This summer, much of Southern Brooklyn defied COVID-19 related rules, and a lot of life went on as normal. In the mostly white communities south of Prospect Park, summer camps started early and playdates and birthday parties are common, still. Local public schools’ parent Facebook groups are split along party lines when it comes to reopenings, and on taking the pandemic seriously.
The city has done little enforcement, though on Friday DOH issued a strongly worded executive order mandating COVID-19 rule compliance at the area’s private schools, of which there are many. Despite the city saying there will be more monitoring, Southern Brooklyn is a large area to cover, ensuring a sporadic effort at best.
And so for about a week now, we have been receiving emails from the DOH warning about a rapid increase in the infection rates in what they call the “Ocean Parkway Cluster,” along with notes of some concern in Williamsburg. Some of these neighborhoods are home to large Haredi, or Orthodox Jewish, communities, prompting a round of media tying the new spikes to Jewish community gatherings.
But if you look closely at the map of where the communities are, it includes areas that aren’t Haredi neighborhoods and excludes some that are. And there is just one map the recent infection rate surges resemble closely: the 2016 election results. Mostly white areas that went hard for Trump appear to be still listening to Trump when he downplays the seriousness of coronavirus, and are suffering as a result.
The above screenshot links to the detailed map NYT put together of the 2016 election results. For those of you not familiar with Brooklyn’s geography – Ocean Parkway connects Prospect Park in the center of Brooklyn with the ocean at Brighton Beach. It is also bright red, indicating support for Trump in 2016.
Brooklyn areas that went hard for Trump include the following zip codes: 11219 (Boro Park), 11204 (Boro Park/Mapleton), 11223 (Gravesend), 11230 (Midwood), 11210 (Flatlands/Midwood), 11235 (Sheepshead Bay), 11234 (Bergen Beach, Marine Park, Mill Basin), 11211 and 11249 (Williamsburg). To a lesser degree 11213 (Crown Heights).
Compare that with the areas of concern for rapidly rising COVID-19 infection from NYC DOH:
Gravesend/Homecrest (6.75%), Midwood (5.34%), Borough Park (4.63%), Bensonhurst/Mapleton (4.41%), Gerritsen Beach/Homecrest/Sheepshead Bay (3.91%), Flatlands/Midwood (3.85%).
As of Saturday night, September 26, these areas accounted for over 23% of new cases citywide over the past two weeks despite representing just under 7% of the city’s overall population, DOH informed. They also flagged the following areas for rapid increases in infection rates, though still below 3%: Kensington/Windsor Terrace (2.45%) and Brighton Beach/Manhattan Beach/Sheepshead Bay (2.74%) in Brooklyn as well as Rego Park (2.34%) and Kew Gardens Hills/Pomonok (2.71%) in Queens.
While some of these areas of concern are dominated by the Haredi (for example Borough Park, and parts of Williamsburg), others are home to many immigrants from the former Soviet Union – Russians, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Georgians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, among others, including a few Latvians like myself. None of them Haredi. If COVID was tied exclusively to Haredi neighborhoods, then one would expect to see Crown Heights lit up as well. It is not.
It may be that the DOH has data that says that some high percentage of those testing positive are Haredi – but when my family got tested, they only asked for home address – not one’s ethnic or religious background, and not even race. It may be that the Test & Trace efforts have tracked some clusters to a private school setting – it would be rather surprising if that had not been the case – since private schools opened for in-person instruction this school year, unlike the public schools. It’s also unsurprising that some private schools have been shut down – so have public schools, as cases get confirmed among teachers.
However, if there is data on the ethnic or religious background of those tested, that data is not public, and to infer otherwise would be a leap in judgment. Those of us residing ‘south of the park’ know full well – this rise is not just because of what some of our Haredi neighbors did or did not do.