How churches can
help our city heal
from the pandemic
BY DR. RAMON TALLAJ
In a matter of four short months, our
city has been ravaged by the COVID-19
pandemic, which has taken over 17,000
lives and forced more than 2 million people
out of jobs. Communities of color, also at
the epicenter of protest and activism over
police injustice, have borne the brunt.
New York is in a dark time. And the
uncertainty and fear are far from over as
the threat of a second wave sits right on our
doorstep – and major questions linger over
a safe way forward to rebuild communities,
safely open schools and safely using public
transportation. Answers are in short supply.
We are nervous.
I’m an immigrant doctor who leads a
nonprofi t network of immigrant physicians,
who largely serve the communities where
we live, learn and pray. We know well that
even before the pandemic and the protests,
our communities were already decades
behind the fi nancial and health advances
of the general population. COVID-19 has
magnifi ed those disparities.
Many of our community members work
low-income jobs – as line-cooks, nurse’s
aides, grocery store clerks – majority of
which can’t be done remotely and don’t offer
paid sick days. Many of our families live
in smaller quarters with shared bathrooms
and living spaces with multiple people, so
they are not able to self-quarantine as effectively.
And many have limited access to
quality healthcare and less likely to have
a connection to general practitioners if
they come down with a fever, dry cough
PHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES
or shortness of breath—some of the top
symptoms of COVID-19.
They are in crisis.
And in a crisis, everybody needs a partner
to rely on. Who share common values,
and are joined by a common mission. That’s
why the partnership that community doctors
have formed with the Archdiocese of
New York to test and treat the coronavirus
is giving thousands of lower-income New
Yorkers hope. In immigrant communities,
there may be little trust between vulnerable
populations and offi cial institutions,
including government and big corporate
hospitals. But there is trust with the family
doctor and the church.
For many, doctors and faith leaders alike
are the essence of essentiality. People are
seeking the care they need and together we
are bridging the gaps by helping restore
hope in our hard-hit communities and
sharing a message of healing and restoration
preached and practiced by the church.
Priests are working alongside doctors in
nearly fi fty churches and, so far, have tested
and treated over 100,000 New Yorkers for
COVID-19. And since they are on the front
lines, priests and church staff are also being
Our churches and our doctors are ready.
Together, let’s rebuild and come back stronger
than before. Through this, we can piece
together our brokenness, unite and begin
the process of healing.
Dr. Ramon Tallaj is the Chairman of SOMOS,
a non-profi t, physician-led network
of more than 2,500 health care providers
serving over 800,000 patients.
No ideal answer to school reopenings
Over the past week, the city and
country have been debating how
to reopen schools during the COVID
19 pandemic. It doesn’t seem to be a
question or if or when, in spite of all the
By all accounts, children do not appear
to be as physically vulnerable to COVID-19
as older adults. Younger children, according
to some studies, have a lesser likelihood of
contracting the illness and spreading it to
adults, even if they are asymptomatic. That
risk, however, increases with the child’s age.
The risk, nevertheless, remains with
any children who may have contracted
COVID-19 to spread that illness inadvertently
to the people they love — including
their teachers. That’s why great care must
be taken into reopening schools across
America this August or September.
The city’s preliminary plan, as Mayor Bill
de Blasio announced last week, would signifi -
cantly reduce class sizes and turn the school
week into a hybrid of in-classroom instruction
and remote learning. That would restore some
of the interaction children lost during the
pandemic, while also improving the quality
of their education; online learning cannot
replace the educational experience between
students and teachers in a classroom setting.
This plan, far from offi cial, is a good plan,
but it’s not perfect. Let’s face it — there is no
perfect plan for this crisis, and one shouldn’t
expect to see it develop in the weeks ahead.
We should acknowledge the necessity for
restoring some sort of normalcy to a child’s
education while taking every precaution
possible to avoid infection. The urgency of
this goes beyond a child’s physical needs.
The Association of American Pediatrics
recently reported the need for additional
resources toward caring for mental health
among children. Prolonged separation
from their friends and teachers could cause
children to suffer various issues that may
impact them for the rest of their lives, such
as anxiety and depression.
We need to move forward with a plan
that safely returns children to a classroom
setting for part of a week. We must count
on the city to avoid the failures of other
states in reopening haphazardly and increasing
infection as a result.
On a personal level, each of us must
continue making the sacrifi ces we’ve made
from the start — social distancing, maskwearing,
avoiding large gatherings — to
keep COVID-19 at bay in New York, until
the day comes that an effective vaccine and/
or treatment is available and widely used.
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8 July 16, 2020 Schneps Media