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Town officials expand virus testing

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

This article first appeared in the LI Herald

For the next few weeks, essential workers can be tested for coronavirus for free, thanks to a new initiative launched by Town of Hempstead officials in collaboration with Northwell Health.

More than a dozen people attended a news conference last Friday outside the Stop & Shop on Atlantic Avenue in Baldwin, where officials announced the program, which is available to residents who live and work in the Town of Hempstead.

“Testing is a crucial part of the process to ensure people are remaining safe, which is why it was a priority of ours to expand testing options for our essential workers,” said Town Supervisor Don Clavin, who was joined by Council members Dorothy Goosby, Chris Carini and Tom Muscarella, as well as local essential workers and labor leaders. “They work to keep our community safe, so we must do the same for them.”

The initiative expands existing Covid-19 testing programs to include free polymerase chain reaction testing for essential workers, since they are the people who are consistently coming into contact with the public and putting their own lives at risk.

Polymerase chain reaction testing, officials explained, confirms whether the Covid-19 virus is active within the test recipient. Beginning Monday, testing was to be accessible in two locations: the Lakeview Fire Department at 891 Woodfield Road in West Hempstead and the Island Park court house at 127 Long Beach Road in Island Park. Between Nov. 16 and 20, the two locations are the Oceanside Fire Department at 64 Foxhurst Road in Oceanside and the Island Park court house. Other locations are to be determined.

Northwell Health has staffed each location and made sure the facilities are properly cleaned before and after testing.

Made possible by CARES Act funding that U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer helped to secure, the program aims to eradicate the virus and keep essential workers and their families safe, officials said. The town received a $133 million grant to alleviate some of the adverse effects of the pandemic.

“We have tested, already, through initiatives with Northwell, thousands of residents this year for this pandemic,” Clavin said. “This saved lives . . . It’s through testing that we will be able to contain coronavirus. We do not want to go back to March and April.”

He recalled the early days of the pandemic, when, sitting in Town Hall, the only sounds he heard were those of ambulances transporting people to the hospital. Clavin said the town’s physician, who worked at NYU Winthrop Hospital (now NYU Langone), would return from all-night shifts at the packed hospital and report that some patients were placed on tables in the cafeteria.

“We’ve all seen loss and grief in this,” Clavin said. “We’ve seen it personally with our family members, our friends. I had staff members who passed away from coronavirus and others who got sick . . . We want to test as many people as we can because we want everybody to be safe.”

Representatives of Transport Workers Union Local 252, Local 338, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, Laborers 66, the Long Island Federation of Labor and the New York State Nurses Association also attended the news conference.

“In all my years in this labor movement, I’ve never been prouder of the labor movement, but in particular, my members, here today, who are the front-line workers who went out every day and gave a certain semblance of normalcy to all of your families,” said John Durso, president of Local 338 and president of the Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

All of the Baldwin Stop & Shop employees, with the exception of those in the meat department, are members of Local 338.

“These ladies and gentlemen that are behind us today, there [are] never enough ‘thank-yous’ to them for all of the work and the sacrifices that they have done,” Durso said. “They have left their families to go out and protect us, in every aspect of our lives. We owe them all a great deal of gratitude.”

“As a former union representative myself, I understand the great importance that organized labor brings to the working class,” Carini said, “so thank you for advocating for your membership while they went through this. Thank you for being on the front lines and for fighting for your workers’ rights.”

Clavin said all essential workers are encouraged to use the testing services to keep themselves and their communities safe by preventing the spread of Covid-19. The list of eligible essential workers includes, but is not limited to, those working in grocery stores, pharmacies, schools, nursing homes and health care.

To make an appointment or learn more about the testing, call (516) 821-2500.

Dr. Jennifer Mieres, of Northwell Health, said on behalf of chief executive officer Michael Dowling and Dr. Deb Salas-Lopez, senior vice president for community and population health, that the hospital is proud to team up with the town to work toward eradicating the virus and protecting essential workers.

“We have learned many lessons from Covid-19,” Mieres said. “We know it’s an equal opportunity virus — we are all vulnerable, but the key to keeping us all safe is prevention and testing.”

Clavin and Mieres said the testing program might expand to additional locations if needed.