Mustapha Nargess pulled the elastic behind his ear and placed a light blue surgical mask over his nose and mouth. “We are on the third day of distribution,” he said shortly before, when three pairs of volunteers departed from the parking lot behind the Cultural and Community House in Montreal North.
As the name implies, the neighborhood is on the northern edge of the island of Montreal, which has emerged as the center of a deadly new coronavirus in Canada. And Montreal North has been hit harder by the virus than anywhere else in the city.
“We are responding to an emergency,” Mustapha said.
The organizer of the Nargess Mustapha community has distributed masks and gloves to the residents of Montreal North.
Volunteers spent the afternoon distributing COVID-19 protection kits made of disposable masks and gloves to residents of the neighborhood. “It’s not just about being in distribution mode,” said Mustapha, one of the founders Hoodstock, a community group that works on social justice issues, about outreach.
“But that is also to provide a certain level of support: to talk to people, to see how they deal with this quarantine, how they live through the fact that today affects everyone in Montreal North.”
More than half of the 61,159 confirmed Canadian COVID-19 cases are in Quebec, and more than half of all cases are in Montreal. On May 6, Montreal North was 1,615 confirmed cases– Mostly in the city – and 102 deaths.
Community organizers point to the perfect storm of factors to explain why Montreal North was devastated – many of which were not new. “We should expect this, and we must put in place a structure to avoid this,” Mustapha said.
In Montreal North, one in six residents earns less than $ 20,000 per year.
Montreal North is one of the poorest urban areas in Canada. Average household income was $ 42,548 in 2015 and one in six residents earns less than $ 20,000 per year, according to census data quoted by the City of Montreal.
This neighborhood has a large racial and immigrant population: more than two-thirds of the more than 84,000 residents are born outside Canada or have at least one parent, according to 2016 census figures.
Haitian people patterned on top of the list of new immigrants to the area in 2016. More families from Caribbean countries have sought asylum in Quebec from the United States since then amid fears they will be deported by the Donald Trump administration – and many who have rooted in Montreal North, interested at a relatively cheaper rental price in the area.
Many residents of Montreal North have jobs in public, from restaurant employees to taxi drivers, security officers, and health workers, and they must continue to work during the pandemic to make ends meet.
Some are employed in long-term care facilities, known by their French acronym, CHSLD, where COVID-19 is rampant. Almost 64 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in Quebec is in CHSLD.
Berthony, a resident of Montreal North who only gave VICE his first name to protect his identity, worked as an assistant nurse at CHSLD in the neighborhood. Auxiliary nurses usually provide basic services, such as giving medicines to patients, injections, and other treatments, and preparing medical equipment for surgery.
He said residents die every day, and many of his colleagues resign. “Before, (the job) was only (giving residents) treatment and taking blood pressure,” he said, wearing a coat over a blue medical scrub. “Now feed them, change their diapers. We do everything.”
Berthony said he was too tired to think of the high rate of COVID-19 infection in Montreal North as a whole. But “you can feel it in the air,” he said, about the effects of the virus in the area. “Before more people were outside, but now people stay at home. People don’t come out. “
A few roads there, community organizers Guillaume André hopes Montreal North will go through a crisis. But André, director of the Multiethnic Community Center in North Montreal, acknowledged that “the situation is dire.”
Located in a strip mall next to the Creole laundry and restaurant, the center helps poor families in need and distributes free food baskets every Thursday.
In an interview in a simple group office, with a bottle of hand sanitizer and a box of plastic gloves on the table in front of him, André told VICE that living with high density was a factor in the high rate of COVID-19 infection in the area.
“You can have three or four people in the bedroom.”
Many people live in crowded apartments in Montreal North, including Haitian asylum seekers who have moved to the area for the past few years, André said.
“We know that some housing estates in Montreal North are overpopulated. You can have three or four people in the bedroom, “he said. “These are things that we need to fix … Montreal North really needs social housing.”
But he said more data was needed to fully understand the problems around COVID-19. “What we miss is the number of deaths in Montreal North, we don’t have it. And the number of hospitalizations, “André said.
The Action-Research Center for Race Relations based in Montreal was also recent was called in in Quebec and Ottawa to collect data on race, language and income for people infected with COVID-19 in Montreal. This week, Quebec’s director of public health the word the province will start collecting race data, which is a start.
“The data will give you a better understanding, a profile of who is affected, what their needs are and how to further develop (and) adapt programs and services for care or prevention,” the group’s executive director, Fo Niemi, told VICE.
On a cloudy day in early May, the area around the community center was quiet.
Serge, a middle-aged resident, took a quick step on the road on his way to work. “Right now, everyone is trying to take precautions,” he said, reaching into his pocket to take out a disposable mask which he said he would wear while riding the bus.
The Montreal North sidewalk has been widened to allow residents to keep their distance physically.
Nearby, shoppers line up outside the grocery store. At the door, a masked employee sprays disinfectant soap into the hands of customers when they let in.
The city and mayor have recognized the situation in North Montreal. They urge people to follow public health guidelines to protect themselves, and an attack of public information is ongoing.
A large signboard near the community center advises people to stay at least 2 meters away from others, wash their hands, and avoid large gatherings. On other roads, sidewalks have been widened to allow occupants to maintain physical distance. Signs on the fence of the school yard tell people that “all meetings are prohibited.”
The Montreal Department of Public Health and local health authorities opened a COVID-19 testing center in the neighborhood. The Borough, along with elected representatives and community groups, also distributed more than 20,000 protective masks and face masks.
It’s hard to imagine in this climate an open city. But that’s what happened.
The province had planned to reopen child care and elementary schools and retail stores in the Montreal area in the third week of May, but Prime Minister François Legault had just pushed him back to May 25 after widespread criticism.
Even the reopening at the end of May might be too early. Montreal’s director of public health, Mylene Drouin, said earlier this week that the city was “not see a decline“In the coronavirus curve.
In North Montreal, the population is still in crisis mode. André stressed that Montreal North needs further testing if it will defeat COVID-19. The environment needs to “implement strategies to defeat the pandemic. We have no other choice. We must act. “
Gladys, a resident of Montreal North who only gave VICE her first name, volunteered to share masks and gloves with Hoodstock this week. “That affected me,” said health care worker at home, wearing a mask on his nose and mouth, and face shield.
He said he knew three people who had been infected with COVID-19, including a friend who worked at the local CHSLD. “I say to myself, by protecting people, I will also protect parents in CHSLD,” he said. “That’s why I’m here today, to do my part as a citizen.”
For Mustapha, asking Gladys and other residents to come forward to help their neighbors through the crisis is a positive thing to see. People in North Montreal, he said, “are aware of the problems affecting their environment and want their environment to get out of this problem.”
“But the idea behind all this is to find a permanent solution,” Mustapha added. “We really need a long-term plan, a social plan, which will help Montreal-North get out of this condition.”
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This article originally appeared on VICE CA.
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