Coronavirus News: Harlem church loses 9 members to COVID-19 in last 30 days

HARLEM, Manhattan (WABC) -- Mount Neboh Baptist Church, a fixture in its Harlem community, has lost 11 parishioners in the last month -- including nine from COVID-19.

The quickly mounting death toll has left little time for proper grieving.

"The number of deaths in our church sort of blindsided us," Rev. Johnnie Green said Sunday.

Around March 24, Shirley Miller, a 70-year-old retired crossing guard, wasn't feeling well. She went to the hospital and later died as a result of COVID-19 complications.

Miller's son, Fredrick, was grateful he was able to FaceTime with his mom while she was sick in the hospital.

"I was able to tell her thanks for being an amazing mother, thank you for the love you showed, not knowing that phone call would be my final time seeing her," he said.

Miller was a fixture at Mount Neboh Baptist and just one of many church regulars lost.

"It hit so hard, it hit so fast, and we literally had 20 people as of now who tested positive," said Rev. Green.

What's happening here reflects a disturbing trend in New York City and the reason why new testing sites are opening up in some of the hardest-hit minority communities.

Mayor de Blasio calls it "clear inequities."

It is estimated that 2,000 African Americans have died or are suspected of having died from COVID-19. That is the highest figure for any racial group.

Recent statistics show that African Americans are more likely than Caucasians to have fatal hospitalizations during the virus outbreak.

Rev. Green says that COVID-19 testing sites should have been in place in brown and black communities weeks ago.

"It all leads back to institutional racism and how it works in America from the top down," said Rev. Green.

African Americans are more likely to suffer from diabetes, heart, and lung disease, which puts them at higher risk.

There's another thing, Rev. Green points out, many members of his church are essential workers.

"It's gotten to the point where every time my phone rings, every time a text message comes up, I'm wondering if it's another call," he said.

Despite their loss, the Millers' are celebrating a new life. Miller's grandson, Leon, was born eight days after she passed away.

Fredrick says his son is healthy and will know about his grandmother, including her spirit and light.

When speaking of his children, Frederick says he will tell them about his grandmother, and how great she was.

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