City develops new public health corps for post-COVID wellness initiatives

Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

Once the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis, New York City now has a chance to lead the country in a post-pandemic world — if the world ever gets there.

The mayor’s office is launching the NYC Public Health Corps in order to promote health equity beyond the pandemic for the communities that were most affected by the virus. 

According to Mayor Bill de Blasio, this will be a permanent grassroots effort to reach the public and make them aware of the resources they have available to stay well. 

During his daily press conference Sept. 29, he said that this group will be a permanent way to “encourage health support people, educate people [and] get them to the health care they need.”

De Blasio also announced that the Pandemic Response Institute will be housed at Columbia University. They will conduct research to prepare for future pandemics. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has opened our eyes to the critical need for strong and vibrant multi sector partnerships to effectively protect New Yorkers from emergent health threats,” said Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiology professor at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health who will lead the PRI. 

In a press release, El-Sadr said the institute will use its expertise to predict and prevent future pandemics. “The Pandemic Response Institute will create an unprecedented nexus for engagement, expertise, and resources from across our city and beyond,” she said. 

Outside of Columbia’s grounds, the PHC will form a network of over 100 community organizations around New York CIty to coordinate five new initiatives. 

The COVID-19 Disparities Initiative will give grants to organizations to build teams of workers who can engage neighborhoods that need access to vaccination and treatment. COVID-19 Confidence Educators will focus on improving vaccine confidence in residents in congregate facilities. They’ll also work to expand Federally Qualified Health Centers so that more communities can have access to primary care doctors. 

The corps members will be trained by CUNY, Department of Small Business Services and multiple community-based organizations to become community health workers. 

“We had to create a test and trace corps out of thin air, out of scratch we had to create something, it’s become the biggest and most effective in the country,” de Blasio said. The corps is based on the success of the test and trace corps. 

The commissioner of the Department of Health, Dr. Dave Chokshi, said this initiative is directly linked to the racial and structural inequities that the pandemic shed light on. “We have seen this time and again during the pandemic from Soundview to Sunset Park, and from Port Richmond to Richmond Hill. The future of public health in our city must be led by the people who are most affected, and who know the communities that they serve,” Chokshi said.

There are already over 500 community health workers in the city today, who will be the foundation of the PHC.