The pandemic is ravaging vast parts of the US; hundreds of thousands have been or were infected by the Covid virus and some 100K died. And Indo-Caribbeans are in the forefront in the battle treating victims and helping to save lives. Some seven hundred thousands Indo-Caribbeans (immigrants from Guyana, Trinidad, Surinam, Jamaica, and other West Indian islands) and their American born are settled all over the US but primarily in Northeast, Southeast and Southwest. Large numbers are employed in the health sector in the medical field, science research institutions, senior centers, among other institutions. Many are also employed as home health care workers. They are among the essential workers in the forefront fighting against the Covid 19 disease that is devastating various parts of the US. They are contributing significantly in this battle against the pandemic playing more than their fair role as a proportion (less than 0.20% of the population) of the American population.The pandemic brought out in front the importance of Indo-Guyanese, Indo-Trini and other (many West Indian, South Asian, and Filipino) immigrants to health care in America. They play a most essential role in medicine but were never given due credit because of their color or foreign-born status. Also, the pandemic has taken its toll on Indo-Caribbeans and other American. But it also has had its toll on Indo-Guyanese and Indo-Trini (emergency health care) and other West Indian workers, many of who have been on the front lines all along since the pandemic in early February. Many Indo-Guyanese and Indo-Trinis, in tens of thousands, have been working on the health (medical) sector and as home health aide workers caring for the sick and elderly. Many (lower paid) are also employed in the food industry, packing and delivering supplies, and at grocery stores. They (medical, dialysis, and other workers) have watched helplessly as they or co-workers (home aides, delivery, staff, etc.) fell ill, many of who never recovered. Hundreds of Indo-Guyanese (and other West Indians) died over the last ten weeks due to Covid, and news come of a Guyanese or Trini death almost daily. Other West Indians, South Asians, etc. also died daily.
While no figures exist of Guyanese working in the medical profession, when I was a student doing pre-medical studies at CUNY and worked as a science researcher in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I came cross many Indo-Guyanese and Indo-Trinis, Indo-Jamaicans, and other Indo islanders in the medical fields. Hundreds of West Indians from the islands were also in the medical field; CCNY, Queens College, and Hunter had nursing programs. Most Indian females at CCNY during my college days studied the sciences whiles males were in engineering with only a few in sciences. (Later when I did post-graduate studies in International Relations, Politics, Economics, etc. myself and only three other Indo-Caribbean males were in that field at CUNY; all others were in engineering and sciences. If you studied the social sciences, you were considered an idiot). And as I visited health institutions over the decades in New York, Jersey, and Florida, I interacted with many Indo-Guyanese, Indo-Trinis and other West Indians. They are heavily employed as doctors, assistants, nurses, Physician Assistants, medical aides, and other positions in hospitals, nursing homes, and other health centers. They show up at their jobs to do their part as the fight continues both against the spread of the virus and to treat those who are infected. No one knows how many have been or were victims of Covid. Numbers are not really kept except by those of us who are told of it by word of mouth or read about a Guyanese victim in the media. Empirically, in observing those in attendance at various shifts, they seem over-represented as a group on the medical front line combating the pandemic. Thus, naturally, they would share a larger burden as victims of Covid-19. In fact, some of the earliest deaths of Covid were in fact Indian nurses and Physician Assistants. Studies also show minorities (non-Whites) and immigrants suffered the most from Covid. And more females than males were Covid victims in the health industry; more Guyanese females than males are employed in the sector. And besides being victims as health care workers, many Guyanese also got infected and or died working in essential services like transportation and the food industry. The transportation sector of New York employs many Guyanese. All front line workers, especially in the medical institutions, worked long hours – double shifts almost on a daily basis. My nieces working in the hospitals informed me that they had to (not a choice but a requirement as ordered by the authority) put in double their hours per week. Hospitals and health institutions have been understaffed and all healthy staff is required on deck to help patients fight the virus.
The lives of many Indo-Caribbeans have been disrupted by the pandemic just like the rest of America and the world. Many are infected with a rate higher than their proportion of the population. And their infection rate as a proportion in the medical field in combating the virus is also very high compared with other ethnic groups. They have been called upon as first responders to sacrifice their health to save others – a noble act. But they are suffering a lot like other minorities who are in the front line battling to save lives. One can see them dressed up in protective gear to attend to infected patients at hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, senior centers, and the like. It is not a pretty sight. And they are doing a great job with limited resources.
The pandemic has brought to light the critical role played by Indo-Caribbeans, other West Indians and immigrants (like Filipinos and South Asians) in the health sector of America and perhaps even Canada, UK, Holland, Germany, France, etc. similar to the role played by Surinamese and other immigrants in Holland; some Indo-Guyanese (through Surinam connection) and Dutch West Indians also make Holland their home. So many Indo-Caribbeans, other West Indians, South Asians, are employed in the medical or health field in what is now considered an occupational hazard in America; no one ever thought medicine would be considered a hazardous profession.
Indo-Caribbeans are carrying their more than fair share of infection – an estimated 1% of Indo-Caribbeans have been infected as against some .2% of the US population that has been infected. Indo-Caribbean Americans account for an estimated 0.3% of all those (around 100K) who died while comprising just about 0.2 percent of the overall population. The death rate among Indo-Caribbeans who were infected is around 0.3% while that of all Americans is just around 0.03%.Clearly, Indo-Caribbeans have a high infection and death rate than the overall American. population. What is the background of victims? No studies have been done. But poverty could be a reason. Many Indo-Caribbeans are employed in lower paid jobs and many live in crowded housing units and as such as more prone to infection because of limited social distancing and the need to go to work to earn money to pay mortgage or rent. Those employed in essential services, while not falling below the federal poverty line of about $30K annually except for those in lower paid jobs, (medical workers earn in excess of $60K) have children or families and siblings at home, to whom they (could have) brought the virus. Not surprisingly, many get infected. Thus, the infection rate among Indo-Guyanese and other medical workers is very high although there are no official figures. Aside from this writer, hardly anyone studies or writes about the Indo-Caribbean American community.In conversations, Indo-Caribbean front line workers and some who are/were even victims themselves relate experience with Covid patients and their effort to defy the virus. The symptoms of Covid are dry cough, chest pain, body ache, high fever, headache, backache, other ache, stifling, inability to breathe. There is really no cure – self cure, heal on your own with medication given for flu-like symptoms. Some were/are placed on ventilators to help with breathing; few recover. Those with underlying medical issues are primary victims.
Staff at nursing homes and health centers complained their health is exposed without much protection. They complain they lacked the right and enough personal protective equipment (PPE) including face-masks, gloves, shields, etc. They are asked to do a job with limited resources. No wonder, many lost their lives or were stricken by the disease. So they have to be extra careful about protection – putting on double masks, gloves, shields (when they can get them), and PPE. They are covered from head to toe. Initially, they reused protective gears because of shortages. But now, supplies are more available and they avoid reusing gears that could have been infected compromising their health and that of patients. For those working on the front lines, when they come home, they had to follow protocols to protect their families. But there are slip ups and family members become infected.
The Indo-Guyanese, Indo-Trini, other West Indian and South Asian communities have contributed significantly to protect and save lives in America. They deserve the gratitude of America for being on the front lines risking their lives to save others. They were attacked in the past as being foreigners. Now they are being recognized for their essential service. They must be praised for being saviors of Americans’ health.