NYC woman loses four family members to coronavirus in less than two weeks, sister fighting for life in ICU

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In the span of about a week and a half, a New York City woman has lost four family members to the coronavirus and her older sister is fighting for her life in an intensive care unit.

“There’s no words to explain how four family members can be gone just like that, so fast,” Eskateria “Kathy” Roman told Fox News through tears. “They didn’t deserve to die alone. It is painful. It really is.”

In late March, Roman’s two uncles died of COVID-19. Then, days later, another uncle passed. Her grandmother followed soon after. The unfathomable series of deaths has left her reeling -- and with unanswered questions.

“How did they catch it? Who gave it to them? We don’t know,” Roman, whose family is originally from the Dominican Republic, said. “My grandmother stays home. She’s a senior; she didn’t go anywhere so I don’t know how she caught it.”

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The pain of losing four family members is only exacerbated by the manner in which they died -- no final goodbyes in the hospital and no funerals. It’s as if they disappeared.

“Family was just calling,” Roman said. “Putting stuff on social media. That’s how we found it.”

Her sister, Evelyn Perez, a special needs teacher, has been hospitalized for more than two weeks. She is in the ICU with a tracheotomy.

“She’s very tough, and smart,” Roman said. “I just want my sister to get better, that’s all. I want her to pull through this.”

The tragedy suffered by Roman’s family is indicative of the disproportionate manner in which the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting black and Hispanic families in the United States.

In hardest-hit New York City, death rates for black and Hispanic families are double that of white families.

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Nationwide, the numbers are staggering, particularly in the African-American community.

In Michigan, black Americans are 14 percent of the population but represent 41 percent of total COVID-19 deaths in the state. In Wisconsin, blacks are 7 percent of the population but represent 31 percent of the deaths from the virus statewide. In Louisiana, they are 32 percent of the population -- yet black people make up 57 percent of all deaths.

Experts believe pre-pandemic social and health disparities have exasperated COVID-19’s effects on these minority communities.

It’s a combination, experts say, of black and Hispanic families living in densely populated areas and disproportionately working frontline essential jobs that don’t allow for working from home. Also, a higher prevalence of pre-existing health conditions that make black adults, in particular, more susceptible to falling severely ill from the coronavirus.

“We know that black people have higher rates of asthma and heart disease and those are largely tied to environmental factors,” ReNika Moore, director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, said. “The fact that black and Latinos tend to be segregated in terms of where they live and more exposed to environmental hazards -- that include waste and sanitation facilities.”

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Black Americans account for 12 percent of employed Americans, but are disproportionately working on the frontlines representing 37 percent of home health aides and 27 percent of vocational nurses and bus drivers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Latinos account for 17 percent of employed Americans but work in essential industries at a disproportionate rate -- representing 54 percent of agricultural workers, 39 percent of food processing workers, and 32 percent of janitors and building cleaners.

Roman works as a housekeeper at a rehabilitation center and therefore can’t work from home. Despite the enormous losses she faces, Roman can’t afford to take time off. She takes the subway every day to work.

“I’m scared to get it and then bring it back to the family,” Roman said. “It’s like I’m risking my life to go to work, but I don’t have no choice.”

Even after the pandemic is over, just as after the 2008 Great Recession, black and Hispanic families are going to have the more difficult road to recovery as states reopen.

According to the Pew Research Center, about 61 percent of Hispanic and 44 percent of black households have someone who has lost a job or has suffered a pay cut.

“What we know is that African-Americans are much more likely to rent their homes,” Moore said, “We need relief for folks who are renters as well as homeowners."

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The ACLU is calling on all states to release demographic data as it relates to COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death rates so that testing can be better distributed. So far, about half of the states are reporting demographic data.

“We’re really not going to be able to identify where outbreaks are, which communities are most affected, and how we can fight back until we know who has it,” Moore said.

“We need to be able to fortify resources in the communities that are most affected.”