QUEENS, N.Y. - Dozens line up at a food pantry in Far Rockaway. Normal de Angel says she recently tested positive for the coronavirus. Two other family members are sick too.

"The three of us were in pretty bad shape. One man who was with us almost died too,” said de Angel.

Out of work for two months, de Angel says if she didn't come to the pantry, she wouldn't be able to eat.

In the 11691 zip code which encompasses Far Rockaway, Bayswater and Edgemere, 21 percent live below the poverty line. Seventy percent of residents are black and Latino and according to data released this week it has the city's second highest death rate from the Coronavirus, 443 per 100,000 people.

City Councilman Donovan Richards says staying home to protect themselves was not an option for many of his constituents.

“It was either chose between your rent, choose between health care, choose between your babysitter and choose between a meal. And that’s the reality for a lot of resident here in Far Rockaway,” Richards said.

As the virus has swept through the city and the country, low-income communities of color are being disproportionately affected. That inequality is on full display along the ocean in Queens. At the opposite end of the Rockaway peninsula — the private, largely white gated community of Breezy Point, has suffered just two deaths.


Richards says residents mostly live in one-family homes and have better access to health care, including testing. Many are cops and firefighters who enjoy relatively robust health care coverage.

“When you don’t have testing, you don’t know who’s asymptomatic. You don’t know who has the virus. And therefore the spread is just continuous," he added.

Throughout the Rockaways, 435 people have died from COVID-19, 129 of them in nursing homes. Richards says the peninsula’s geographic isolation makes residents more susceptible, too. There is just one hospital for more than 120,000 residents. Richards says it’s taken the city too long to release this data.

“If I had to give the city a grade on transparency, I would say an F. It’s taken too long. Data drives policy,” Richards said.

Although the city’s beaches will be closed Memorial Day Weekend — Richards is concerned about people surging into the community anyway and what that will mean for the virus spreading  on the peninsula.