Coronavirus News: NY Assemblywoman returns to work as nurse to fight COVID-19

BRONX, New York (WABC) -- An Assemblywoman from the Bronx has returned to work as a nurse on the front lines to help fight COVID-19 in New York City.

"It's like nothing we've ever seen before," said Karines Reyes. "People are incredibly sick. We have a huge influx of patients."

Reyes is a Bronx woman with a rare perspective on the sobering toll of COVID-19: from the ground level in her community and from behind the walls at Montefiore Einstein Hospital.

Reyes was a registered nurse until she was elected to the New York State Assembly in 2018. But now she has returned to the hospital to help in the fight.

"My community needed me and needed my very specific skills," Reyes said. "How could I not volunteer my time?"

But there's something else troubling she's been seeing and it mirrors new numbers from the city's health department.

According to the CDC, African Americans have been impacted by COVID-19 at a disproportionately alarming rate.

But here in New York City, the largest percentage of deaths is among Hispanics.

"I'm not at all surprised. The Bronx has been 62 out of 62 counties in New York State with the worst health outcome. We had been sounding the alarm," she said.

The Bronx of course has a high Hispanic population. But are these numbers tied more to poverty and less to race -- including a lack of access to quality health care and nutritious food.

The Bronx has a high percentage of residents with pre-existing underlying health conditions.

There are similar circumstances at Elmhurst hospital, the so-called epicenter of the epicenter. The Queens neighborhoods around it are heavily Hispanic.

"That cycle of the underlying drivers to poor health outcomes on steroids because of the acuity of this virus," said NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. "So that in combination with issues related potentially to immigration status and the mixed immigration status households that we have here, I think there are many potential contributors to why we may be seeing the disparities and inequities."

"We are seeing folks who have struggled before being hit, particularly hard by the coronavirus," said NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. "Look, it is a blatant inequality and we don't accept it."

The mayor vowed to double down on strategies to reach the most vulnerable including educational outreach in 14 different languages to break through language barriers and supporting public hospitals and access to health care.

"We've been living it," Reyes said. "We are very much aware of the state of health of our communities. We have for many many years felt forgotten."

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