Talk at a recent East Hampton Town Board meeting about the potential use of the former Child Development Center of the Hamptons building on Stephen Hand’s Path as a Covid-19 testing and vaccination site suggests that local officials are at last beginning to realize that they must do more — more than just allowing restaurants to serve patrons outdoors — to help get the pandemic under control. Repurposing the school may be a good next step, but it doesn’t address the one glaringly obvious problem that has sped the virus’s spread in our town.
Hint to Town Hall: Look at where the most cases live. Springs and the area that the census calls “East Hampton North” are the hardest hit. They have the lowest per-capita income and the highest number of shared houses. They are also where Spanish is frequently spoken at home.
Covid-19 is not hitting all communities equally. This is true all over Long Island and all over America. Places that are poorer, have more people of color, and more residents living in so-called congregate housing are being pounded — while the whiter and richer places are bearing fewer blows. Hampton Bays, for example, has more than a quarter of all virus cases in the Town of Southampton even though it accounts for only about an eighth of its population. Incomes are lower there, and more residents are Latino. This pattern is repeated in East Hampton Town, and across Suffolk County.
Isolation of people infected with Covid-19 is essential to slowing its spread; but for many, isolation is impossible. When several generations live together, the virus is often brought home and transmitted to older, more vulnerable members of the household. In group houses, with shared bedrooms or people sleeping in basements, a single case can become several overnight — and the onward spread can ripple across our schools and workplaces — and yet, for many there is no other option.
This is where the towns must step in. As has been done in municipalities from Toronto and Ontario in Canada to California’s San Joaquin Valley, East Hampton and Southampton must work to provide voluntary isolation housing options for our neediest neighbors. It is unconscionable that we welcome immigrants into the community when we seek their labor but abandon them when they fall ill.