Gov. Andrew Cuomo addresses the press about the state's response to the coronavirus. Photo Courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Office

As new statistics from the NYC Department of Health show how the novel Coronavirus is ravaging the South Bronx, elected officials are now scrambling to shift their response approach, announcing new testing sites in five NYC communities, including a new site in the South Bronx.

Statistics published on April 6 show how disproportionately the virus has impacted black and Latino communities across the city in neighborhoods like the South Bronx.

According to the data, black and Latino residents account for 42.6% of all COVID-related deaths in the city. In the South Bronx, black and Latino residents make up an average of 90% of the population, according to community board statistics.

This new data prompted Gov. Andrew Cuomo to refine his approach in high-risk communities, announcing on Wednesday the state will open five new Covid testing facilities in the city, including one in the South Bronx.

“We’re going to open up testing sites in primarily African American and Latino communities, with SUNY Albany, Department of Health and Northwell,” Cuomo said at an April 9 press conference. “Let’s learn how and why this virus kills, especially why we have higher fatalities among African Americans and Latinos, and what we do about it.”

Despite announcing the new location, press officials for the governor were unsure about where the new walk-in facility would be located. New drive-through testing facilities were opened in Brooklyn and Queens this week, Cuomo said, and new walk-facilities would be set up at existing healthcare facilities in Jamaica and Brownsville, in addition to the South Bronx, next week.  All are by appointment only.

Cuomo said the state currently operates nine appointment-only testing facilities. One is already operating in the Bronx – a drive-through site on the Lehman College student parking lot opened three weeks ago. Cuomo said testing would prioritize those who are at highest risk. Residents seeking testing at state facilities must make an appointment by calling 888-364-3065.

The announcement of more testing centers by the state comes after the city of New York quietly ended its own testing program, which had been announced on March 19 at 20 locations. Those included two sites in Mott Haven, including Lincoln Hospital.

A day later, the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued an urgent health alert to doctors and other medical personnel saying that outpatient testing for Covid-19 was no longer being offered. Reasons cited included dwindling supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for those performing the tests and added health risks to those seeking testing.

A spokesperson for NYC Health and Hospitals, which oversees all public hospitals in the city, confirmed through a statement that only those who are currently hospitalized are receiving testing by the city.

“The public health system is ensuring everyone gets the appropriate level of care and that emergency medicine services are reserved for those who are severely ill,” the statement said.

Elected officials in the South Bronx have been putting pressure on Cuomo to continue opening testing facilities. In a March 6 letter to the governor, officials demanded he open the Harlem River Yard facility as a field hospital and testing site in Port Morris.

The letter, signed by officials including state Assemblyman Michael Blake, City Council members Rafael Salamanca and Diana Ayala and U.S. Rep. José E. Serrano, signaled a breakdown between city and state response efforts and those most critically impacted by the virus in the South Bronx. Salamanca lost his father to the virus on April 3.

According to a spokesperson for Michael Blake, who helped write the letter, Cuomo and his staff have not gotten back to them.  Cuomo’s press office did not return a request for comment and further information.

The Galesi Group, which operates the 500,000-square-foot Harlem River Yards industrial complex on the shore of the Harlem River, under terms of a longterm lease with the state of New York, declined to comment for this story.

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