‘The perfect storm:’ Why COVID-19 Overwhelmed NJ’s Latino Cities


Ernie Alvarez cleared the wreath of pink roses and the pedestals carrying Asiatic lilies alongside yellow cushion poms, till all that remained was a easy grey casket.

Turning a metallic crank, he lowered a white mattress holding the physique of 67-year-old Jorge Gamarra, as his household whispered their final goodbyes. They caressed the highest of Gamarra’s head after which departed earlier than Alvarez shut the lid.

“The toughest a part of my enterprise is coping with individuals who you do not anticipate to die,” Alvarez, 50, mentioned inside his funeral dwelling in Passaic Metropolis. Because the masked mourners headed to their automobiles and the ultimate burial on February twenty sixth, his employees carried the casket to a hearse parked exterior. So went their thirty ninth COVID-19 funeral service right here since 2021 started.

This path of dying extends again to the earliest moments of the coronavirus pandemic. Alvarez has been working in mortuary companies since he was 17, however the crushing quantity of our bodies he witnessed final April was not like something he’d ever seen. Most guests to his two funeral houses—the opposite in Paterson—are Latino.

“One purpose why it unfold a lot in our neighborhood is we do have two-family homes, they usually have three households dwelling in it. That’s how they make it. They chip in and pay the mortgage,” he mentioned. “That’s additionally how I’ve gotten a number of folks from the identical household die.”

His hunch is true. Passaic Metropolis and Paterson are the 2 most Latino cities in New Jersey’s most Latino county, additionally named Passaic. They’re additionally among the many state’s most densely packed areas. COVID-19 devastated these predominantly Latino areas because the virus unfold via tight webs of multigenerational and multifamily houses.

Final 12 months, the pandemic damage each racial and ethnic group in New Jersey, growing total deaths from March to December by 34% relative to 2019. However state information present that Hispanic communities noticed one of many largest jumps—97%—in extra deaths. Excessive-density cities like West New York, Passaic, Elizabeth, Union Metropolis, and North Bergen noticed roughly twice as many total fatalities and Hispanic deaths from March to December in 2020 in comparison with the identical interval a 12 months prior, in line with a WNYC/Gothamist evaluation.

Public well being specialists say that crowded housing and different social determinants of well being may help clarify why the virus flourished in New Jersey’s Latino communities, which additionally lead the state in infections, hospitalizations, and mortality. The dying disparity was starker amongst millennials, the place Latino males make up almost half of COVID-19 deaths amongst adults youthful than 50.

“It is the right storm,” mentioned Dr. Frank Dos Santos, the chief medical officer on the Clara Maass Medical Heart. “This virus very unfairly actually went out and attacked essentially the most weak folks and essentially the most weak dwelling circumstances.”

‘We’re very shut’

When the pandemic began, Diana Carrillo, 44, lived along with her father, two brothers, and 4 nieces and nephews in a four-story dwelling in Paterson. She, considered one of her brothers, and her dad, Teodoro Carrillo, carpooled nearly day by day to Watchung Regional Excessive College in Somerset County, the place they labored as custodians.

In late October, Diana’s brothers, ages 47 and 23, started feeling sick and later examined constructive for COVID-19. Over the following 4 weeks, the virus unfold to everybody else within the family, from Diana’s 1-year-old niece to her 66-year-old father, who died on November twenty third.

“You keep traumatized, and the worst is to return to work,” Diana Carrillo informed WNYC/Gothamist in Spanish. “The primary few days, I used to be crying. It’s exhausting.”

In response to Pew Analysis, Latino households are second solely to Asian communities with regards to the share who reside in multigenerational homes. Passaic County, the place the Carrillos reside, has the state’s largest common family measurement, census numbers present.

Learn Half 1: ‘Complete Generations Of Fathers’ Misplaced As COVID-19 Kills Younger Latino Males In NJ

“It compounds the difficulty, proper, as a result of if you happen to’re dwelling collectively, you probably have households dwelling collectively to assist cowl the lease. Then probably, you’ve got a number of members of that family who’re going out to work day by day, and the potential for publicity will increase exponentially,” mentioned Christian Estevez, president of the Latino Motion Community, a statewide Latino civil rights group.

Sarah Bonilla, director of the Heart of Excellence for Latino Well being at Clara Maass, mentioned there’s each an financial and cultural impetus for Latino households dwelling so shut to one another. Whereas for some households, it may be a necessity, as soon as youthful generations transfer up the financial ladder, “we fall into these comparable roles no matter what our socioeconomic standing is.

“There’s nonetheless the mentality of, properly, I would like to offer,” Bonilla mentioned.

‘He was all the things’

Yanira Cortez watches a video of one of many final huge events her household threw earlier than the pandemic. She remembers strolling these few steps over to her sister’s place, simply throughout from her condo on a slender sloping avenue in North Bergen. It was New Yr’s Eve 2019.

She’s sitting in the identical lounge, watching on her cellphone the place her son Jared Lovos danced into the primary minutes of the brand new decade. He was the lifetime of the social gathering, Cortez informed Gothamist/WNYC in Spanish. “Sin verguenza,” shameless, she says with a smile. “He was all the things.”

In late March, Cortez’s household of 4 obtained sick with COVID-19. Cortez had bother respiratory, and her husband phoned his siblings to say goodbye as a result of he thought he wouldn’t survive. Her nephew, niece, and husband, who lived within the condo upstairs, additionally examined constructive. Her 19-year-old son, Jaziel, laid in mattress for hours, and Jared, her oldest son, was hospitalized.

He died on April tenth. He was 27.

Jared Lovos, 27, died of COVID-19 on April 10th.


Jared Lovos, 27, died of COVID-19 on April tenth. The Lovos’ household in North Bergen has discovered inventive methods to honor his reminiscence, akin to printing a cardboard cutout of him. In addition they made collages of their favourite photos and embellished a lounge wall with an summary portray of him styled after the final J Balvin album he listened to, Colores. March 2nd, 2021.

Stefan Jeremiah / Gothamist

Although younger persons are a lot much less prone to succumb to COVID-19, Latino males in New Jersey have died at twice the speed of younger Black males and 7 occasions that of younger white males. When Jared handed away, Hudson County, the place he had lived all his life, had the state’s highest coronavirus an infection price.

New Jersey is the nation’s densest state, and a few of its cities rank alongside metropolises like New York Metropolis and San Francisco. Specialists say the speed of unfold in these cities, which are usually predominantly Latino, contributes to the disproportionate deaths amongst younger Hispanic males.

“If Latinos are getting contaminated at the next price, then the probability that they’ll have worse outcomes goes up as a result of they seem to be a greater a part of the pool,” Estevez mentioned.

North Bergen sits in Hudson County, which stretches alongside the river that shares its identify and accommodates a few of the densest cities in the US. Hudson has 14,505 folks per sq. mile—essentially the most among the many state’s 21 counties, in line with census information. It’s predominantly Hispanic partly due to its working-class affordability and easy accessibility to New York Metropolis. Now, greater than 2,000 Hudson residents have died of the virus, greater than half of them Latinos.

Cortez mentioned her son didn’t have any underlying medical situations. He labored for JetBlue’s human sources division, commuting by bus and prepare to Queens.

Dr. Meg Fisher, a advisor to the New Jersey Well being Commissioner, mentioned in high-density cities, Latinos who’re already susceptible to catching the virus at dwelling or on the job usually tend to work together with others in comparable conditions, notably if all of them depend on public transit.

“If you do not have transportation…if it’s important to take public transportation, it’s important to go on buses or trains or in subways; that clearly goes to extend your danger of being round different folks,” she mentioned. “Early within the epidemic, once we weren’t sporting masks, that was an enormous, big drawback.”

It’s not clear how the virus made it into Cortez’s dwelling; Jared shared a room together with his youthful brother and a toilet together with his mother and stepdad.

Grief is the hollowness of affection.

Abnner Pereira, cousin of Jared Lovos

“We’re all simply in such a small house,” mentioned Jaziel Cortez, Jared’s brother, who would sleep in the lounge to isolate from him. “One of many final issues I bear in mind is him telling me to maintain my mother.”

Their cousin Abnner Pereira, 32, mentioned Jared was initially denied admission to the hospital till he may come again with a constructive COVID check. He did, 5 days later, his laptop computer in hand to maintain working. However by then, his lungs have been past restoration.

“He was my little brother earlier than I had an actual little brother,” mentioned Pereira, who added he and Jared by no means lived various blocks away from one another. Most lately, he lived a flooring above Jared.

“Grief is the hollowness of affection,” he mentioned. “There is a house of an individual that is imagined to be there and been taken out…you simply wish to contact it, and it isn’t there.”