CITY OF NEWBURGH – Linda Muller has heard the phrase over and over throughout the coronavirus pandemic: We’re all in the same boat.
But it’s not true, said Muller, CEO and president of Cornerstone Family Healthcare.
Muller, and Cornerstone’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Avi Silber, are concerned about access to comprehensive medical care and COVID-19 testing in Orange County cities. They want everyone to know that regardless of ability to pay or their background, they can get tested in the cities of Newburgh, Middletown and Port Jervis.
“Living in any of our larger cities where there is high density, little places for you to go safely outside, as opposed to us who are living in a town or village or smaller community, our lives are not the same,” she said Thursday. “To anybody who believes our boats are all floating in the same pond – we are not.”
As of Friday afternoon, Cornerstone had tested 1,517 people for COVID-19 in Newburgh, Middletown and Port Jervis. Of those, 694 people tested positive, 25 people have been hospitalized and six have died.
Cornerstone’s highest number of positive tests have come from residents of Newburgh, Middletown and New Windsor.
Most of Cornerstone’s tests have been administered in Newburgh, Silber said. Many patients have recovered at home through telehealth treatment by phone or video conference.
“We’re not just doing testing,” Silber said. “… We’re getting these results back, we’re calling the patients, we’re explaining to them what it means and we’re finding the high-risk patients … We’ve managed to take this high-risk group and engage them and care for them and leave it for the really, really sick patients to be in the hospital.”
Juan Castellanos, 39, of the City of Newburgh, said he first sought testing for the coronavirus at Cornerstone in March.
Castellanos was concerned he could have been exposed to the virus while taking on various odd-jobs after being laid off from his factory job in December. He did not want to risk passing it on to his 72-year-old adoptive mother who lives with him.
Initially, Castellanos said, he could not acquire a test because he did not have COVID-19 symptoms, but he remained in contact with a Cornerstone doctor.
Castellanos said he was initially afraid his immigration status would hinder the testing process, but it did not.
There were no problems with language either.
He was tested later after developing a sore throat and body aches.
His results came back negative, but Castellanos was relieved to know for certain that he did not have the coronavirus.
He and Town of Newburgh resident Marcela Carmona, 48, are pleading with people in the local Hispanic community to not fear discrimination, language barriers or incrimination if they need medical attention during the pandemic.
Carmona, an Argentinian immigrant, has lived in the Town of Newburgh for about 20 years. She currently lives in a house with her husband, 27-year-old son, 26-year-old daughter-in law and 18-year-old daughter.
Carmona’s husband, Juan Diaz, 40, tested positive for COVID-19 on April 14.
All family members Carmona lives with were later tested for COVID-19 at Cornerstone, all reporting negative results, except her husband.
He recovered safely at home.
“It breaks my heart that Hispanics who have the virus don’t go to the doctor because of fear, because they believe they are going to be discriminated against and things like that,” Carmona said Friday. “That’s a lie.”
Newburgh has become the county’s epicenter for confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. Of the 9,038 confirmed cases in Orange County as of Friday, 1,165 were in the City of Newburgh, 911 were recorded in Middletown and 107 were counted in Port Jervis.
Studies have shown that widespread illness is more likely to occur in urban centers where people are typically packed together in homes and at work. Urban areas also tend to have a greater amount of disadvantaged, working-class minority communities, or people living in poverty.
“You definitely see it… that there’s a health disparity,” Silber said, noting the Hispanic population is much more at-risk for severe outcomes related to COVID-19. “Two-thirds of our positives were Hispanic patients.”
The City of Newburgh has about 30,000 residents living within 3.2 square miles.
About 50 percent of Newburgh residents are Hispanic. Roughly 30 percent of residents are black and 20 percent are white. About 30 percent of Newburgh city residents are living in poverty, according to census data.
Port Jervis is a city of about 9,000 people, according to census data. Roughly 80 percent of residents are white and six percent are black. Eleven percent are Hispanic.
About 19 percent of Port Jervis residents live in poverty. The median household income is about $39,000, according to census data.
Middletown Mayor Joe DeStefano said blue-collar communities, like his, are more vulnerable to the coronavirus because of the large middle-class, working population – that vulnerability is not as much about race and ethnicity as it is about where people work and their workplace conditions.
Middletown is made up of about 28,000 people living in 5 square miles. About 40 percent of people are Hispanic or Latino, according to 2019 census data. About half of Middletown residents are white and 22 percent are black.
The median household income in Middletown was about $53,000 in 2018, according to census data, and about 16 percent of residents live in poverty.
“You don’t see high-rise apartment complexes in wealthy communities being hotspots for the virus, as much as you see it in middle-class communities where people have to go work at these jobs,” DeStefano said, noting that working from home can sometimes be considered a luxury.
DeStefano said Middletown has most likely become a hotspot because most residents work in the city, at health-care facilities, supermarkets, retail or other similar middle-class jobs.
DeStefano wants more testing for all people in his community, including those who are uninsured, which is where he said local health centers like Cornerstone are stepping up.