America’s Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

America’s Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa – HAZLETON, PA. Just off Wyoming Street in the hilly, working-class town of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, Lori Sorensen and her husband Emil were hauling groceries from a van upstairs to her parents’ log home.

They tried to spare Mrs. Sorensen’s father, Raphael Benjamin, a trip to the supermarket during the plague. He took a big risk working for Cargill Meat Solutions in an industrial park outside the city.

America’s Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

America's Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

Pennsylvania’s governor issued a closure order but fired Cargill, which packs the meat in plastic. Mr Benjamin, a good-natured man who rarely missed the workday, said colleagues had been working side by side without masks or gloves in March and was worried the disease had become a petri dish.

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A few days later, Mr. Benjamin could not answer the phone. “He fell ill on Tuesday,” his son-in-law wrote. “He’s on a ventilator.”

America's Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

This is the story of the virus that spread along Wyoming Street in a city of 25,000 located in the forested, still leafless hills of the Poconos. Five days spent in several blocks of old, run-down terraced houses and shop windows showed that the virus is everywhere. They only talked about the sick.

Workers along these blocks, especially from many of Hazleton’s factories and warehouses, faced the original settlement. They could not leave work even when their colleagues fell ill, and some brought the virus home with them.

America's Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

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Life’s economic reserves were thin. Rafael Polanco, the tax consultant who owns the two buildings, said none of his tenants had paid rent for April. Chaskin Jewelers has closed, as has Roxana’s Afro-Latina Hair Extensions.

Willie’s barbershop, where Wilfredo Soto had invested his savings, was closed, his towel and sheet still neatly folded on the barber’s chair.

America's Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

Press the glass door of Tom Wagner’s sporting goods store and Mr. Wagner will open himself. He lost his Little League sales due to the virus and kept himself afloat thanks to a surge in sales of viral weapons.

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Leandro Noboa, 35, who had the former athlete’s light gait, emerged from an apartment building on Wyoming Street with an air conditioner in his hands. He loaded the family’s furniture into a U-Haul truck and talked through a medical mask.

America's Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

He just bought a house on the south side of Hazleton. He had been working steadily since he was a teenager, but his colleagues in the garment factory were sick and this worried him. Government officials have identified his plant, along with Cargill and Amazon, as critical businesses. If he left, he would not collect unemployment.

He had a 13-year-old son and a wife who had lupus, an immune system disease. His sleep was restless.

America's Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

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“I can’t afford to stop working,” said Noboa. “And I can’t afford to take this virus home with me.”

By the end of March, Hazleton had only a dozen confirmed cases of the virus. But Mayor Jeff Cusat heard too many people coughing and too many whispers about fever. He collaborated with the hospital in setting up the test tents.

America's Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

Within two days, tests showed 300 infections. After ten days, more than 1,000 tests came back positive. Hazleton, once known for anthracite coal, textiles, electric cars and bloody labor strikes, has become one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks per capita in the country.

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Eighteen years ago, Cesar Soriano drove 155 miles west of his hometown of Brooklyn and fell in love with Hazleton. An amateur boxer, he bought a house for $40,000 and took over the Hennesy Thrift Shop, which he rents for $750 a month. Neighbors said he was a generous spirit, and after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and some people from the island flocked to Hazleton, he gave away couches, tables, and clothes.

America's Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

He stood at the counter outside his closed shop and pointed to an apartment upstairs. There was a hoarse cough coming from the sidewalk. According to him, two sisters live there and one has the virus. There he pointed to an apartment in a disused cell phone workshop; According to him, two factory workers fell ill, who share the place with other workers and sleep in shifts.

Frankie’s Pizzeria was another 50 feet away. Inside is 33-year-old Lauren Sacco. She runs three family businesses, was elected to the city council last year and gave birth to a daughter. Ms. Sacco is the daughter of many generations of Hazletons and calls the governor’s office daily to demand that inspectors take action on the level of contamination in the factories.

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America's Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

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“Every morning I leave the house at 6:30 and stay up until midnight, and my brain is like scrambled eggs,” she said. “Dear Lord Jesus, sometimes I turn to my husband and say, ‘Do you think we’re going to catch this?

This Hazleton horn has sharp elbows. Wages are low and some young people are involved in drug dealing and gangs. Labor and language tensions sometimes arise between longtime white residents and new residents from places like the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, who make up 60 percent of the population.

America's Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

But the working class ethos remains. Some landlords lower the rent for non-working tenants. And at Frankie’s, City Councilman Anthony Colombo loaded his van with frozen ham and chicken. For half a day he spoke to the old and the sick.

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As the virus spread in Hazleton, minibuses transporting Dominicans between Hazleton and extended families in New York City became the subject of controversy over relocation concerns.

America's Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

Mayor Cuzat spoke to van owners who agreed to suspend service to New York, where the virus is ravaging neighborhoods.

The county and city government imposed a curfew on Hazleton. Too many young people gave too little importance to social distancing.

America's Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

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A window display in downtown Hazleton where county and city governments have imposed a curfew. Credit… Hannah Yoon for The New York Times

Ms Sacco decided to record a video for her voters on Facebook one evening after she had put her baby to bed. She sat in her living room talking simply and without gibberish about where to get masks, food, tests, medical care – and how to deal with fear. She asked her friend Jomayra Montero to translate her message into Spanish, and the video garnered 7,000 views.

America's Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

One of the comments she received on her Facebook page that night was from an older white man she knew blaming Hispanics for the spread of the coronavirus. Mrs. Sacco’s jaw tightened like wire. “If you’re going to post ignorant comments through a thread, you’ll be kicked out,” she told her audience. “We are one. Whether you’re black, white, Dominican, Italian, be with it.”

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Some business owners had trouble paying their employees. Jeweler Barry Chaskin, 77, has two employees, each of whom has been working for more than a quarter of a century. The pockets are not deep, but it pays off. “I can’t do this forever,” he said, “but I can’t live with myself if I stop.”

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America's Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

Mr Soriano, a thrift shop owner, sat at a table in his darkened shop last week, settling his bank account. He could have paid his idle employee two more months before he hit rock bottom.

The greatest threat is posed by industrial parks located on the other side of the city border in Leszczyna. You can drive these roads for an hour, crossing factory canyons the length of many football fields. About 13,000 worked there, some in unions, and it was a source of pride for many people who worked on Wyoming Street.

America's Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

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Government officials have allowed most of these warehouses and factories—American Eagle, Tootsie Roll, AutoZone—to stay open, declaring their products essential to the economy. Every night the workers returned to Hazleton. When the company closed for a week, more than 200 Cargill employees, a fifth of the workforce, fell ill. Other objects were also damaged.

Grocery store signs instruct shoppers to wear masks and gloves. Credit… Hannah Yoon for The New York Times

America's Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

Mr. Noboa opened the door to his new home on South Wyoming Street. He entered the living room, where unpacked boxes lay on the floor. He sat across from the living room so as not to risk contagion.

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Born on the south coast of the Dominican Republic, Mr. Noboa came to the United States as a teenage major league pitcher. A shoulder injury shattered those dreams and he moved to New York, Providence and now Hazelton, working steadily.

America's Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

He frowned, looked away. He says he hears a dry cough in the factory where he works and sees co-workers going to the bathroom to catch their breath and spitting in the toilets.

More than 13,000 people work in 100 companies in three industrial parks on the outskirts of the city. Most of them remained open, and city guards said they had recorded hundreds of infections.

America's Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

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“If I pass the disease on to my wife, I won’t be able to live with myself,” he said. “I think about it all the time.

He said Mr. Noboa’s wife’s joint pain that day was electric. Mr.

America's Air Conditioned City Hazleton Pa

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