THE foreign affairs ministry is being urged to establish a platform on which people can register the names of Jamaicans living overseas who have died from COVID-19.
Caribbean Immigrant Services Managing Director Irwine Clare made the call against the background of the number of people who have succumbed to the virus, particularly in the New York tri-state area (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut) — home to the largest population of Jamaican immigrants — and the fact no one can say how many Jamaicans are included in the toll.
“I can tell you that, anecdotally, I hear Jamaicans are dying; and that’s why I reached out to officials at the consulate and I said, ‘Maybe you should put out an advisory that when you hear of a Jamaican dying, advise the consulate so that we can at least keep some kind of count’, because there’s no official that can say, ‘Yes, this person from Jamaica has died’,” Clare, who lives in New York, told the Jamaica Observer last weekend.
Clare, who has spent more than two decades in service to Caribbean immigrants, especially his fellow Jamaicans, argued that the establishment of the platform he is proposing should lead to a cultural practice of Jamaicans registering with the island’s consulates, embassies, or high commissions on arrival in the countries where those services exist.
In relation to the lack of firm numbers on the impact of COVID-19 on the Jamaican community in the United States, Clare pointed to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) — a federal law that requires the creation of national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without patients’ consent or knowledge.
He said even with the restriction under the HIPPA, the authorities are “probably so overwhelmed” now that they would not be able to provide the information.
Yesterday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo reported that the new coronavirus killed another 671 New Yorkers over the Easter holiday, pushing the state’s death toll above 10,000.
At the same time, data from Johns Hopkins University show that there were more than 195,000 confirmed cases and over 42,000 people hospitalised in New York. While nationwide there were more than 570,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and just over 23,000 deaths up to yesterday.
“The thing that stands out — and we’re having a dialogue with some other Caribbean folks — it is said now that black Americans are dying at twice the rate of white Americans right here in the New York tri-state area,” Clare said. “If it is said that Caribbean people make up 35 to 40 per cent of the African American community here in the tri-state area, it holds true that the percentage of that population being affected by this COVID-19 would also be along that line, and to add to that, Caribbean people are more involved in essential services and in services that would put them more in harm’s path.
“So, if they say 100 African-Americans die, 35 or so are Caribbean, and from that 35 or so, Jamaicans are the predominant English-speaking Caribbean community. So we have a sizeable amount,” he argued.
“We are a significant component of the black community here in New York, and if they’re dying, we are dying too, because a lot of us are in essential services and so would have been out there. We may not be dying from an essential service perspective, but we’re probably taking the virus back home,” Clare argued further.
He revealed that he lost his brother — 55-year-old Dwight Clare who lived in New Jersey and who had diabetes, as well as another family member, Hugh Trent — to the virus recently.
Other Jamaicans who have succumbed to the virus, Clare said, were Donald Brooks of St Luke’s Episcopal Church; and Roy Hastic, president, Caribbean Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, he pointed to Maureen Gouldbourne, who he said lost three members of her family within days.
Yesterday, Jamaica Observer readers reported a number of deaths of Jamaicans in the US to COVID-19 on the newspaper’s Instagram page. At the same time, word reached the Observer that veteran broadcaster and radio personality Gil Bailey also succumbed to the virus.
“Two weeks ago or so, I was hearing that people were dead but I didn’t know who [they were], but now I’m knowing the persons who are dying. That is frightening, and it’s getting closer. But I cannot tell you, scientifically, the amount, because I don’t think anybody has the collation,” Clare told the Observer.
“I spoke to a couple of pastors and asked them to start collating that information in their churches, because at some point we will need to memorialise these people because they would have died by themselves — in isolation. You can’t see them, enuh. When you drop off somebody at the hospital and they die, you can’t go in to see them — that’s it,” Clare lamented.
“And the funerals now, is five or 10 people can go. So the situation is that we’re going to be mourning for a long time after this, and the healing process is going to be a while,” he said, adding that funeral homes are now taking 30 to 35 bodies a week, while funerals are now “backed up all the way to June/July”.
As an indication of how dire the situation is in New York, Clare pointed to Cuomo’s declaration last week that he would sign an order allowing funeral directors from outside the state to come in and help overwhelmed funeral homes deal with the mounting coronavirus death toll.
“Mi never hear of a funeral director shortage yet,” Clare said.
He said one of the issues that are now of great concern to the Caribbean community is the fallout in jobs in the health-care sector, “because a lot of Jamaicans and Caribbean people work in that field as caregivers.
“Many of the nannies and housekeepers, especially, are going to be the first to get hit because people will not need them,” he said. “A lot of them are crying, and no stimulus will help them. You also find that those are the persons who are most likely the remitters of money to Jamaica.”
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