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Cuomo: Coronavirus testing is coming to churches in minority and low-income communities

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo reported 226 new COVID-19 deaths Saturday — a figure he called "infuriatingly constant" — as the state turns a focus to what's thought to be a coronavirus-linked illness that has killed three young children. Credit: NY Governor's Office

This story was reported by John Asbury, Matthew Chayes, David Olson and Craig Schneider. It was written by Olson.

The state is partnering with Northwell Health to bring coronavirus testing to 24 churches in minority and low-income communities, including two on Long Island, amid statistics that show the COVID-19 crisis is disproportionately impacting black and Latino communities, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Saturday. 

The governor discussed the initiative after somberly detailing a daily COVID-19 death toll that has remained roughly level for days after a steep decline from the peak of nearly 800 in early April. On Friday, 226 New Yorkers died of the disease.

“You see how that number has been infuriatingly constant — 226 is where we were five days ago,” Cuomo said. “We would like to see that number dropping at a far faster rate than it has been dropping.”

Cuomo also reported “welcome news”: A drop in new COVID-19 hospitalizations to 572 people.

“It hasn’t been that level since we started back March 20, 21,” the governor said.

Later Saturday, the governor's office revealed that a Suffolk County teenager died from a disease in children that experts believe stems from a "hyperactive response" by the immune system to a coronavirus infection. A 5-year-old New York City boy and a 7-year-old Westchester County boy also have died.

Two LI churches part of plan

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The governor announced the new church-based initiative a day after revealing that 20 of the 21 ZIP codes with the most people newly hospitalized patients for COVID-19 — including some on Long Island — have larger-than-average black or Latino populations, or both.

Two Long Island churches — Union Baptist Church in Hempstead and First Baptist Cathedral in Westbury — are among those that will begin testing.

The pastor of Union, Rev. Sedgwick Easley, said by phone that churches are good sites for testing because “the church has clearly for many years been the center of the community, and therefore it’s a trusted site, and so many of our people hopefully will be able to come because it’s trusted.”

“We are very happy about this because the faith community needs to be on the front line with this fight, as well as so many others,” he said.

The Union testing site is set to open between May 19 and 23, and the First Baptist site is to begin between May 12 and 16, according to a map the governor displayed. 

Easley said COVID-19 has “revealed the health disparities among minority communities.”

“Oftentimes our people don’t have access to proper health care; a lot of our people don’t have insurance,” he said. “A lot of our Latino brothers and sisters are in the same boat.”

New Hyde Park-based Northwell will provide the testing, Cuomo said.

The governor said testing is critical to helping slow the spread of the virus because even those who have it and have no symptoms should know they can infect others, including those vulnerable to serious complications or death from the disease.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn), who helped put together the effort, said during an appearance in the governor’s daily coronavirus briefing that “this testing initiative will be incredibly essential in ensuring we can turn the corner in communities of color.”

Even though African-Americans comprise only 9% of the state’s population outside New York City, they account for 18% of the fatalities from COVID-19, and while Latinos comprise 12% of the population outside the city, they represent 14% of fatalities, according to data Cuomo presented Friday.

The picture on LI

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Saturday said another 22 Nassau residents died from COVID-19, bringing the total to 1,940. 

Suffolk County's death toll reached 1,597 after 29 more county residents died, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.

New York City has now had 14,482 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, along with 5,313 people whose deaths were probably caused by the virus, the city health department reported.

Curran said Nassau saw its 22nd straight day of declining hospitalizations.

“The whole point in flattening the curve was to slow down the rate of infection so our hospitals could withstand the rate of infection,” Curran said. “We did it. We flattened the curve and we got to the other side of the surge.”

With those numbers down, and with nationwide unemployment soaring to 14.7%, Curran said she is encouraging the state to look at reopening certain industries such as nonessential construction and appointment retail.

“We are seeing economic devastation in our community,” Curran said. “We need to come back to the new normal. The need is more urgent. We have not seen numbers like this since the Great Depression.“

Curran pushed for helping businesses reopen safely, the possibility of drive-in movies, and shutting down main streets to allow restaurants to serve socially distant tables outside. She said some villages are looking at using food trucks.

“Our businesses are struggling. Too many are going under and can’t pay their workers and can’t pay the rent. The stakes of this economic devastation are high,” Curran said. “There will always be a risk. We can mitigate the risk and protect our vulnerable population and get life ramping up again.”

Curran said Nassau County’s food stamp applications have tripled compared with last April, and demand on the food pantry Long Island Cares has increased 440% in April compared with last year.

Bellone said he is continuing to lobby top officials in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for an exemption from a policy barring events in which community groups place flags on the graves of veterans in national cemeteries for Memorial Day. It can be done with masks and social distancing, he said.

“If we can’t figure out a way to honor these veterans on Memorial Day, then something is seriously wrong,” he said.

Cuomo on Saturday announced that another 2,715 people statewide tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total to 333,122.

In Nassau, 216 more people tested positive, for a total since early March of 38,028, and in Suffolk, 238 additional people tested positive, bringing the total to 36,461.

Obama lashes out at Trump

Nationwide, more than 1.3 million people have tested positive and more than 78,400 people with COVID-19 have died, according to the latest estimates from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Former President Barack Obama harshly criticized President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as an “absolute chaotic disaster” during a conversation Friday with ex-members of his administration, according to a recording obtained by Yahoo News.

“What we’re fighting against is these long-term trends in which being selfish, being tribal, being divided, and seeing others as an enemy — that has become a stronger impulse in American life,” Obama said, according to Yahoo News.

“It would have been bad even with the best of governments. It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset — of ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘to heck with everybody else’ — when that mindset is operationalized in our government," he said.

Trump has consistently defended and boasted about his response to the virus, saying that travel restrictions from China and Europe as well as social distancing guidelines have prevented far greater damage. “I think we saved millions of lives,” he said this past week.

With AP

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