If you build it, they will come — and so they did.
Hundreds of Bronx residents lined up outside the gates of Yankee Stadium on Friday morning, patiently “opening day.” But they weren’t there for baseball on an otherwise chilly, rainy winter’s morning — they were there to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Feb. 5 marked the grand opening of the new mass vaccine site located at the home of the New York Yankees. Operated in partnership with New York State and the nonprofit SOMOS Community Care, the hub expects to vaccinate 15,000 people every week, administering what Mayor Bill de Blasio has called a “shot of hope” to a borough that has been racked by the COVID-19 pandemic from the start last year.
What makes this vaccination hub different from the others opened across New York City is its exclusivity — only Bronx residents can receive the COVID-19 shot there. The hub is seen as a major step forward in the battle against COVID-19 in the Bronx, which as of Friday had a 7-day positivity rate of 6.67% — the highest in the city, according to the state Health Department.
Three members of the Yankee organization — team President Randy Levine, Manager Aaron Boone and retired Hall of Fame Reliever Mariano Rivera — heralded the opening of the Yankee Stadium hub in appearing at Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Friday morning press conference.
“This stadium is built into the fabric of this city. This is bigger than baseball; this is a bigger, bigger purpose than baseball,” Levine said. “We will do whatever it takes to make it better.”
Boone went as far as to call it one of “the most special opening days” the stadium ever had for reasons that have nothing to do with the game.
“The fact that we’re able to be out there and really saving lives in this community, like Randy said, this is a day of hope,” he said.
Rivera noted the special connection between SOMOS and Latino residents in the Bronx now being served by the Yankee Stadium hub. He visited with some of those waiting to get the vaccine and noted that many were happy to get the chance to receive it.
“Hope is the name of the game right now,” he said, “and thank God for everything. Our people are coming here to get the vaccine.”
At the stadium, Mayor de Blasio echoed much of the same sentiment. He said the stadium hub is “about equity, about fairness” and protecting those who need the most protection from COVID-19.
“The Bronx has suffered, but this is a place where the people of the Bronx will now be protected. Yankee Stadium means so much to New Yorkers,” de Blasio said. “It is iconic in every sense, but today it is a place of healing, a place of protection for the people of the Bronx. And so many people came together, the City and the State worked together.”
SOMOS team members are working alongside the New York National Guard to distribute the life-saving shots. The nonprofit has already helped administer hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses to low-income neighborhoods and communities of color across New York.
Dr. Ramon Tallaj, who chairs SOMOS Community Care, appealed directly to President Joe Biden to deliver more doses of “la vacuna de esperanza” (the vaccine of hope) to these communities and ensure no one is denied an opportunity to receive it.
“Hospitals are for secondary and tertiary care; urgent cares are for urgent care; pharmacies are fore delivering medicine,” Tallaj said. “We, primary care doctors living in these communities, are for prevention. That is what we champion, and that is why we are here in the Bronx and in every neighborhood that needs us.”