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‘In the Heights’ celebrates the resilience Washington Heights has used to fight the COVID-19 pandemic

Local institutions and community bonds forged during the turmoil of the 1970s and 1980s helped a vulnerable neighborhood walloped by the pandemic endure.

For decades, Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood has been home to a mosaic of ethnic groups. Andrew Burton/Getty Images

With camera work that swoops from rooftops to street corners, the film “In the Heights” brings to life the dynamism of northern Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood.

Directed by Jon M. Chu, “In the Heights” updates Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Tony Award-winning musical of the same name. Set in a changing neighborhood defined by Dominicans and Latino immigrants, the film eloquently expresses the feel of a hardworking place where your block is your home and a 10-minute walk is a journey to another world.

For me, the film hit home. It brought me back to the years I spent researching and writing my book “Crossing Broadway: Washington Heights and the Promise of New York City,” when I interviewed residents, walked police patrols and dug into municipal records.

Lin-Manuel Miranda poses in front of a cart that sells flavored ice.
Lin-Manuel Miranda on location while filming ‘In the Heights’ in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood. James Devaney/GC Images via Getty Images

In Washington Heights, long home to a mosaic of ethnic groups, some people have recoiled from human differences and huddled up in tight but exclusionary enclaves – ignorant of their neighbors at best, nasty toward them at worst.

Other residents, street-smart cosmopolitans, learned to cross racial and ethnic boundaries to save their neighborhood from crime, decayed housing and inadequate schools. In the 1990s, their efforts turned Washington Heights, once known for a murderous drug trade, into a gentrification hot spot.

My book was released in paperback during the fall of 2019. Just five months later, COVID-19 came.

Could a neighborhood already grappling with the challenges of gentrification – a prominent theme of “In the Heights” – survive a global health disaster? And could a film conceived before COVID-19 emerged speak to a city that sometimes seems to be transformed by the pandemic?

So far – and even though Washington Heights stands out in Manhattan for its suffering due to the coronavirus pandemic – the answer is a cautious yes.

But that painful victory, won with vaccines, local institutions and local ingenuity, will be valuable only if enough can be learned from northern Manhattan’s solidarity and activism to build a healthier and more just city as the pandemic recedes.

A neighborhood rife with vulnerabilities

Like other immigrant neighborhoods confronting the pandemic, Washington Heights and Inwood – the neighborhood to its immediate north – faced serious vulnerabilities.

Immigrant labor and business acumen rescued New York City from the urban crisis in the 1970s and 1980s, when white flight, job losses, a withering tax base and high crime devastated the city.

But as my co-author David M. Reimers and I pointed out in “All the Nations Under Heaven: Immigrants, Migrants and the Making of New York,” the rebuilt city is marked by inequality. Rents are astronomic, so families in Washington Heights and Inwood often double up to make costs more bearable. In the face of an easily transmitted disease, overcrowded housing was a ticking bomb.

A sign in a storefront requests only three customers enter at a time.
Many Washington Heights residents couldn’t hunker down in their homes during the pandemic. They needed to staff stores that keep the city running. Led Black, Author provided

Residents in these uptown neighborhoods were also endangered by their jobs. In a city where many white-collar workers could work from home on their laptops, a disproportionate number of Washington Heights residents had to venture out to staff stores, clean buildings, deliver groceries and provide health and child care. As one uptown resident told me, her neighbors weren’t worrying about gaining 15 pounds – they were worried whether their next customer would infect them.

Equally troubling, many uptown residents had nowhere to run to. In more affluent neighborhoods, like the Upper East Side where I live, many people with country houses could decamp. In Washington Heights and Inwood, most people hunkered down in their apartments.

Bonds forged in mutual struggle

Nevertheless, Washington Heights and Inwood have strengths born in the hard experience of making a new home in New York.

The neighborhood has long been the destination of newcomers to the city, among them African Americans escaping Jim Crow, Irish immigrants putting behind them political and economic hardship, Puerto Ricans looking for prosperity, Eastern European Jews in flight from pogroms, German Jewish refugees from Nazism and Greeks expelled from Istanbul. In the 1970s, Dominicans fleeing political repression and economic hardship began to arrive in transforming numbers, along with a small but significant number of Soviet Jews escaping anti-Semitism.

For all their differences the German Jews, Soviet Jews and Dominicans had one thing in common: individual and collective memories of living with three brutal dictators – Hitler, Stalin and Rafael Trujillo. Such experiences were traumatic and could foster a tendency to stick to the safety of your own kind, but they also bred resilience.

Starting in the 1970s, and with cumulative impact by the late 1990s, significant numbers of these residents crossed racial and ethnic boundaries to revive and strengthen their neighborhood.

Thirty years later, when federal authority was absent and the pandemic surged, public-spirited residents – fortified by community institutions – stepped up again. In both cases, it was a clear example of what the sociologist Robert J. Sampson has called “collective efficacy.”

The community steps up

Back when the neighborhood was ravaged by the crack epidemic, Dave Crenshaw, the son of African American political activists, took action. Crenshaw set up athletic activities with the Uptown Dreamers – a youth group that combined sports, community service and educational uplift. The program gave young people, especially women, an alternative to dangerous streets.

When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, Crenshaw built on his track record. He worked with The Community League of the Heights, a community development organization founded in 1952, Word Up, a community bookshop and arts space dating to 2011, and students from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Together, they distributed food and masks, cleaned up grubby street corners, and got people tested and vaccinated.

Further north, the YM-YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood, founded in 1917, built on its record of serving both Jews and the entire community. Victoria Neznansky – a social worker from the former Soviet Union – worked with her staff to help traumatized families, distribute money to people in need, and bring together two restaurants – one kosher and one Dominican – to feed homebound neighborhood residents.

At Uplift NYC, an uptown nonprofit with strong local roots, Domingo Estevez and Lucas Almonte had anticipated, during the summer of 2020, running summer programs that included a tech camp, basketball and a youth hackathon. When the pandemic struck, they nimbly shifted to providing culturally familiar foods – like plantains, chickens and Cafe Bustelo coffee – to neighbors in need and people who couldn’t go outside.

Arts and media organizations eased the isolation of lockdown. When the pandemic loomed, blogger Led Black, at the local website the Uptown Collective, told readers that “solidarity is the only way forward.” In his posts he shared his griefs and vented his rage at President Donald Trump. He closed every column with “Pa’Lante Siempre Pa’Lante!” or “Forward, Always Forward!”

Inwood Art Works, which promotes local artists and the arts, shut down a film festival scheduled for March 2020 and started “Short Film Fridays,” a weekly presentation of local films on YouTube. The organization also launched the “New York City Quarantine Film Festival,” which explored topics such as life uptown in the COVID-19 pandemic, the beauty of uptown parks and the life of an essential worker.

Dreams of a better life

Of course, Washington Heights suffered during the pandemic.

Beloved local businesses vanished. Foremost among them was Coogan’s, a bar and restaurant that was the unofficial town hall of upper Manhattan, whose life and death were chronicled in the documentary “Coogan’s Way,” which is now screening at film festivals.

People congregate outside Coogan's restaurant.
Coogan’s – a bar and restaurant that served as a neighborhood institution – wa shuttered during the pandemic. Rob Kim/Getty Images

Families were forced to live with unemployment, isolation and fear of infection. As the social fabric frayed, loud noise levels and reckless driving of motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles raised alarm. Worst of all, the neighborhood’s residents died at rates greater than in Manhattan overall.

In Washington Heights and the rest of New York City, the coronavirus pandemic exposed long-brewing inequalities. It also illuminated character, community, strong local institutions and dreams of a better life. All these receive loving and lyrical attention in “In the Heights.”

We live, I believe, in an era when it is important to see the strengths that immigrants and their institutions bring to our cities. This film could not have come at a better time.

[Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.]

Robert W. Snyder does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Spread & Containment

AstraZeneca antibody cocktail fails to prevent Covid-19 symptoms in large trial

AstraZeneca said a late-stage trial failed to provide evidence that the company’s Covid-19 antibody therapy protected people who had contact with an infected person from the disease, a small setback in its efforts to find alternatives to vaccines.

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Astra antibody cocktail fails to prevent COVID-19 symptoms in large trial

(Reuters; )

June 15 (Reuters) – AstraZeneca (AZN.L) said on Tuesday a late-stage trial failed to provide evidence that its COVID-19 antibody therapy protected people who had contact with an infected person from the disease, a small setback in its efforts to find alternatives to vaccines.

The study assessed whether the therapy, a cocktail of two types of antibodies, could prevent adults who had been exposed to the virus in the past eight days from developing COVID-19 symptoms.

The therapy, AZD7442, was 33% effective in reducing the risk of people developing symptoms compared with a placebo, but that result was not statistically significant — meaning it might have been due to chance and not the therapy.

The Phase III study, which has not been peer reviewed, included 1,121 participants in the United Kingdom and the United States. The vast majority, though not all, were free of the virus at the start of the trial.

Results for a subset of participants who were not infected to begin with was more encouraging but the primary analysis rested on results from all participants.

FILE PHOTO: A computer image created by Nexu Science Communication together with Trinity College in Dublin, shows a model structurally representative of a betacoronavirus which is the type of virus linked to COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus linked to the Wuhan outbreak, shared with Reuters on February 18, 2020. NEXU Science Communication/via REUTERS

“While this trial did not meet the primary endpoint against symptomatic illness, we are encouraged by the protection seen in the PCR negative participants following treatment with AZD7442,” AstraZeneca Executive Vice President Mene Pangalos said in a statement.

The company is banking on further studies to revive the product’s fortunes. Five more trials are ongoing, testing the antibody cocktail as treatment or in prevention.

The next one will likely be from a larger trial testing the product in people with a weakened immune system due to cancer or an organ transplant, who may not benefit from a vaccine.

TARGETED ALTERNATIVES

AZD7442 belongs to a class of drugs called monoclonal antibodies which mimic natural antibodies produced by the body to fight off infections.

Similar therapies developed by rivals Regeneron (REGN.O) and Eli Lilly (LLY.N) have been approved by U.S. regulators for treating unhospitalised COVID patients.

European regulators have also authorised Regeneron’s therapy and are reviewing those developed by partners GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) and Vir Biotechnology (VIR.O) as well as by Lilly and Celltrion (068270.KS).

Regeneron is also seeking U.S. authorisation for its therapy as a preventative treatment.

But the AstraZeneca results are a small blow for the drug industry as it tries to find more targeted alternatives to COVID-19 inoculations, particularly for people who may not be able to get vaccinated or those who may have an inadequate response to inoculations.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker, which has faced a rollercoaster of challenges with the rollout of its COVID-19 vaccine, is also developing new treatments and repurposing existing drugs to fight the virus.

AstraZeneca also said on Tuesday it was in talks with the U.S. government on “next steps” regarding a $205 million deal to supply up to 500,000 doses of AZD7442. Swiss manufacturer Lonza (LONN.S) was contracted to produce AZD7442.

Shares in the company were largely unchanged on the London Stock Exchange.

The full results will be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed medical journal, the company said.

Reporting by Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

 

Reuters source:

https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/astrazeneca-says-its-antibody-treatment-failed-in-preventing-covid-19-exposed-2021-06-15

 

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Government

Former FDA Head Takes on Exec Role at Flagship’s Preemptive Health Initiative

Stephen Hahn, the Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under former President Donald Trump, took on a new role as chief medical officer of a new health security initiative launched by Flagship Pioneering, a life sciences venture firm…

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Former FDA Head Takes on Exec Role at Flagship’s Preemptive Health Initiative

 

Stephen Hahn, the Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under former President Donald Trump, has taken on a new role as chief medical officer of a new health security initiative launched by Flagship Pioneering, a life sciences venture firm that incubates and curates biopharma companies.

First announced Monday, Flagship’s Preemptive Medicine and Health Security initiative aimed at developing products that can help people before they get sick. This division will focus on infectious disease threats and pursue bold treatments for existing diseases, including cancer, obesity, and neurodegeneration. 

In a brief statement, Hahn, who served as commissioner from December 2019 until January 2021, said the importance of investing in innovation and preemptive medications has never been more apparent. 

“In my career I have been a doctor and a researcher foremost and it is an honor to join Flagship Pioneering in its efforts to prioritize innovation, particularly in its Preemptive Medicine and Health Security Initiative. The more we can embrace a “what if …” approach the better we can support and protect the health and well-being of people here in the U.S. and around the world,” Hahn said in a statement. 

During his time at the FDA, Hahn was at the forefront of the government’s effort to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. His office oversaw the regulatory authorization of antivirals, antibody therapeutics and vaccines, as well as diagnostics and other tools to battle the novel coronavirus. 

Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

Hahn bore the brunt of verbal barbs aimed at the FDA by the former president for not rushing to authorize a vaccine for COVID-19 ahead of the November 2020 election. The second vaccine authorized by the FDA for COVID-19 was developed by Moderna, a Flagship company. 

Prior to his confirmation as FDA Commissioner, Hahn, a well-respected oncologist, served as chief medical executive of the vaunted The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Hahn was named deputy president and chief operating officer in 2017. In that role, he was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the cancer center, which includes managing more than 21,000 employees and a $5.2 billion operating budget. He was promoted to that position two years after joining MD Anderson as division head, department chair and professor of Radiation Oncology. Prior to MD Anderson, Hahn served as head of the radiation oncology department at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

Flagship Founder and Chief Executive Officer Noubar Afeyan said the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down economies and caused the deaths of more than 3.8 million people across the world was an important reminder that health security is a top global priority. In addition, the ongoing pandemic brings into “stark focus” the importance of preemptive medications. 

Hahn, who helmed the FDA for three years and before that served as chief medical executive at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, has extensive experience overseeing clinical and administrative programs. Afeyan said the new division would benefit from Hahn’s experience as FDA Commissioner and help steer the Preemptive Medicine and Health Security initiative as it explores Flagship’s “growing number of explorations and companies in this emerging field.”

It is not unusual for former FDA heads to take prominent roles with companies. For example, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s first FDA Commissioner, took a position on the Pfizer Board of Directors weeks after departing his government role. He has also taken positions on other boards since then, including Aetion, FasterCures and Illumina.

 

BioSpace source:

https://www.biospace.com/article/former-fda-head-stephen-hahn-takes-cmo-role-at-flagship-pioneering-preemptive-health-initiative-

 

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Government

Five U.S. states had coronavirus infections even before first reported cases – study

At least seven people in five U.S. states were infected with the novel coronavirus weeks before those states reported their first cases, a new government study showed.

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Five U.S. states had coronavirus infections even before first reported cases – study

(Reuters) – At least seven people in five U.S. states were infected with the novel coronavirus weeks before those states reported their first cases, a new government study showed.

Participants who reported antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 were likely exposed to the virus at least several weeks before their sample was taken, as the antibodies do not appear until about two weeks after a person has been infected, the researchers said.

The latest results build on findings from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that suggested the novel coronavirus may have been circulating in the United States last December, well before the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed on Jan. 19, 2020.

A protective face mask lays, as the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, beside leaves at the lakefront in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., December 6, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon/File Photo

The positive samples came from Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and were part of a study of more than 24,000 blood samples taken for a National Institutes of Health research program between Jan. 2 and March 18, 2020.

Samples from participants in Illinois were collected on Jan. 7 and Massachusetts on Jan. 8, suggesting that the virus was present in those states as early as late December.

“This study allows us to uncover more information about the beginning of the U.S. epidemic,” said Josh Denny, one of the study authors.

The findings were published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Reporting by Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

 

Reuters source:

https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/five-us-states-had-coronavirus-infections-even-before-first-reported-cases-study-2021-06-15

 

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