The South Asian Frontliners of New York

As COVID-19 sweeps the city, it’s not just healthcare workers who are stepping up to fill essential services.

NY essential workers BobbyKhan 3
New Yorkers carry a coffin to a burial ground. (Bobby Khan)

Meghna Rao


May 11, 2020

Chances are, a South Asian is helping fight the coronavirus on the frontlines of any given American city. For most Americans, this fact would conjure up pictures of doctors in scrubs next to hospital beds (one in 20 doctors nationwide are of Indian origin and South Asians are prevalent across healthcare) — but that would be far from the truth.

In urban areas, South Asian frontline workers are also taxi drivers logging on to Uber to transport those still moving about, deli owners installing sneeze guards and stocking stores daily, and community organizers distributing food and masks across neighborhoods. Many of these roles receive far less recognition than their healthcare counterparts.

The work of these South Asians becomes even more apparent in a city like New York, home to a little over eight million, where the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases (178,766) is higher than the total number in either China’s (84,010) or India’s (70,765) billion-plus populations. Queens, which houses the city’s — and the country’s — largest concentration of South Asians, has more than 55,000 COVID-19 cases, the highest of any county in America. 

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