State rolls out mass testing in NYC’s Black neighborhoods

Cyril Josh Barker | 5/21/2020, midnight
In an effort to make testing more accessible to Black New Yorkers, Gov. Andrew Cumo expanded COVID-19 testing to 24 ...
Coronavirus/COVID-19 test Image by fernando zhiminaicela from Pixabay

In an effort to make testing more accessible to Black New Yorkers, Gov. Andrew Cumo expanded COVID-19 testing to 24 churches in mostly Black neighborhoods in the New York-metro.

Partnering with Northwell Health, the temporary testing sites operated from May 13 through 17 at 11 churches including Bethany Baptist Church in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, and Abundant Life Tabernacle in the Bronx

Thirteen more churches began testing on Wednesday including Convent Avenue Baptist Church in Harlem, St. Paul Community Baptist Church in East New York, Brooklyn, and The Great Springfield Community Church in Jamaica, Queens. Testing will continue at those sites through May 24.

The state’s diagnostic testing and antibody testing surveys show that low-income and minority communities are suffering the most from COVID-19. Of the 21 zip codes with the most new COVID-19 hospitalizations, 20 have greater than average Black and/or Latino populations.

Residents during the first round of testing reported lines of people trying to get COVID-19 tests. The testing couldn’t come at a more crucial time as grim numbers reveal the seriousness of the situation. Reports indicate that at Bethany Baptist Church, 20 members have died from COVID-19.

“It is a cruel fact that when you look at disasters and emergencies, the poorest and most disadvantaged people often pay the highest price, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no different,” Cuomo said. “The fact is that low-income and minority communities are suffering the most. It is not right and we have to address it. In New York we are working to break this cycle and actually resolve these disparities.”

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries said that doing the testing at churches is fitting due to the fact that houses of worship have always been called on to serve the community.

“Now at this moment, thanks to their continued engagement and the governor’s leadership and willingness to partner, we can address this COVID-19 pandemic with these houses of worship and religious leaders who have the credibility, the authenticity, and the capacity to reach those in the community who need to be tested,” Jeffries said. “At the end of the day, this is not over for any of us until it’s over for all of us. We know that communities of color have been hit particularly hard.”

Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke said Black and Latino New Yorkers are dying at higher rates of COVID-19, especially in her congressional district in Central-South Brooklyn and that testing is critical in curbing the spread of coronavirus.

“It is prudent that we come together to ensure minority communities have access to quality health care and testing, which is why I stand with Governor Cuomo in partnering on COVID-19 testing expansion in low-income and minority communities,” she said. “Only by working together can we combat this virus; only by working together can New York persevere.”

Testing comes as grim data released this week from the city’s health department indicates Black and Latino New Yorkers are dying around twice the rate of their white counterparts when adjusted for age.

“This public health emergency has affected all of our communities,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “The data also show that this virus is not hitting New Yorkers equitably and that reality is guiding the COVID-19 response. Everyone, particularly older New Yorkers, must continue to follow guidance and take precautions to protect themselves.”

The data also reveals the impact COVID-19 is having on public housing residents. As of May 11, the number of NYCHA residents affected by COVID-19 is proportionate to their representation of the city’s population. More than 940 NYCHA residents who have died due to COVID-19 had a lab-confirmed test and nearly 300 who died did not. In total, over 7,800 NYCHA residents have tested positive for COVID-19.

Many are outraged over the data released by the city’s health department and say that COVID-19 testing is coming too late and that preference was given to white neighborhoods. Assemblyman Charles Barron and Councilwoman Inez Barron held a press conference on Tuesday at Spring Creek Towers in Brooklyn over the high death rate in Black community from COVID-19.

“For the state to put a ship in the white community, which was underutilized; to transform the Javits Center into a hospital in the white community, which was also underutilized; and to convert parts of Central Park into a field hospital in the white community; and to neglect Black and Brown communities that these stats clearly show were hit the hardest is unconscionable, unacceptable and a damn shame,” Assemblyman Charles Barron and Councilwoman Inez Barron said in a joint statement.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams also held a press conference outside of Marcy Houses on Tuesday with Council Member Robert Cornegy to demand answers as to why tenants in NYCHA weren’t notified sooner when cases of COVID-19 were first confirmed in public housing. They are calling on the city and state to implement a comprehensive contact tracing plan and testing sites at all NYCHA facilities