NYC admits to prioritizing race in distributing COVID tests

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NYC admits to prioritizing race in distributing COVID tests

New York City health officials have been using race to help decide how to allocate precious coronavirus testing resources, leaked emails from the agency show.

In a conversation with reps for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, City Councilman Joe Borelli’s office said constituents on Staten Island’s South Shore were having trouble getting tested at city facilities.

“Our office has been receiving calls regarding the mobile NYC H+H testing sites such as Wolfes Pond Park. It appears many are waiting with delays, and are being turned away after waiting for hours,” wrote Borelli staffer Briana Nasti in a Dec. 22 email.

The agency responded the same day and informed Nasti that they would prioritize neighborhoods flagged by the city’s Taskforce on Racial Inclusion & Equity.

The task force, created by the de Blasio administration in 2020, identified 31 underserved neighborhoods to receive “priority” attention from the city.

The task force said nabes were picked based a DOHMH’s analysis of “health status, living conditions, social inequities, occupation, and COVID-19 Wave 1 impact” — though the methodology has never been released.

People scramble for free COVID-19 tests on Dec. 24.
People scramble for free COVID-19 tests on Dec. 24.
Lev Radin/Sipa USA

Staten Island’s mostly white, middle-class South Shore — despite one of the highest COVID rates in the city during December — is not one of the priority neighborhoods. The borough has 13 city testing sites, all on the more diverse North Shore.

“I think we are clearly not on their racial and ethnic rubric priority list,” Borelli told The Post. “There was no problem pointing fingers at the South Shore of Staten Island when it came to sending enforcement goons.”

He was referring to small business owners on the island who say they have been victimized by strict enforcement of mask mandates and vax-card rules.

Queens Councilman Robert Holden said his district is still without a city testing site weeks into the Omicron surge.

New Yorkers line up for free COVID-19 tests.
New Yorkers line up for free COVID-19 tests.
Lev Radin/Sipa USA

“COVID-19 does not discriminate by politics and neither should lame duck de Blasio. We need testing sites and home test kits immediately,” Holden said. “Bill de Blasio sees districts of middle-class taxpayers who didn’t voted for him as people who don’t deserve protection from COVID-19. His administration only enters districts like ours to fine small businesses and use them as cash machines.”

A few blocks of his district lie within Woodhaven, a task-force-selected neighborhood.

A Health Department rep claimed that minority communities had “borne the brunt of this pandemic due to structural racism,” and that the tests were being distributed through community-based organizations in the selected neighborhoods.

A recent “Request for Proposals” from the DOHMH touted the agency’s commitment to racial equity.

People scramble for a test at a distribution center.
The city is currently operating over 160 coronavirus testing sites with more 100 mobile teams and more than 60 locations.
Lev Radin/Sipa USA

“”The … DOHMH is committed to improving health outcomes for all New Yorkers by explicitly advancing racial equity and social justice. Racial equity does not mean simply treating everyone equally, but rather, allocating resources and services in such a way that explicitly addresses barriers imposed by structural racism (i.e. policies and institutional practices that perpetuate racial inequity) and White privilege,” it read.

The city is currently operating over 160 coronavirus testing sites with more 100 mobile teams and more than 60 brick and mortar locations, said Adam Shrier, an NYC Health & Hospitals rep.

The racial-equity task force didn’t immediately return requests for comment.

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