going from there” after the initial 100,000 masks are distributed, but it was not clear Thursday whether more sites would be added.
Bronx political leaders said the lack of a distribution sites east of the Bronx River – an area covered in deep purple on the city’s coronavirus heat map – is yet another example of the disparate treatment Bronxites have received before, and during, the COVID-19 crisis.
Bronx Councilman Andrew Cohen said on Twitter he was pleased a mask distribution location was included in his district, but “the need in our communities is tremendous & this program needs to be expanded to serve more Bronxites in more locations.”
New York State Senator Alessandra Biaggi was also critical of the site selections, Tweeting to de Blasio about the Bronx’s perpetual ranking as the least healthy county —62nd of 62– in all of New York State.
“Can we do better?” Biaggi said of the planned locations. “Be more thoughtful? Have more action?
New Yorkers can find their nearest face covering distribution site by visiting nyc.gov/facecoverings.