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Covid data dearth at New York public housing continues a pattern of neglect

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NEW YORK — Norma Saunders doesn’t know exactly how many neighbors at her public housing development in the Bronx have died from Covid-19 — she just knows there have been many.

She’s lived at Bronx River Houses, run by the New York City Housing Authority, her entire life and serves as the tenant association president. But since the start of the pandemic last year, she’s had to rely mostly on word of mouth to track Covid cases in the nine-building public housing complex. In one instance, a woman alerted Saunders in April 2020 that she hadn’t heard from her 81-year-old neighbor in a week. When NYCHA didn’t have a spare key they called the police, who broke down the door to find the man had died.

It would be another month before the health department published numbers showing that 21 of the 2,915 people living in Bronx River had succumbed to the disease and 101 had tested positive — the most Covid deaths of any NYCHA development in the borough, and the second-most deaths throughout the housing authority’s 302 developments citywide.

The city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has not released specific data on Covid-19 cases and deaths since May 2020 and some tenant leaders said they didn’t know the numbers had been released at all. Many people living in some of the hardest-hit complexes across the city said in interviews that the lack of information has exacerbated anxieties around the virus and stymied their ability to combat Covid in their communities.

The confusion over pandemic-related deaths in the city’s public housing authority comes amid a legacy of mismanagement under outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio, who oversaw a department that ultimately had to be placed under a federal monitor and has only modestly stabilized since. NYCHA is likely to become the responsibility of Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams in January, and he has pledged to reform the long-embattled agency.

But residents, tenant leaders and elected officials are calling now on the city health department to share the latest data on cases and deaths across NYCHA’s vast network of buildings and blaming the city for yet again failing to pay close attention to the problems plaguing the housing authority.

“It could change behavior in a way that other things aren’t,” said Ramona Ferreyra, a community organizer and resident of Mitchel Houses in the Bronx. “If we finally had real numbers, what we could do with education would be amazing.”

Residents of NYCHA — who number an estimated 400,000 to 600,000 — have endured a litany of crises that emerged under the de Blasio administration after decades of disinvestment on the federal, state and city level. In the winter of 2018, most residents were subjected to heat and hot water outages; NYCHA was plunged into scandal after previous leadership lied about the extent of lead in the homes of children; and mold, mildew, infestation and dilapidation are a regular reality for New York’s public housing residents.

And while many residents are particularly susceptible to Covid-19 because of preexisting health conditions more common among low-income communities of color, the........

© Politico

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