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‘We need more sites now’: Queens lawmakers call on mayor to ramp up COVID testing

A woman administrating nasal swabs for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test looks at the swab after taking it from a man at a mobile testing site in the Queens borough of New York, U.S., April 5, 2021. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

Western Queens lawmakers and community members are pushing for expanded COVID-19 testing capacity following the recent staggering lines and wait times that have formed as a record number of new cases emerge in the city.

The Centers for Disease Control has reported that the omicron variant makes up 90% of new infections in New York and New Jersey. As New York state sees record daily rates of new COVID-19 cases, Queens officials called on the de Blasio administration and incoming mayor Eric Adams to provide more testing sites.

During a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Dec. 21, Jackson Heights Assembly member Jessica González-Rojas said her district has one testing site for 125,000 people, calling it “just not enough.”

González-Rojas also noted that testing sites in New York City decreased in November, from 54 to 34 sites, as reported by The City. Mayor Bill de Blasio has since promised to open more brick-and-mortar and mobile sites once again, beginning this week.

“We have to make sure it’s at the greatest capacity as possible, with as many hours as possible, with as many languages spoken as possible,” González-Rojas said. “We need more testing, vaccine and booster sites to open in New York City and we are prepared to work with this mayor and Mayor-elect Adams to prioritize this and the wellbeing of New Yorkers. What we will not do is wait any longer for an efficient and adequate response.”

On top of requiring more testing sites to alleviate wait times, the group also pleaded for a more extensive capacity to test children above the age of 2.

Kisha Bari, a parent in Queens, said it was a nightmare to try and find a test for her 2-year-old son who was exposed to COVID-19. 

“There are almost 50 parents in my parents group of 2-year-olds in Jackson Heights and have been scrambling to find reliable testing for our young ones for months,” Bari said. “Elmhurst [Hospital] is our only option and with this surge, we cannot expect a 2-year-old to patiently wait in line for two hours or risk indoor exposure to get a COVID test during this time. Our children under 5 years old are unable to be vaccinated and are the most vulnerable right now. We should be prioritizing their health first and foremost.”

Health professional Maria Eugenia Montesinos said with the rampant increase of omicron, de Blasio must act fast on these demands. 

“Didn’t we learn from the initial pandemic attack?” Montesinos said. “Waiting on those long lines with more chances to get infected is a public health matter. We do not want to over-populate our hospitals and infect our health care workers. That will have consequences in the lives of our community as well as the increased cost of healthcare.”

In the last seven days, nearly 3,000 people in Queens tested positive for COVID-19. Queens alone has a daily positivity rate of 8.3% and a seven-day average of 6% positivity, according to state health department data.

Breezy Point and Rockaway Park are among the highest transmission levels with over an 11% seven-day percent positivity level. Whitestone and north Bayside aren’t far behind, with both over 10% positivity, according to city health department data.

In western Queens, Astoria has also seen some of the borough’s highest transmission level with some parts at more than 9% positively levels. Parts of central Queens, including Maspeth, Ridgewood and Glendale, have over 10% positively levels.

Council member Tiffany Cabán, state Senator Jessica Ramos and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards reiterated González-Rojas’s sentiments, demanding urgent attention to this matter.

Cabán said she is heartbroken by the situation unfolding in her district, and criticized de Blasio for his inaction. 

“Receiving reports that my constituents, who are trying to do the right thing by getting tested, are being forced to wait upwards of four hours in the cold, only to then wait for several days to get a result back, is heartbreaking and infuriating,” Cabán said. “This spike in infections didn’t exactly sneak up on us; the outgoing mayor had had plenty of time to ramp up our capacity, rather than shuttering H+H testing sites. We need more sites now, to keep our loved ones safe this holiday season.”

State Senator Michael Gianaris, Assembly member Zohran Mamdani and Council member Tiffany Cabán at a press conference calling for more COVID-19 testing sites in Astoria on Dec. 21. (Photo courtesy of Gianaris’ office)

Later Tuesday morning Cabán joined fellow Astoria lawmakers state Senator Michael Gianaris and Assembly member Zohran Mamdani to also push for more testing sites in their district.

“The rapid spread of the omicron variant has created great new demand for COVID testing. Western Queens is underserved by the number of testing sites available, and we need more — now,” Gianaris said.

For information on where to find testing sites in Queens this week and near you, visit nychealthandhospitals.org.

Additional reporting by Angélica Acevedo.

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