The Rev. Scott Williams, of the Memorial Presbyterian Church in Roosevelt, has seen not only how the coronavirus has ravaged Nassau County, but also how it has hit communities of color the hardest.
Williams, of Elmont, oversees a congregation of hundreds from Roosevelt, Freeport, Baldwin, Hempstead and Uniondale. These majority-minority communities have some of the highest positive cases of Covid-19 in the county.
As of Wednesday, Freeport had more than 3,900 positive cases, according to the Nassau County Department of Health. Baldwin had over 2,200.
Williams himself was hospitalized when he contracted the virus last March, and he lost his father-in-law to Covid-19 in April.
So when Northwell Health contacted Williams to ask if the church could serve as a vaccination site, he felt relieved and helped reach out to the local community to schedule appointments.
With volunteers and Northwell Health staff on hand, about 250 people made their way to the church to receive their first doses of the Moderna vaccine on Tuesday.
“We’re thankful for Northwell Health for working hard to ensure equity in our community,” Williams said. “It means a lot to see people who look like me be able to receive the vaccine.”
The vaccination event was held as a part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mandate to ensure equal distribution of the vaccine in the state, Northwell officials explained. Earlier this month Northwell joined the county’s Health Equity Task force to roll out the vaccine in communities with the highest infection rates.
Dr. Debbie Salas-Lopez, Northwell’s senior vice president of Community and Population Health for Northwell, said the health network had worked closely with Williams and Memorial Presbyterian since last year, when they teamed up to provide Covid-19 testing for the local community.
Northwell Health formed similar partnerships with several churches across Long Island to provide aid to underserved communities. In August, it provided free testing at Freeport’s Church of Transfiguration.
Salas-Lopez said that churches served as important allies in curbing the spread of Covid-19 in communities of color.
“These communities have been disproportionately affected by Covid,” Salas-Lopez said. “We’re working to ensure the communities have an equal opportunity for health and wellness.”
Memorial Presbyterian and other nearby churches reached out to their communities to sign up 250 residents for the vaccine, the majority of whom were seniors.
Ernest Kight, president of the Freeport School District Board of Education, was among those who received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine at Memorial Presbyterian. He said he jumped at the chance to get the vaccine and help end the pandemic.
“We have to fight to get this done,” Kight said. “We need to use this opportunity we’ve been given.”
Kight said he would return to the church to receive his second dose.
While Williams was pleased that the vaccine rollout had finally come to his communities, he also expressed frustration not only at how long it took for vaccines to arrive, but also at the lack of communication about such events with the local community.
“I live in Elmont, but didn’t even know they had a vaccination event available at Belmont Park last week,” Williams said. “There’s always been a communication breakdown with Black and Latino communities since the pandemic began. Our communities get overlooked.”
National studies have shown that majority-minority communities like Freeport have had higher rates of Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths than predominantly white communities since the pandemic began last March, and in November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that African-Americans were 1.4 times more likely to contract Covid-19 than whites, 3.7 times more likely to be hospitalized for the virus and 2.8 percent more likely to die from it.
Residents of these communities often work in essential businesses and are at higher risk of exposure. In Freeport, more than 4,200 residents worked in health care support services in 2018, roughly 2,300 worked in sales and more than 2,200 worked in education services, according to census data.
With the success of the vaccine distribution at his church, Williams said he hopes Northwell Health and other vaccine distributors will hold future vaccinations in his communities.
“This was just a drop in the bucket for what we need . . . but hopefully more will come,” Williams said.