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NYC Eyes Turning Senior Centers into COVID-19 Testing Sites

A shuttered senior center in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn during the coronavirus outbreak.
A shuttered senior center in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn
Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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The de Blasio administration is considering converting some senior centers into COVID-19 and antibody testing locations, a move that has operators worried about the safety of their employees and elderly clients.

The School Construction Authority has sent staff over the past few days to check out some of the city’s 249 senior centers, according to site operators.

All of the centers were closed in mid March as the coronavirus outbreak accelerated, but some sites are being used to cook food for home delivery. Other centers are located in senior housing complexes.

“The city should not be using places where people who are the most vulnerable to the virus would be going,” said Allison Nickerson, executive director of LiveOnNY, an umbrella group for senior service providers.

Jane Meyer, a City Hall spokesperson, said: “We are scouting locations all across the city for community testing sites to scale up our capacity and help make our vision of widespread testing a reality.”

Some 474,986 people in New York City have been tested, with 170,534 confirmed cases, as of Sunday. The city wants to boost testing — a key element to reopening New York.

On Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced 30,000 city-made 3D-printed test kits will be ready by Friday. Another 50,000 will be made weekly, according to the mayor, who noted that lab capacity remains a concern.

Mayor Bill de Blasio gives an update at City Hall about the spread of the coronavirus.
Mayor Bill de Blasio
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“We are definitely starting to ramp up,” he said, pointing out that roughly 13,000 tests are being conducted each week.

“But that number has to grow a whole lot more. Unquestionably,” he added.

Not ‘The Right Choice’

Some advocates suggested that schools where meals are not currently served, or even libraries, might make good spots for testing facilities.

“I don’t think senior centers are the right choice,” said Scott Short, CEO of RiseBoro, which operates nine centers throughout Brooklyn.

“I understand the desire to expand testing, especially in NYCHA campuses where we know the virus is having a disproportionate impact,” he added, suggesting schools would be a better alternative.

On Saturday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he’d signed an executive order to allow independent pharmacies to do walk-in screenings. The swab tests are prioritized for first responders and other essential workers.

New Yorkers also can get tested for COVID-19 at hospitals, some private doctor offices and at CityMD urgent care clinics.

As for the senior center conversion plan, operators who received visits said they were told they would hear back from the city within a few weeks.

Some are frustrated the site visits have been scheduled with short notice, in one case with 35 minutes before inspectors arrived.

“We have had multiple agencies approaching us separately about the site visits to the same sites at the same time,” said Ben Thomases, executive director of Queens Community House.

Thomases and other providers are upset the city has shared little information about its plan. It is unclear how much it would cost to convert centers into test sites.

“It is typical of how the city has dealt with us throughout this crisis,” he said, “providing confusing and contradictory information, being unresponsive to our questions and concerns, and wasting our expertise and capacity to serve the community by not consulting with us.”

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