What's Behind Staten Island's High COVID-19 Rates?

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They've become a common sight on Staten Island: long lines of people waiting for coronavirus tests, a sign of the pandemic's toll here.

Staten Island has 5% of the city’s population, but it had 25 of COVID-19 deaths in the past month.

Latanya Sowell was waiting for a client to be tested when she spoke to us.

"Nobody's listening,” Sowell said. “Everybody's just running around, doing what they want to do, and I think because this summer — it going down — everybody forget that they said it was going to happen again."

There are many theories why Staten Island is suffering disproportionately.

This is the city's most conservative borough, and the one most supportive of President Trump, who has not embraced mask mandates. At a rally for the president during the campaign, masks were optional, and many attendees did not wear them.

This month, when a local restaurant owner defied restrictions on indoor dining, he struck a chord here. Large crowds of mask-less supporters gathered outside.

"There's still a universe who mock the whole thing, who don't believe in the whole thing,” Staten Island Borough President James Oddo explained. “It’s December of 2020 and I am still getting people telling me it's a hoax."

Dr. Ginny Mantello, a neuroradiologist who serves as the borough president's health and wellness director, pointed out that Staten Island has an aging population, and significant numbers of people who are obese or smoke — all factors that increase the health risks from COVID-19.

Governor Cuomo blames elected leaders here; some have, in fact, questioned state COVID restrictions. The borough president said it's not a matter of leadership, though.

"Look in the mirror and remind yourself that you're the borough that talks about personal responsibility,” Oddo said. “You can control your own behavior. And the best minds in science and medicine today say that our personal behaviors impact the positivity rates in this virus spreading, which in turn — whether you agree or don’t — the reality is that determines what government is going to do in the restrictions, the very restrictions you bristle against."

This fall, as the caseload here began rising, the city announced a day of action, handing out masks and expanding testing.

That didn't slow the spread.

Now the borough president says he is working on a new public awareness campaign, featuring residents who have lost businesses and family members, urging their neighbors to take the virus seriously.



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