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Advocates call for coronavirus priority testing for 9/11 first responders

Friday, March 13, 2020. New York City Councilman

Friday, March 13, 2020. New York City Councilman Robert Cornegy, Chair of the City Council Committee on Buildings and FDNY Uniformed Firefighters Attorney Nick Papain convene on Friday in Manhattan to discuss testing for the coronavirus among September 11 first responders and others with serious illnesses stemming from the terror attacks. Credit: Craig Ruttle

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 A group of elected officials and advocates on Friday called for priority testing for the coronavirus among September 11 first responders and others with serious illnesses stemming from the terror attacks because they are at increased risk for infection.

The call for that action came as state and federal officials announced increased testing for the infectious virus.

At a lower Manhattan news conference just blocks away from Ground Zero, City Council member Robert E.Cornegy Jr. (D-Brooklyn) said the group  “wanted to make sure 9/11 first responders and/or victims are priority for test kits that are available.”

Assemb. Yuh-Line Niou, a Democrat who represents lower Manhattan, said that increased testing will enable the government and public health system to get an idea of how many of the first responders who are suffering from September 11-related illnesses such as cancer and lung ailments might be suffering from the coronavirus.

“We don’t have the numbers until people actually have the test…there are three cases here  in lower Manhattan already that tested positive, so there actually should be more testing,” said Niou, adding that there should be a way of prioritizing access to testing for not only first responders but also those who lived and worked near Ground Zero.

Gerard Fitzgerald, head of the New York Uniformed Firefighters Association, said his union has been deluged with calls from concerned active and retired firefighters who have flu or cold symptoms but that none have been diagnosed as having the coronavirus.

But Nick Papain, an attorney whose firm represents over 3,000 Sept. 11 first responders and survivors, said they and hundreds of thousands of other first responders at Ground Zero recovery efforts who suffer from illnesses linked to the attack, may very well be in that 20% category of coronavirus sufferers who are at increased risk of getting critically ill.

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Papain said there are also believed to be 300,000 others who were in the vicinity of Ground Zero as the fires continued to burn after 9/11 and who may not realize they are suffering from an illness.

“They are entitled to receive medical monitoring, screening and treatment at the World Trade Center Health Program," said Papain, referring to one of the programs set up as a result of Sept.11 Victims Compensation Fund.

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