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Churches in New York City will offer COVID-19 tests to help end health disparity

Lindsey Leinbach takes a swab to test for the coronavirus at a One Medical testing facility built to help with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in the Bronx borough of New York City, U.S., April 21, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Low-income communities and New Yorkers of color are being disproportionally infected by coronavirus, and Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Saturday the latest effort to end that disparity and save lives.

Northwell Health is teaming up with 22 churches across New York City and Long Island to offer COVID-19 testing to residents in low-income areas. Each church will be working with their congregations to encourage them to get tested as quickly as possible.

Data gathered throughout the pandemic reveals that 20 of the 21 ZIP codes with the most individuals hospitalized with coronavirus have greater-than-average black and Latino populations. Cuomo said that  low-incomes areas in Brooklyn and the Bronx have been especially hard hit by the virus.

“The cruel irony is the poorest people pay the highest price,” Cuomo said. “We understand why, we understand the health disparities and comorbidities. But it’s just not right, and we have to address it.”

Cuomo credited Congress Members Hakeem Jeffries, Nydia Velázquez and Yvette Clarke for working with local churches and church leaders on arranging the new testing sites, the first of which will open the week of May 12.

“These sites will work with the current network of testing sites across the area,” the governor added. “But when you put the church-based sites with drive-thru/walk-in test sites, and the public housing sites, the coverage will be extensive.”

Jeffries, who appeared at the May 9 press conference via video, remarked that local churches have always been there “to help a community get through a storm” — from ministering relief to people caught up in the crack/cocaine epidemic, to arranging gun buyback programs with law enforcement and helping district attorney’s offices clear the records of individuals with outstanding summonses and warrants.

The congressman, who represents Brooklyn and Queens, expressed confidence the churches will now play a significant role in driving down the spread of coronavirus among black and Latino New Yorkers.

“This testing initiative will be incredibly essential in ensuring that we can turn the corner,” Jeffries said. “Scripture said, ‘Weeping may endure in the long night, but joy will come in the morning.’ I’m thankful for [the governor’s] leadership, our partnership with the houses of worship in the community, and we’re going to be there until it’s morning time in America once again.”

Earlier in the press conference, Cuomo announced what he deemed were promising results in COVID-19 antibody tests among essential workers.

The governor reported that 14% of the 1,300 MTA workers tested were found to have COVID-19 antibodies — nearly 6 percentage points lower than the 19.9% infection rate in New York City determined in its statewide antibody study. Station workers tended to have a higher rate of infection than bus drivers or subway conductors.

Tests also found that 12.2% of healthcare workers, 10.5% of NYPD officers and 17.1% of FDNY personnel (including EMTs called to respond to COVID-19 emergencies) were found to have COVID-19 antibodies.

Though the rate of hospitalizations and intubations related to coronavirus continue to drop statewide, Cuomo expressed dismay over the continued high rate of death. On May 8, 226 people in the Empire State died of the illness.

“That number has been infuriatingly constant,” Cuomo said; about 220 people have died in New York state from coronavirus have died each day over the past week. “These are 226 people who lost their lives despite everything our health care system could do. So they are people who we know we made every effort possible to save, and to the extent there’s some peace in that, then we’re looking for peace wherever we can.”

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