Staten Island Borough President addressing problems unique to island community

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The new coronavirus testing site opened in Staten Island today where several hundred people were tested. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

While much of the COVID-19 crisis has been concentrated in several zip codes of Staten Island, Borough President James Oddo sees the virus spreading more towards the South Shore of the island borough and he’s worried.

Staten Island has three private hospitals, no public facilities. It was never anticipated that the hospital system couldn’t accommodate the island’s half a million population so the spread is “alarming.” So he’s working with health officials to figure out bed capacity, to free up hospital beds to for the sickest.

But Oddo doesn’t “take a lot of stock” in the zip code numbers, because “it is predicated on who got tested, not a random sample.” He said he’s following Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot’s recommendation that they act as though “everyone has been exposed.”

“I’m anxious for the city to have more testing and more anti-body testing, especially among essential workers who test positive and those who have the anti-bodies to get back on the front lines,” Oddo explained. “We have hundreds of bus operators sick, and the DOT commissioner reduced Staten Island ferry service because they don’t have staff. You hear about Sanitation, FDNY and NYPD people out sick and quarantined. The sooner we could get antibody testing, the sooner return troops to front lines.”

Testing has been ongoing, but simply not enough Oddo said. On March 20, a drive-thru testing site was established in South Beach that tested 600 people last Thursday, 730 on Friday and starting on the weekend, 1,000 tests a day.

“There is a backlog of calls asking for tests and we want to exhaust that backlog and prioritize central first responder workers to get them back on the front lines,” Oddo said.

Borough President James Oddo (Official photo from SI BP office)

Oddo is concerned for seniors – there are also many nursing homes that must be protected. He is also worried about his mom who is 85, “I got her to stop going to the senior center early in this process, so now she’s tucked away at home.” His in-laws are okay too.

But he has a buddy from law school a bit older than he, who he said is in good physical condition, athletic and lean who has the coronavirus and “all he wants to do is sleep.”

“Look at Chris Cuomo (of CNN) in great shape, a good example of how it can affect even people who take care of themselves,” Oddo said. “Regardless of how we think of our immunity, or built ourselves through a good diet, this is a novel virus that jumped from an animal to humans and we are no match for this and it can be merciless. It is just brutal to watch the numbers grow.”

Oddo has been working with all elected officials and “I’m pleasantly surprised now unified leaders have been during this crisis. “A heated congressional race is ongoing, but he said there has been a spirit of cooperation despite their political differences.

His office has been working with United Federal of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew and the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce on an initiative called, “Feeding our front lines” using four restaurants, members of chamber and money from various sources to buy grab and go meals – $7 a meal – to go to the three hospitals for their staff.

“We don’t two shipments just this week, and at the same time, we are helping the restaurants with some business and at the same time, we are thanking our front line nurses and health care workers,” Oddo said.

Like most borough presidents, Oddo has been chasing supplies – PPEs, ventilators, masks for the average person since day one he says. Oddo says he has been in constant communications with Mayor Bill de Blasio and has a “good relationship” with the mayor and “he understands my frustration that Staten Island is not getting its fair share.” He complimented the return of James O’Neill as a senior advisor to the mayor on supply logistics.

On the local level, Oddo said they hired Dr. Jinny Nantello, his “angel” who is coordinating the epicenter of COVID-19 in Staten Island.

“She is bringing together all kinds of health care on Staten Island and we just had a 90 minutes conference talking with nursing home providers – she has been extremely worried about them and we are trying to alter the executive order to make sure the sickest patients get the drug hydroxychloroquine to give the sickest patients a chance.”

Oddo is having conference calls nearly every day with first responder commanders in his borough, especially with NYPD Borough Commander Assistant Chief Kenneth Corey. He said he has multiple on-line threads with every borough commissioner getting updates on manpower and any unusual spread of the virus.

He is also working closely with businesses, understanding that many will suffer a serious blow due to being closed during the outbreak. He has an especially close relationship with Amazon, who employs 5,000 people. Several workers have reported sick and he is working with Amazon and local Councilman Steve Maddeo to make sure everything is being done to safeguard workers. We are keeping a close eye on this,” Oddo said.

Oddo is advising his residents to continue to social distance, and follow Health Department guidelines so that the virus doesn’t spread further.

“We must all heed these warning – stay home to whatever extent that you can, think about the seniors, the nurses and medical workers – someone other than yourself,” Oddo sighed.

For more information, visit www.statenislandusa.com/coronavirus.