If Suffolk County were a state it would rank as the 40th largest in terms of population, ahead of Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Montana, Delaware, both Dakotas, Alaska, Vermont, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia as well. In terms of Covid-19 cases, Suffolk is in about the same place on the list. There have been more deaths in Suffolk than there have in 20 states, more than in Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Nebraska, to name a few. Fourteen people died from the virus in Suffolk on Monday, the highest single-day number since May.
Suffolk’s cases reveal something else — that they are not evenly distributed. Places where residents are poorer or where a higher proportion are people of color have higher rates of Covid-19. Measured by cases per 1,000 people, East Hampton Town, for example, has just over 28 cases per 1,000, the Town of Islip has 62 cases per 1,000. Brentwood, part of the Town of Islip in western Suffolk where 66 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino and 15 percent is Black, the current cases-per-1,000-rate is 97. It is also among the poorest communities in the county. For the county as a whole, the figure is 55 cases per 1,000 as of this week.
By the numbers or on the map updated daily by its own Department of Health, Suffolk’s crisis locations are obvious. Less obvious is how medical and social resources are being deployed to deal with the uneven distribution of the illness.
As a whole, New York State is too large to manage local outbreaks except after the fact. Town and village leaders claim emergency powers but have failed to answer the inequality problems within their jurisdictions. Suffolk officials perhaps afraid of stepping into the state’s role, have not shown themselves engaged at the level of detail required. The vacuum has thrust hospitals into a massive public health role at a time when they are also struggling with the soaring caseload.
Amid all the dizzying array of numbers, an important piece is notably missing: Who the dead are. The facelessness aspect of the pandemic keeps this at a distance. Authorities post the daily figures and repeat pronouncements about masks, never really doing anything to help the most-impacted communities. It is unacceptable that the most-vulnerable demographic is bearing the greatest impact of the virus.