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At-home deaths spike in Brooklyn Jewish neighborhoods during pandemic

Data analysis shows 10 times as many inhabitants of Borough Park and Williamsburg areas dying in their residences compared to last year

An ultra-Orthodox Jew in Brooklyn, New York on April 7, 2020. (Angela Weiss/AFP)
An ultra-Orthodox Jew in Brooklyn, New York on April 7, 2020. (Angela Weiss/AFP)

NEW YORK (JTA) — Two ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn neighborhoods that have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic have seen a sharp rise in people dying at home, according to a new data analysis.

At-home deaths in Borough Park and Williamsburg and adjacent areas in March and early April were more than 10 times higher than during the same period last year, according to data analysis by the Gothamist news outlet.

The analysis provides neighborhood-by-neighborhood insights about a disturbing citywide trend — in addition to the high death toll of confirmed coronavirus patients in this city’s hospitals, more New Yorkers are dying at home during the health crisis.

New  York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said it is reasonable to assume that most at-home deaths are attributable to COVID-19. Across the city, at-home deaths have increased almost sixfold, the ProPublica news site found.

The city has not released zip-code level data about those deaths, or any from COVID-19. But Gothamist used calls to the Fire Department for fatal cardiac arrests to shed light on where the at-home deaths were taking place.

In the area defined as “Borough Park, Kensington and Ocean Parkway,” there were 27 fatal cardiac arrest calls to the FDNY between March 1 and April 13, as opposed to just two during that period in 2019. The area defined as “Greenpoint and Williamsburg” had 16 calls this year as opposed to one last year.

That makes those neighborhoods, both home to large populations of ultra-Orthodox Jews, two of the areas with the biggest increases in at-home deaths compared to last year. Other neighborhoods with high at-home death rates are Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, Jamaica and Astoria in Queens, and Washington Heights in Manhattan.

Bodies are moved to a refrigeration truck serving as a temporary morgue at Wyckoff Hospital in the borough of Brooklyn on April 6, 2020 in New York. (Bryan R. Smith / AFP)

Borough Park and Williamsburg, along with the Jewish Brooklyn neighborhoods of Crown Heights and Midwood, have had among the highest rates of infections in the city, according to the New York City Department of Health. As of April 17, Borough Park has had more than 1,900 positive tests for the coronavirus, the fourth-highest number of any of the city’s zip codes.

Motty Brauner, a member of Borough Park’s Shomrim, a volunteer security patrol, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that requests have soared in recent weeks from callers seeking wellness checks on isolated relatives and friends. He said the callers want to make sure their loved ones have everything they need. If the Shomrim believes that an individual needs medical assistance, the patrol contacts Hatzolah, a Jewish emergency medical service.

Brauner related a case from April 5 in which the Shomrim was unable to reach a 50-year-old man. Upon finally being let into his apartment, the volunteers discovered that the man was dead. Brauner does not know for sure if the man died from COVID-19.

“It’s troubling to think about it,” he said. “It was difficult because we had to wait a day and a half until we were able to track down a family member to open the door.”

Brauner said the coronavirus appears to have “slowed down” in the neighborhood as residents have adhered to social distancing regulations. But he’s worried about another spike following the Passover holiday, which ended Thursday and is celebrated traditionally in large family gatherings.

“I’m a little bit concerned about what’s going to be in a week or two,” he said.

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