We have entered the season of fall and a lot has happened since COVID-19 became a national emergency. Although many places have reopened, including schools, and our city may seemingly appear to be back to normal, many–if not all–of us continue to deal with the chaos that resulted from the worst of the pandemic and are continuing our efforts to prevent it from recurring. Many individuals were directly affected by COVID-19, while many of us witnessed its effects on family and friends.

On Tuesday, September 29th, we held a Zoom session as part of COVID Chat Series where we were joined by Angela Soto, MPH, CPH at the Department of Health to help us better understand the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic and to prepare for what to expect and do while facing COVID-19, especially among our high-risk communities–such as the elderly and individuals with chronic diseases.

The following are highlights of our session with Angela Soto:

What are the current effects of COVID-19 in our communities?

Globally, over 33 million people have been impacted by COVID-19 and over 1 million individuals have passed away as a result of COVID-19. Many of these deaths are considered premature deaths because they could have been prevented. 

As on September 29th, there were over 67,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Brooklyn. Of that number, 25% (more than 16,000 individuals) have been hospitalized due to COVID-19 and of the confirmed cases, 7,329 have been COVID-related deaths.

These numbers are not just individuals or a count, these are individuals who are connected to loved ones, family members, and communities and who all make up our neighborhoods.

To see the most updated case numbers of COVID-19 in NYC, click here. This page also breaks down the cases by zip-code and age groups.

There are a total of 9 neighborhoods that are experiencing a quick increase of COVID-19 located in Brooklyn and Queens as of September 29th, 2020.

  • Gravesend/Homecrest [11223] (6.92%)
  • Midwood [11230] (5.64%)
  • Kew Gardens [11415] (3.31%)
  • Edgemere/Far Rockaway [11691] (4.91%)
  • Borough Park [11219] (6.23%)
  • Bensonhurst/Mapleton [11204] (6.05%)
  • Gerritsen Beach/Homecrest/Sheepshead Bay [11229] (4.05%)
  • Flatlands/Midwood [11210] (4.73%)
  • Kew Gardens Hills/Pomonok [11367] (3.60%)
  • Rego Park [11374] (2.64%)
  • Kensington/Windsor Terrace [11218] (2.72%)
  • Brighton Beach/Manhattan Beach/Sheepshead Bay [11235] (2.85%)

How can we protect ourselves and our loved ones from COVID-19?

As our city is reopening, there continues to be transmission of the disease. As we have seen in the news recently, there are communities that have growing numbers of cases. As we did during the peak of the pandemic, it is critical that we continue to follow the four core guidelines that helped bring down the curve that had been spiking–especially right now that we do not have a vaccine against COVID-19.

These 4 core guidances include:

  • Staying home when we feel sick.
  • Keeping a physical distance when we go outside.
  • By wearing a face covering that covers both our nose and our mouth.
  • Washing our hands with soap and water as often as possible.

Individuals who are 65 years of age or older and those with underlying health conditions, are strongly advised to stay home as much as possible. Work from home if it is possible. Avoid crowded places and follow the 4 core guidelines if you must go out, such as for primary care visits or to buy groceries. 

Protective measures don’t just protect us as individuals from COVID-19, they also help protect the older age groups, especially those 75 and older, who–as we can see in the graphic here–continue to face an increase of cases.

What are the recommendations for the individuals living in the neighborhoods that are currently facing increasing rates of COVID-19 cases and may be afraid of becoming ill?

One of the ways to proactively protect yourself against COVID-19 is to learn about COVID-19, how it spreads, and how to prevent it–for example, by attending sessions such as this one. 

Another way is to adhere to the precautions–the core 4 guidelines that we followed during the peak of the pandemic:

  • Staying home when we feel sick.
  • Keeping a physical distance when we go outside.
  • By wearing a face covering that covers both our nose and our mouth.
  • Washing our hands with soap and water as often as possible.

It is also important to know the symptoms to look for, which are very similar to the flu symptoms. If you received the flu shot and are still experiencing the symptoms (listed below), it is important to contact your medical provider. 

If you don’t have a primary care physician, an option for access to medical care is NYC Care. NYC Care is now available in all 5 boroughs and provides health care access for people who are not eligible for or cannot afford health insurance. While it is not insurance, the program ensures all New Yorkers, regardless of their income or immigration status, have equal access to comprehensive, high-quality care. To enroll, call 646-692-2273 and learn more about the program, visit nyccare.nyc. You can also call 311 to find a location that takes new patients. 

Additionally, if you are able to get a COVID-19 test, get a COVID-19 test. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has a page of COVID-19 rapid testing sites, where you can schedule an appointment  and receive the results in less than 24 hours. These sites provide ample spacing between appointment times, avoid overcrowding, and implement all necessary cleaning and PPE precautions. 

What are the symptoms to look out for related to COVID-19?

There are a wide range of symptoms that people with COVID-19 face. They can range from no symptom, to mild and severe illness.

Symptoms can begin after being exposed to the virus between 2 to 14 days. These symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough 
  • Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
  • Muscle and body aches
  • Headaches
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea

When should we seek medical attention that requires emergency attention?

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • Confusion (due to the lack of oxygen uptake that is being hindered by the lungs)
  • Inability to stay awake or wake up
  • Bluish lips or face (due to lack of oxygen uptake)

Why is it so important to receive a flu shot this year?

It is especially important to be aware of the symptoms as we enter the fall season because many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu. The only difference between COVID-19 and the flu is that we have a vaccine for the flu–which has been tested for many years and is safe–and we do not have a vaccine for COVID-19.

To see a graphic representation of the effects of flu related symptoms that end up in the hospitals, see the referenced NYC Influenza Surveillance report from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, here

This is a surveillance report that gets published on a weekly basis about the number of patients that present with influenza like symptoms at participating primary care sites. These images help illustrate how similar the symptoms of COVID-19 are to those of influenza. As seen in the first graph of this report, in comparison to the line for 2018, there was a spike of influenza-like illness cases during the peak of the pandemic–during moments where many hospitals did not have access to COVID tests and possibly labeled them as influenza cases.

Additionally, because influenza and COVID-19 are different viruses, it is very possible to have a co-infection and have both COVID-19 and the flu. There is also a strong probability that having a co-infection of the flu and COVID-19, can increase the risk of having worse COVID-like symptoms.

Who can I turn to if I am having a hard time coping with the mental effects of COVID-19?

We must seek emotional support from each other, from organizations like AMPHS and through services that are available to all NYC residents. Regardless of health insurance status and immigration status. NYC Well is a free resource from the city that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and in a variety of languages. They are available by phone at 1-888-NYC-WELL (1-888-692-9355), through text by texting WELL to 65173, or on their website.

Who are the high risk groups and why are they considered “high-risk”? 

High-risk groups include the eldery and individuals with underlying chronic diseases.

As we age, our immune system does not work as well as it does when we are younger and the likelihood of having comorbidities is much larger. That, in combination with the effects of COVID-19 in our respiratory tract, set up the prime conditions for our older adults to suffer severe effects of COVID-19. 

For younger individuals affected by COVID-19, their likelihood may be related to underlying conditions that they may not have been aware of or underlying conditions that increased the risk of complications related to COVID-19. Additionally, individuals who had underlying conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, and did not have their conditions under control, due to lack of access to medical care or inability to get medications in a timely manner and many other social and structural factors, that contributed to the perfect combination for COVID-19 to take over the body systems.

Contact Information: For additional questions, you can email communityaffairs@health.nyc.gov or call our office at 212-256-9036 and we can direct your questions to Angela Soto.