Queens Borough President Donovan Richards on Thursday, Jan. 13, called for the establishment of an NYC Office of COVID Recovery to create a more streamlined and centralized approach toward fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NYC Office of COVID Recovery would strengthen and expand the city’s COVID-19 testing apparatus; improve language access for city residents; foster communication between city agencies and elected officials; and partner with community-based organizations to distribute vaccine incentives and more, according to Richards. The agency would also oversee the Test & Trace Corps, which is currently operated by NYC Health + Hospitals.
“As omicron surges and COVID-19 cases continue to rise nearly two years after the start of this unprecedented pandemic, which has killed more than 10,000 of our Queens residents and devastated our borough’s economy, we understand that we need to take control of our response to COVID-19,” Richards said during a virtual media roundtable. “COVID-19 won’t be just a memory anytime soon; we need to brace ourselves and organize for our new normal going forward.”
According to Richards, the NYC Office of COVID Recovery would alleviate unnecessary administrative burdens from both the NYC Department of Health and the NYC Health + Hospitals system.
“Over the past two years, it has felt like the ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Squid Games’ when it comes to organizing our response, whether it’s inter-agency or working through elected officials,” Richards said. “If we are going to beat COVID-19 once and for all, we want the public to get shots in their arms, we want people to social distance and wear their mask, but we also need a government that would function at the highest level.”
In terms of leadership for the office, the borough president said that a commissioner should be appointed to be held accountable for responses, and a dedicated liaison for each borough to work with elected officials and community organizations.
“We are going two years in and we shouldn’t be making the same junior or rookie errors into 2022. We anticipate and want this office to strengthen and be proactive in its approach when it comes to testing apparatus,” Richards said.
While Queens Borough Hall is continuing to advocate for testing sites to be equitably distributed across the borough, Richards said they’re making some progress in some areas that didn’t have a single vaccination site and are working to identify testing gaps in other locations.
“We need a more coordinated response where the city actually looks at gaps. I couldn’t understand why College Point and Forest Hills didn’t have a testing site set up by H+H,” Richards said. “Even though our jobs as elected officials is certainly to point those gaps out, I believe it’s the city’s responsibility to also be proactive in these spaces and finding locations as well.”
Richards said he is working with Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers, who has been on the front lines fighting for vaccine and testing access for her district since she was elected to office last year, to introduce legislation to codify the NYC Office of COVID Recovery.
“Some will ask, how long will this office exist? I don’t see us getting out of the woods anytime soon, but certainly looking at a sunset option as we see the numbers really decrease would be something that we put in the bill as it’s drafted,” Richards said.
As testing sites have been popping up across the borough, Richards stressed the importance of adults and children between the ages of 5 to 11 to get vaccinated.
Recently, Queens became the first county in New York state to have more than 2 million residents receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. On Jan. 12, the city Health Department’s data showed that 90% of Queens adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
According to Richards, it’s another major milestone for Queens, “showing the borough’s strength, resilience, resolve and a collective comeback” amid the pandemic.