The pandemic hit Caribbean American communities hard. How the diaspora is rallying around covid recovery

Caribbean Community Harlem
A man wearing a protective face covering walks by a mural in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City

  • The Covid-19 pandemic decimated Caribbean American communities in the US.
  • Communities in the largest diasporas united to help with health, economic, and cultural recovery.
  • Leaders, activists and artists across the US Caribbean diaspora came together to help communities.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic first began nearly two years ago, it exposed sharp disparities related to poverty, access to healthcare, and overall quality of life that one time left Black Americans more than three times more likely to die from the virus.

“We carry a higher burden of chronic disease that predisposes us to the more serious complications of coronavirus,” Uché Blackstock, a physician who works in Brooklyn told the Washington post. “We don’t have access to care and if we do it’s likely that care is of worst quality because they are often termed minority-serving.”

While part of the larger contingent of Black Americans, for many Caribbean American communities in the US, their unique impact But for many, the unique

A New York City Health Department map showing the virus’ early spread confirmed neighborhoods with a high concentration of Caribbean-Americans in the city’s Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx boroughs were among the areas most affected by COVID-19.

Now, as states reopen and communities are tasked with rebuilding, Caribbean diasporas across the country told Insider their unity behind their shared cultural identity is key to their sociopolitical, health, economic recovery.

Many Caribbean American diasporas were in coronavirus hotspots

vaccine healthcare workers us
A dentist receiving the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Anaheim, California, on January 8, 2021.

Most Caribbean immigrants and first generation Americans reside in New York state and Florida according to 2017 data from the Migration Policy Institute – accounting for 63% of the entire Caribbean population in the US.

Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Black people hold many of the jobs in the taxi service industry, the foodservice industry, as well as the hotel industry. Many immigrants, including Caribbean immigrants, also work in the healthcare industry – the very frontline workers that have been caring for the nation during the pandemic.

A report from the Migration Policy Institute also shows that more than 2.6 million immigrants were employed as healthcare workers as of 2018. They account for 18% of healthcare workers in the US.

That meant when the public was asked to stay at home to flatten the curve, it was immigrant communities and Black and brown Americans who largely kept the country running.

But advocates note that in polling and surveys, Caribbean Americans are often lumped together with African Americans and that can make it difficult to campaign for their unique needs as a community culturally, politically, and economically.

In 2020, the US Census Bureau released a new questionnaire that included the option for people to note their country of origin, which will help differentiate Caribbean Americans from African Americans.

“Twenty percent of New York, New Yorkers are of Caribbean descent so it’s very important that we’re seen,” Shelley Worrell the founder and chief curator of caribBeing, told NY1.

The cultural advocacy group cautioned that impact came at a cost to the community as the coronavirus spread.

As evictions skyrocketed and joblessness grew, Worrell jumped into gear serving hot meals to frontline workers at two hospitals, including facilities that primarily serve the city’s Caribbean population in Brooklyn.

Many Black-owned businesses, already severely impacted by disparities in access to federal aid, were forced to close altogether or struggled to stay afloat. Among those, Worrell focused efforts on the Caribbean business community federal and state aid can overlook.

caribBeing’s directory of Caribbean businesses then served as a one-stop-shop to support local businesses right as a public campaign to support Black-owned businesses gained steam following the killing of George Floyd in June.

“We were able to really try to amplify the Caribbean businesses in our neighborhoods to drive traffic and media attention to the community,” Worrell said.

In South Florida, where the Caribbean diaspora is 21%, drawing attention to community resources was just as much a public health and cultural necessity as an economic one.

Black Americans, including Caribbean Americans, are familiar with the country’s history of medical exploitation which leaves room for misinformation to propagate.

With misinformation about the coronavirus and the vaccine has been spreading in the community, Miami-based attorney Marlon Hill focused primarily on ensuring the people are efficiently educated about what’s happening throughout the pandemic, as well as facilitating mental health and wellness of the community.

“With the assistance of the Caribbean medical professional community, we have conducted a number of webinars to dispel myths about COVID-19 vaccines and the ongoing pandemic,” he told Insider in an email.

But Hill told Insider keeping the community culturally connect is as vital as medically informed. South Florida’s annual Caribbean carnival was cancelled last October, putting the final nail in the coffin of a festival tourism season that begins with Trinidad and Tobago’s pre-Lenten celebration in February.

Last year’s masquerade of colorful costumes in the twin-island Republic is one of few the region, and its diaspora in the US and elsewhere, have seen ever since – devastating a thriving tourism and cultural entertainment scene.

The pandemic devastated communities reliant on culture and entertainment

immigration around the world major cities New York City how immigrants are treated West Indian Day Parade
The annual West Indian-American Carnival Day Parade in Brooklyn, New York attracts close to two million people during Labor Day weekend.

Entertainers and entrepreneurs took to social media to connect people the best way they know how – music. Ronnie Tomlinson, director of public relations at Destine Media PR, a full-service agency that works with Caribbean artists, told Insider she was happy to see how naturally entertainers came out to support the diaspora.

“Their intention was to relieve the minds of the people,” she said. “Just using the music to entertain people. We know they’re human, but we also [got to] see that side of them.”

Similar to D-Nice’s Club Quarantine sessions during the pandemic, DJs including Brooklyn-based Kevin Crown and Tony Matterhorn of Jamaica played live music sets designed to virtually recreate the high-energy fetes that can draw thousands of patrons.

Over time, his shows garnered as many as 5000 viewers per show. Crown told Insider that those music sessions started to help fans, as well as himself.

“I even lost my uncle to COVID so it was just a lot of anxiety every day and as much as [my music] helped people, it helped me cope and gave me a purpose,” he said, at the time receiving messages from fans that his performance kept them from the brink.”

Advocates say the tireless work to keep the diaspora together during a time of global suffering will only ramp up as states re-open.

Following a pandemic, and racial unrest that saw communities of color targeted, Hill cautioned for political leaders to mitigate some of the socioeconomic and healthcare issues in the community by meeting the community where they are.

“Be more proactive in sharing these messages in a vernacular that the community can understand and also see,” he said. “Be more proactive in speaking in our language and in our culture.”

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Under pressure, G7 leaders vow to deliver at least 1 billion extra COVID-19 vaccine doses in the next year

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Joe Biden during G7
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Joe Biden at the G7 summit in Britain on Sunday.

  • During the G7 summit, world leaders said they aimed to end the pandemic next year.
  • Leaders laid out a plan to deliver at least 1 billion additional COVID-19 vaccine doses.
  • Rich nations have faced criticism for hoarding vaccines and leaving developing nations behind.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Influential world leaders who met for the annual Group of Seven summit in the United Kingdom this week committed to delivering at least 1 billion additional COVID-19 vaccine doses to lower-income countries over the next year in a coordinated effort to end the pandemic in 2022.

“Our international priority is to accelerate the rollout of safe and effective, accessible and affordable vaccines for the poorest countries, noting the role of extensive immunization as a global public good,” the leaders said in a statement published on Sunday.

The seven leaders, including President Joe Biden in the first overseas trip of his term, said they would also take steps to improve defenses against threats to global health, including supporting endeavors in science to shorten the cycle for developing vaccines, treatments, and tests from 300 days to 100 days.

Before the G7 released its official statement and news reports of the vaccine donations surfaced, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that plan does not go far enough. While he said the plan was “very much welcomed,” he said more efforts were needed.

“We would need more than, I would say, bilateral forms of support and individual countries’ initiatives,” Guterres said, according to a transcript of his remarks on Friday. “We need a concerted effort.”

He wants to see countries most involved in producing vaccines to form a global vaccination plan and an emergency task force “to guarantee the design and then the implementation” of such a plan.

“If not, the risk is that there will be, still, large areas of the developing world where the virus will spread like wildfire,” he said, noting the risk of new variants could undermine developed countries’ efforts to inoculate their populations.

While a steady pace of vaccinations in countries like the US and the UK has resulted in a sharp drop in coronavirus infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, some other nations are experiencing soaring numbers of new COVID-19 cases and deaths.

In India, faced with a devastating surge this spring, 23,625 new deaths and 630,650 new cases have been recorded in the last week alone, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Brazil meanwhile has logged more than 78,700 new COVID-19 cases in 24 hours, with just over 11% of its population against the virus.

Biden at G7 meeting on Sunday, June 13
Biden speaks during a news conference at the end of the G7 summit.

Wealthy nations have faced criticism for hoarding vaccines during the pandemic and leaving developing nations behind. At one point, in mid-February, just 10 countries accounted for three-quarters of COVID-19 vaccinations given through that point, according to the Center for Policy Impact in Global Health at Duke’s Global Health Institute.

“If the rich world continues to hoard vaccines, the pandemic will drag on for perhaps as long as seven more years,” Dr. Gavin Yamey, the center’s director and a Duke professor, wrote in February, noting the vaccine deliveries up until that point were “a sign that the race to vaccinate the world is hardly on even footing.”

Ending the pandemic next year would require vaccinating at least 60% of the global population, the G7 leaders said.

The leaders from the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Canada, Japan, and the US said they planned to use “the full spectrum of the capability and capacity we can each deploy” to support such an effort, including financing and “ensuring availability through exports, opening supply chains, and supporting final mile delivery.”

Some 2.34 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered as of Sunday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The G7 leaders said they have supported Covax – the global vaccine-sharing program led by bodies including the World Health Organization – as the primary method of delivering vaccines to the world’s poorest countries.

At least 700 million doses have been exported or are set to be exported this year, nearly half of which are for non-G7 countries.

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The reopening is not priced in equally and 3 stock sectors in particular are primed for more upside, Morgan Stanley says

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People take photos by the Morgan Stanley building in Times Square in New York on February 20, 2020.

  • Morgan Stanley says the reopening of the economy brings “significant uncertainties” over where to invest.
  • “Reopening does not mean a full return to pre-Covid consumptions,” the analysts said in a note.
  • The bank said it sees cyclical upside in three sectors: banks, capital goods, and materials.
  • Sign up here for our daily newsletter, 10 Things Before the Opening Bell

With the US economy on track for a summer rebound thanks to steady vaccine rollout and the landmark stimulus aid package, uncertainty about where investors should park their money abounds, Morgan Stanley said in a note Wednesday.

“Exiting the Covid-economy comes with significant uncertainties, and ‘reopening’ does not mean a full return to pre-Covid consumptions,” analysts led by Adam Virgadamo, CFA, said in a note.

With global equities near all-time highs after being pummeled by a year of the global pandemic, Morgan Stanley said it now sees a cyclical upside in three sectors: banks, capital goods, and materials.

The analysts developed a tool that uses a framework to analyze stocks in the US, Europe, and Japan. The process found that certain cyclical stocks which have large overlaps with reopening plays have “rerated relative to the broader market such that a recovery seems reasonably well priced.”

  • Europe: Banks and Capital Goods
  • Japan: Autos, Goods, Transports, and Materials
  • US: A more diversified mix though leaning toward Energy, Banks, Capital Goods, Airlines, a mix of Tech

Morgan Stanley said that much of the reopening is priced in, although not equally across cyclical sectors. Discretionary and industrials, for instance, are aggressively pricing recovery and reopening while energy, financials, and materials have been slower to do so.

The cycle reset, the bank added, also lowered the premium on defensive stocks, with health care among the most defensive for stock opportunities. Pockets of real estate, such as offices, meanwhile continue to face challenges.

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Don’t be fooled by the jobs report, the Federal Reserve isn’t hiking interest rates any time soon

fed chair jerome powell
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell prepares to speak during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Oversight of the Treasury Department’s and Federal Reserve’s Pandemic Response in the Rayburn House Office Building on December 2, 2020 in Washington, DC.

  • The jobs report was strong, but the US economy has a long way to go to bounce back from the COVID crisis.
  • This means the Federal Reserve isn’t going to ease up on its crisis measures anytime soon, and it certainly won’t raise interest rates.
  • Just listen to Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, he’s going to let the job market run hot. 
  • George Pearkes is the global macro strategist for Bespoke Investment Group.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Today’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics was good news for the US economy, with businesses reporting 349,000 jobs added in February. But that good news, while welcome, is unlikely to mean anything for Federal Reserve policymakers, who have bigger plans for the labor market than a few strong jobs report numbers.

In a Q&A with the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell outlined the central bank’s areas of focus for the economy. In keeping with the changes to their long-term goals updated last year, the Fed’s labor market target is now “maximum employment”, which officials admit is “a broad-based and inclusive goal that is not directly measurable.” 

Instead of focusing on a single number like the unemployment rate or attempting to keep employment at a level that doesn’t create a risk of inflation, this approach admits that the relationship between inflation and labor markets has broken down in recent decades. So instead of obsessing over inflation and individual labor market numbers, the Fed now hopes to create conditions where jobs are plentiful for all who want them.

Recent experience suggests this is the correct approach. In the pre-COVID economic peak, 80.5% of Americans in their prime working years (25 to 54) had jobs, the highest since 2001 but well short of the record 81.9% from April of 2000. Despite that very broad labor market success, core inflation only rose 1.6% in 2019, illustrating that running labor markets hot was not causing inflation to soar.

This experience – a strong labor market with little inflation – should influence the Fed’s thinking going forward, especially when it comes to the emergency measures put in place to deal with the COVID crisis.

As the economy continues  to recover from COVID, markets have begun to assume that the Fed is going to start to roll back some of these crisis measures over the next year or so. Some investors and Fed watchers believe quantitative easing (purchases of Treasury debt and mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by the federal government) may be “tapered” this year or early in 2022. Interest rate hikes are also, in the view of these market participants, likely to follow. Markets point to investors assuming rates will not be raised this year but some pricing of potential hikes is creeping into the 2022 calendar year and multiple interest rate hikes are fully priced in 2023.

This speculation – both about QE easing and the potential for rate hikes in the next couple of years – is inconsistent with the guidance the Federal Reserve has offered. 

In yesterday’s Q&A, Powell said it was “highly unlikely” that maximum employment would be achieved this year, even though there is “good reason to expect job creation to pick up.” To illustrate why strong jobs growth doesn’t mean the Fed needs to tighten, the chart below shows the prime-age employment/population ratio. As it stands, in order to achieve the same level of employment as pre-pandemic, prime age workers economy would need another 5.04 million jobs.

pasted image 0 (9)

Maximum employment likely means a prime-age employment-population ratio well above the prior cycle highs, so the shortfall is even more than that 5.04 million jobs. For context, the solid February jobs report would need to be repeated every month for 14 months to get this ratio at or above its old peak, assuming every new job went just to this category. At the 154,000 pace of job creation for 25-54 year olds only, maximum employment is 33 months away.

This is just one example of how long the hole US labor markets are in will take to climb out of, but interest rate markets are pricing almost four 25 basis point hikes by the Federal Reserve by the end of 2023…which is 33 months away.

Only one thing can be true: either the interest rate markets are wrong, or the Fed is wrong in its commitment to returning the US to maximum employment. If you take the FOMC at its word, job creation numbers this year are almost irrelevant, even if they follow the solid pace set by February’s numbers. What’s really important is the distance to maximum employment, and that remains huge, leaving interest rate speculators only one out if they’re to be proven correct about the path of Federal Reserve policy.

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3 ways the US can improve COVID contact tracing efforts and encourage honest participation

A person gets a temperature check before entering an Apple store on June 22, 2020 in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City.
The US has a poor success rate when it comes to contact tracing coronavirus infections thus far.

  • The US has notably been unsuccessful in using contact tracing to reduce COVID-19 outbreaks.
  • A recent study suggests that more than 40% of people would not speak to public health officials when contacted.
  • Kellogg School clinical professor, Sarit Markovich, says that to get people to participate in contract tracing, there needs to be a level of trust.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

As COVID cases surged across the US last December, the CDC reckoned with a stark truth: Contact tracing couldn’t be scaled up to match the virus’ spread.

The practice of contact tracing – or identifying, assessing, and managing people who have been exposed to a disease – is an essential tool for controlling outbreaks by interrupting a disease’s transmission chains. And indeed, combined with lockdowns and mask ordinances, some countries have had great success using contact tracing to reduce outbreaks.

So why have attempts to institute it failed in so many other countries, most notably the US? And given that COVID is likely to be with us in some form for quite a while, are there ways to make contact tracing more effective here?

Sarit Markovich, a clinical professor of strategy at the Kellogg School, says that contact tracing, at its core, hinges on trust. This means that trust will need to be at the foundation of any successful efforts moving forward. This includes building trust in the technology, specifically in terms of false positives, trust that information will be kept private, and trust that people will not suffer consequences for self-reporting.

Here, she offers her thoughts on where contact tracing can fail, and how to do it better.

Consider your social makeup

Contact tracing requires individuals to share private information in service to the public good. In considering how to solicit this information, it helps to understand the difference between centralized and decentralized societies, Markovich said.

In countries with centralized governments, like China or Singapore, contact tracing is mandated and compliance is universal. Governments track people’s movement through a national phone app or wearable tokens, which people scan as they move between locations. Noncompliance is heavily fined. In general, these societies prioritize collective welfare over individual freedoms, like privacy.

“If the government makes you do it, you do it,” Markovich summarized. “And now in many of those places, people are back to their offices and normal life.”

But in democratic societies where government is decentralized, individual rights can be in tension with public health, Markovich said. Strategies that are effective in centralized societies are less likely to work in decentralized ones.

In Israel, for example, the government-mandated digital contact tracing and levied hefty fines for noncompliance. Given the country’s population size and relative homogeneity, it seemed as if national contact tracing would work much like it did in Singapore, Markovich said. But people objected to being tracked. They turned off or left their phones at home, and the initiatives have been unsuccessful.

“In decentralized societies, people do not completely trust the technology and do not completely trust authorities knowing where they are,” Markovich said. “They want privacy.”

Lower-tech approaches, where public health workers individually interview exposed individuals about their contacts, are unfortunately no more promising.

In Israel, for example, a volunteer-led startup tried to launch in-person contact tracing as an alternative to the government’s digital model. The initiative stalled when it turned out residents did not want to share personal information with strangers. That same skepticism exists in the US, where 41% of people in a recent Pew survey said that they wouldn’t speak to a public health official who contacted them by phone or text.

“The goal is to make people get used to contact tracing in a context that’s not scary and in a way where its effect on others is not negative but positive,” she said.

Keep it local

For now, Markovich believes that in decentralized societies, national contact tracing initiatives won’t work. A better option: hand the lead over to local governments and organizations.

At this smaller scale, Markovich says contact tracing becomes easier to centralize. Initiatives can be heavily encouraged or even mandated, and enforcement is also easier when it is tied to the social pressures of local communities or the requests of employers.

“Organizations and municipalities have an advantage because there’s more trust involved,” Markovich said. “They can centralize and mandate it, because if you want to be part of an organization – an employee at your company, for example – there are rules you will have to comply with.”

Over time, Markovich believes that the number of organizations and communities that mandate contact tracing will grow, especially as more local models – a church, a factory, or a city whose leaders have established trust – start to show success.

Reward disclosure without punishing exposure

She also advises that local communities and organizations think carefully about how to encourage people to disclose their contacts. This means, first and foremost, minimizing the negative consequences on all parties: those who have tested positive and are disclosing their contacts, as well as the individuals whom they have exposed.

Here, technology has a powerful role to play. Markovich observes that in some communities, COVID-positive people are blamed for spreading the virus. This practice of “COVID-shaming” could make them less likely to self-report their contacts.

“This is where technology helps,” Markovich said. “You want to use technology rather than rely on people to tell you who they’ve been in contact with or that they’re sick. It’s not about self-reporting. The technology tells you.”

But despite the benefits of technology that can automatically notify people of exposure (see sidebar), Markovich also notes that the human element shouldn’t be ignored. Follow up calls from trained professionals will provide an opportunity for people to ask questions about next steps, express concerns, and learn how to self-isolate, if required.

“The human part is important,” Markovich said. “Technology is great in terms of detection speed, but human contact creates trust.”

And whatever the technology used, if people do have to quarantine because they’ve been exposed to COVID, employers should assure their employees that they will be compensated for the time they self-isolate. Markovich cites incidents in which employees who have been exposed to the virus went to work because they lacked paid sick leave or feared losing their job. Since some sectors are at higher risk for infection, like grocery stores, the government should share these costs with organizations.

“We need incentives to encourage people to tell the truth and feel comfortable staying home,” Markovich said. “If you know that you’re going to be compensated even if you’re home, then you’re definitely going to feel more comfortable self-reporting and self-isolating.”

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