Long lines are a consistent presence outside a MedRite Urgent Care center in Inwood, the only storefront option for COVID testing in Manhattan north of West 181st Street.
A van from the city’s Health and Hospital Corporation serves the area, but community advocates and elected officials say that’s not enough for more than 87,000 residents. They’re calling on City Hall to revive a city-run COVID testing center shuttered in July and bring city-run vaccination sites to the neighborhood.
“Our community was among one of the hardest impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez told THE CITY in a statement. “City Hall needs to immediately bring in city-run testing sites into northern Manhattan to help reduce the spread of the virus.”
Inwood, where 350 people have died of COVID-19, has continually been slammed by pandemic-related woes.
Earlier this year, a COVID variant — dubbed “Ionata” or the B.1.526 variant — was spreading through the neighborhood. Locals also had a tough time getting vaccinated at Washington Heights’ armory site, before a report from THE CITY led to the prioritization of residents from Inwood, Washington Heights, Harlem and the South Bronx.
Inwood is still experiencing a significant transmission rate of COVID-19 The two ZIP codes that encompass the neighborhood lag far behind Manhattan’s vaccination rate, which is 80%. Rates in the 10034 and 10040 ZIP codes currently sit at 64.9% and 67.4%, respectively.
Local residents, elected officials and community advocates say they would welcome a return of city-run testing sites and a vaccination hub.
The city’s Health and Hospitals system shut down a popular open-air testing site near the No. 1 train on Dyckman Street and Nagle Avenue to reallocate testing resources in July, shortly before COVID-19 cases and deaths began creeping back upward.
‘People are Really Nervous’
There’s often a long line at the Inwood MedRite on Dyckman Street before it opens at 8 a.m. and during lunch hours, say residents who are still dumbfounded over the closure of the city-run site.
“That blows my mind. We’re still in the pandemic, there’s this whole other variant going around, and people are really nervous,” said Hank Coyote, 52, while standing in line at the MedRite. “If the neighborhood is affluent enough to demand it, then they get more testing sites and I think that that’s unfortunate because we’re all middle class, working class people up here.”
On Sept. 29, Inwood’s community board passed a resolution urging city officials “to open a full-time vaccination site in Washington Heights-Inwood to prevent the continued spread of the virus in our community.”
A spokesperson for NYC Test & Trace Corps, Adam Shrier, told THE CITY that Health and Hospitals isn’t planning on bringing back a permanent testing site.
Shrier cited a testing van at Quisqueya Playground on 180th Street, where the city maintains a regular presence. He also pointed Upper Manhattan residents to a test site in The Bronx’s St. James Park, which is a bus ride away from the 1 train’s 207th Street stop.
“NYC Test & Trace maintains a regular mobile testing presence in Inwood, and other neighborhoods without convenient testing alternatives,” Shrier said in a statement. “We continue to expand our mobile fleet and at-home testing services to provide the most flexible and convenient testing options possible and pursue partnerships with local businesses and community organizations to provide highly visible, conveniently located testing sites.”
Shrier said that the city “is not setting up new permanent sites at this time. We would be happy to partner on mobile clinics wherever requested, as we have with hundreds of community groups.”
‘Are You Kidding Me?’
Some residents say that only providing vans doesn’t send the right message.
Stephanie Fitzhugh, an Inwood-based organizer who’s been encouraging folks in the neighborhood to get the shot, said that when she’d spread news about mobile COVID vans, residents who were already vaccine hesitant were turned off at the idea of getting a needle in a cramped vehicle.
“We’d give out flyers about the vans and these kids would be like: ‘Are you kidding me? We know what you’re trying to do. We’re not going to some ghetto van to get the vaccine…. We want the real deal,’” Fitzhugh told THE CITY.
“Who wants to go to a van down by the river to get a friggin’ vaccine shot? No one!”