BROCKTON – More than 1,200 of the city’s 95,000 residents have suffered from a confirmed case of COVID-19, and thousands more without access to testing are suspected to carry it as well.

A city-by-city dataset assembled last week by The Enterprise showed Brockton’s infection rate ranked second only to Chelsea’s among the state’s largest cities, a finding later confirmed by the state government’s release of municipal-level data five days later, which showed Brockton's rate is second only to Chelsea's statewide, not just among the largest cities.

The data have helped experts identify clear commonalities among the places struggling with the largest outbreaks.

“What struck me, even with the very first data series, was, whoa, these are all gateway cities with really large immigrant populations,” said Mark Melnik, who led an analytics team at the UMass Donahue Institute that built a series of interactive graphics with The Enterprise’s data.

365体育官网Precise measurements of how the coronavirus has impacted different races do not exist yet in Massachusetts, like they do in Louisiana, Alabama, Chicago or Detroit. In recent updates, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has reported missing racial data for 60 percent of the coronavirus cases it tracks and, until last week, released all COVID-19 statistics by county.

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365体育官网But Brockton, a coronavirus hotspot where close to half the population is black, may serve alongside Chelsea, Lawrence and Randolph as early indicators that the racial inequities driving divergent health outcomes in other states will come to characterize the spread of the virus in Massachusetts as well.

365体育官网“Of course, the virus doesn’t know your political party, race or age or anything like that,” Melnik said. “The question is, what’re the interacting factors here?”

365体育官网Joan Quinlan, the vice president of community health for Massachusetts General Hospital, which serves more coronavirus patients than any other provider in the state, said low-income communities bear “a disproportionate burden of all disease,” often through “no fault of their own.”

The circumstances the virus does prey upon – crowded living conditions, work environments that expose employees to large numbers of people and pre-existing health conditions like asthma, diabetes and heart disease – are much more common in Massachusetts’ immigrant communities, according to Quinlan, Melnik and several local leaders interviewed by The Enterprise.

365体育官网“It’s not specifically about race. What it’s about is the social condition in which people live in,” Melnik said. “And there is a racial component to that. If public health officials aren’t acknowledging that, then they’re not doing their job.”

 

‘ESSENTIAL’ WORKERS ABOUND IN BROCKTON

In Brockton, city officials are looking in several directions to make sense of their community’s high caseload. But high levels of employment in industries deemed “essential” by the governor have been cited as a clear contributing factor.

“People who work in the service industry have absolutely no choice but to do what they’re doing to support their families,” said City Councilor Moises Rodrigues, who stepped down as the city’s mayor in January. “They’re going into nursing homes. They’re going into grocery stores. They’re put in more danger than people think.”

365体育官网The US Census Bureau estimates that nearly a quarter of Brockton’s workers are employed in the health care and social assistance industries, a share higher than the statewide average. The local 1199SEIU health care union represents roughly 4,000 workers in the city, according to the union’s organizing director Dana Alas.

(Editor's note: This content is being provided for free as a public service to our readers during the coronavirus outbreak. Please support local journalism by subscribing to The Enterprise.)

Alas said many nursing homes and home health care agencies have failed to train or equip employees to protect themselves and their patients from the virus.

“They have little to no guidance even if they’re going into a home when someone in there is infected,” she said. “They’re doing this without personal protective equipment, by and large.”

365体育官网Nursing homes, where many of Alas’ union members work, have proved to be especially vulnerable to the pandemic. The West Acres Nursing Home in Brockton has reported 15 deaths from COVID-19. And when the bulk of workers Alas organizes for are women of color, she said race inevitably plays a part in who among the working population gets infected.

 

MULTI-GENERATIONAL HOUSEHOLDS CAN AMPLIFY EXPOSURE

365体育官网For those exposed to the virus at work, the disease can spread easily to one’s family. In Brockton, where thousands of multi-generational families share apartments built a century ago to house factory workers, local leaders see a heightened danger.

Rodrigues said cultural customs and economic necessities in the city’s large Cape Verdean and Haitian communities encourage group living.

“The family circle is a little tighter in this community than perhaps most,” said Rodrigues, who has Cape Verdean heritage. “My mother lives with me. I’ve got a grandson that lives with me. That’s four generations right there.”

Manny Daphnis, a pastor at the Restoration Community Church and a leader of the city’s interfaith alliance, learned recently that four members of his congregation have fallen sick with the coronavirus.

365体育官网“Sometimes you’re told to go quarantine and what does that look like?” he said. “We have a congregant who is a worker at the West Acres Nursing Home that had the outbreak last week. This particular congregant came home and it went from her to her husband to her children. It’s not like there was anywhere to hide.”

In wealthier neighborhoods and suburbs where homes are often larger, quarantines can look much different.

“I live out in Natick in the suburbs in a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom house,” said Melnik, the UMass researcher. “If one of us gets sick, it’d be very easy to silo away from the rest of the family.”

365体育官网“In smaller housing situations, that’s just not an option,” he said. “You send somebody home and it’s like, ‘Go get the rest of the family sick.’”

 

LANGUAGE BARRIERS, AND A FAILURE TO SOCIALLY DISTANCE

Though many factors driving Brockton’s surge in cases can be traced to economic hardship, city officials and community leaders say some residents still show brazen disregard for social distancing protocols that could have lessened the pandemic’s spread.

Mayor Robert Sullivan said health officials have struggled to drive home the importance of social distancing to younger residents in particular, despite daily communications through written announcements, videos and verbal warnings from police.

Leaders in the city’s Cape Verdean community say a language barrier has also left some older residents less cautious than they should be.

“You have a group of people that is getting the message that is not listening, and you have a group of people that don’t know what’s going on because they put on the TV and it’s all in English,” said Maria Leite, a family health professional at Brockton Healthy Families, a home-based family support program. “They need someone to speak their language to understand.”

Sullivan’s administration translates official messages into the creole languages spoken in Haiti and Cape Verde, and city councilors have video conferenced into church services and posted to their social media accounts to transmit additional messages to immigrant communities. But information coming from news stations and the state government often fails to reach non-English speakers in Brockton.

365体育官网“I fault the state in some instances,” said Rodrigues, the city councilor and former mayor. “I haven’t heard anything out of the state government that produced anything in Cape Verdean creole.”

With large numbers of essential workers living in multi-generational households where many suffer from pre-existing health conditions, Rodrigues said it should not come as a surprise that Brockton has been hit hard. But the birthday parties and gatherings he’s seen young people attend and advertise on Facebook feel like “a slap in the face,” he said.

365体育官网“All those things rolled into one become a storm for the community,” Rodrigues said.

Staff writer Ben Berke can be reached at bberke@dressupplace.com

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Maria Leite works for Brockton Neighborhood Health Center. Her correct place of employment is Brockton Healthy Families.