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Three southern Brooklyn neighborhoods — Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach, and parts of Brighton Beach — currently make up the area of the city with the highest positivity rate for COVID-19 tests.
City testing data shows 17.37 percent of all tests administered in the 11235 zip code produced positive results during the 7-day period from Jan. 12 through Jan. 18, when the most recent data is available.
Some 521 new coronavirus cases cropped up that week in the area, which is nearly 100 more new cases than the next highest zip code, 10467 in the Bronx.
While no other Brooklyn neighborhoods cracked the top five of the city’s highest COVID-19 positive testing rate, six other southern Brooklyn neighborhoods — Bensonhurst, Mapleton, Bath Beach, Gravesend, other parts of Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Seagate and Homecrest, in that order — are included in the top ten.
Throughout Brooklyn, the positive testing rate sits at 8.13 percent. Across the Five Boroughs, where the rate has hovered around 9 percent, health officials have recorded 36,069 new cases over the seven days ending on Jan. 18.
Theresa Scavo, chairwoman of the area’s Community Board 15, attributes the recent spike in southern Brooklyn cases to people dropping their guard to spend the holidays with family members.
“People are getting crazy, they have been locked in their homes for months,” Scavo said. “You had the holidays, people want to be with friends and family, and they let their guard down, that’s what happening.”
She told Brooklyn Paper the community board has also received multiple reports from residents of store employees not wearing masks inside their businesses and people not wearing masks when walking on the waterfront.
“The community board has received a lot of complaints that there are certain stores that the personnel of the stores are not wearing masks,” Scavo said. “People are mentioning that they are walking around in certain areas, along the waterfront, and people are not wearing masks.”
Area Councilman Chaim Deutsch, however, suggests the increase in COVID-19 rates could result from city dwellers traveling to his district for its recreational spaces, such as the waterfront, and also from caretakers coming from different areas of the city to treat the district’s high population of elderly people.
“Because there is so much activity and so many places people can actually go to, you tend to have more people congregating in certain areas,” My district has a very high population of seniors… where they also have homecare attendants.”
Deutsch recommends the city government dispatch people to knock on doors to educate residents on the importance of wearing a mask, washing their hands and social distancing to combat the spreading of misinformation about the coronavirus on social media.
“There is not enough education,” Deutsch said. “People are constantly on social media… they need to re-educate people constantly because people always believe the last thing they read.”
But most importantly, he said the city needs to designate vaccinations to southern Brooklyn, especially his district, where there is an outsized senior population and coronavirus cases are soaring.
“My constituents are telling me they are trying to get appointments,” Deutsch said. “We need to see the city putting in resources in those areas that need it most. My district needs it most.”
Sheepshead Bay resident Ned Berke expressed frustration at the infection rate in a neighborhood Facebook group.
“Keep up the hard work of wearing masks around your chins, coughing into the markets’ open salad bar, and generally not giving a s—,” he wrote. “Sheepshead proud.”
Update (3:47 pm): This story has been updated to include comments from area Councilman Chaim Deutsch.
In ambulances, an unseen, unwelcome passenger: COVID-19
LOS ANGELES (AP) — It’s crowded in the back of the ambulance.
Two emergency medical technicians, the patient, the gurney — and an unseen and unwelcome passenger lurking in the air.
For EMTs Thomas Hoang and Joshua Hammond, the coronavirus is constantly close. COVID-19 has become their biggest fear during 24-hour shifts in California’s Orange County, riding with them from 911 call to 911 call, from patient to patient.
They and other EMTs, paramedics and 911 dispatchers in Southern California have been thrust into the front lines of the national epicenter of the pandemic. They are scrambling to help those in need as hospitals burst with a surge of patients after the holidays, ambulances are stuck waiting outside hospitals for hours until beds become available, oxygen tanks are in alarmingly short supply and the vaccine rollout has been slow.
Emergency medical workers Jacob Magoon, from left, Joshua Hammond and Thomas Hoang lift a patient onto a gurney in Placentia, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Emergency medical technician Thomas Hoang, 29, of Emergency Ambulance Service, loads a patient into an ambulance in Placentia, Calif., Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Emergency medical technician Joshua Hammond, right, of Emergency Ambulance Service, holds the hand of a patient to calm her down in Placentia, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
EMTs and paramedics have always dealt with life and death — they make split-second decisions about patient care, which hospital to race to, the best and fastest way to save someone — and now they’re just a breath away from becoming the patient themselves.
They gown up, mask up and glove up, “but you can only be so safe,” Hammond said. “We don’t have the luxury of being 6 feet apart from the patient.”
Statistics on COVID-19 cases and deaths among EMTs and paramedics — especially ones employed by private companies — are hard to find. They are considered essential health care workers but rarely receive the pay and protections given to doctors and nurses.
Hammond and Hoang work for Emergency Ambulance Service Inc., a private ambulance company in Southern California. They, like so many others, have long fostered goals of becoming first responders to serve their communities.
Hoang is attending nursing school. Hammond is one test away from becoming a paramedic. Both were called to a life in the medical field after traumatic experiences: Hammond had to call 911 after his mother had an allergic reaction, and Hoang witnessed a young bicyclist get hit by a car.
Yet as COVID-19 infections surge and the risks increase, they wonder: Is it worth risking your life — and the lives of your loved ones at home — for a small paycheck and a dream?
“It’s really hard to justify it beyond ‘I really want to help people,’” said Hammond, 25. “Is that worth the risk?”
For now, yes.
“I do want to do my part in helping people get better, in a sense,” said Hoang, 29.
And so their day starts at 7 a.m.
Wearing masks, Hoang and Hammond clean their ambulance and equipment, wiping down every surface even if the previous crew scrubbed it already. They take no chances during their daylong shift covering the Orange County city of Placentia.
The 911 calls come in with limited information: a broken bone, chest pain, difficulty breathing, stomachache, fever. Every patient is a potential carrier of the coronavirus, whether they know it or not.
Sometimes, people know they’re infected and tell 911 dispatchers before the EMTs arrive. Other times, the symptoms themselves — fever, shortness of breath — signal a possible case. But Hammond remembers one woman, suffering from hip pain, who didn’t tell him or his partner about her coronavirus diagnosis.
He only found out afterward, saying it reinforced the importance of treating every patient as if they have tested positive.
“That was definitely a call where we learned a lot,” Hammond said.
Unlike doctors and nurses, first responders must go inside homes. They walk into hot zones where everyone in a household is sick, where the virus is in the air. They lift immobile patients onto gurneys, their masked faces just inches apart.
They race to hospitals already overwhelmed with sick people, sometimes only to wait hours outside before their patient can be admitted. And then they do it all again when the next 911 call comes in.
“We don’t know the end result,” Hoang said. “We only know the beginning to the hospital.”
Then there are those who direct the EMTs where to go. In Los Angeles County, 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest from Hoang and Hammond, three young women stood before six screens apiece recently, talking into headsets with clear, clipped voices, marshaling other ambulance crews around a territory stretching from the mountains to the sea.
Ashley Cortez, Adreanna Moreno and Jaime Hopper work 12-hour shifts as dispatchers for Care Ambulance Service Inc. If the EMTs are the front lines, these women are the scouts.
They play chess with ambulances all day. When one gets stuck at a hospital for eight, 10 or 12 hours, the dispatchers must reposition the others to cover its area. When an EMT reports a positive COVID-19 test, the dispatchers must find a way to cover the ambulance’s calls if the whole crew must quarantine. When one household has multiple coronavirus patients requiring two ambulances, the dispatchers have to plug the hole.
Their greatest fear is what’s called a “level zero” — when there are no ambulances left to send to an emergency. In Los Angeles County, one of the nation’s hardest-hit counties during the pandemic, the fear becomes a regular reality.
For Moreno, 28, the anxiety begins the night before her shift.
“I lay there and know I’m going to come in, and I know I’m going to have no units to run these calls,” she said.
On Christmas weekend, Cortez watched as call after call piled up on her screen — with no ambulances available. Typically, it takes 30 seconds to send one out. That weekend, it took up to 15 minutes. And this was even before ambulances started languishing outside hospitals for hours.
“I was just in disbelief,” said Cortez, 26.
There’s not much more the dispatchers can do. They watch those screens. They listen to radio chatter. They rearrange the crews to cover the most territory possible. And they wonder what fresh horror awaits in a virus-ravaged world where the dangers are too many and the ambulances are too few.
“What if something happens to my daughter,” Cortez said, “and there was nobody to send for her?”