250,000 COVID deaths: Where are the hardest hit communities in our area?

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The country reached a grim but inevitable milestone Wednesday -- 250,000 coronavirus-related deaths. That's a quarter of a million Americans in just eight months.

No one knows the loss more than families living in the Tri-State area, where close to 55,000 people from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have died of COVID-19 since March.

That's enough to fill every single seat inside Yankee Stadium.

7 On Your Side Investigates analyzed death rate data for every community around the region to find the hardest hit areas.

"You have to snap into action because the child is fragile," said Janet Huger-Johnson, principal of East New York Elementary School of Excellence in Brooklyn.

All of her students and staff members had a loved one who was hospitalized with or died due to COVID-19, and close to half of her students lost a family member.

"The emotional toll of this, for me, is the big deal because we are talking about children having to deal with something, in all honestly, they've never experienced before," she said.

7 On Your Side found her school serves the area with the highest death rate, not only in the Tri-State, but one of the highest in the country.

It's zip code 11239, which includes Starrett City, an area with a high concentration of residential high rises.

"It was so big to me, I wanted them to feel supported so there wasn't a moment wasted," she said.

The school did wellness checks on her students after hours every day to make sure they were coping with the loss.

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The other two areas with the highest death rates are in Queens, including Flushing and Far Rockaway, zip codes 11691 and 11354.

"In the early stages it was really scary," said Dr. Donald Morrish, Chief Medical Officer of St. John's Episcopal Hospital.

The small community hospital was the first to have a COVID positive patient in Queens.

"It was an explosive growth," Dr. Morrish said.

It's also the only hospital on the Far Rockaway Peninsula, and it's surrounded by the highest number of nursing homes in the area.

"And that's exactly the population that COVID-19 hit hardest of all," Dr. Morrish said.

The families of those who did not survive had trouble finding a funeral home available to lay their loved ones to rest.

"What we experienced was very tough, very tough," said Timothy Jean, of Frantz Daniel Jean Funeral Services.

The funeral home did quadruple the amount of services during the height of the pandemic. Still, they turned away more than a dozen people a day and had no one to refer them to because most funeral homes were overwhelmed.

Related: Brooklyn funeral home shut down months after bodies found in U-Hauls during height of pandemic

"We're in a profession where we always said yes to people who are in need of help, so we had to transition into saying no because of the mass amount of people who were passing away every day," Jean said.

People in the Tri-State felt like they were in it alone at the beginning, but as we reach a new nationwide death milestone this week showing the virus is still spreading, all communities are now in this together.

"To know that the number has reached 250,000, the world is not the same," Jean said. "We are talking not just about New York, but the world is different."
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Jim Dolan has more on a grim landmark after the COVID death total reached 250,000 in the United States.


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