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. The Lakeview Fire Department was one of the first testing sites for the program, which took place at its firehouse last week.
“Essentially, we were only limited to just first responders through the initiative,” Lakeview Fire Commissioner Heather McNeill said. “But it was nice to be one of the first hosts of the mobile unit so that people were aware of it.”
McNeill said the department had offered to be one of the hosts for the town’s mobile unit. Having this kind of support for essential workers, she said, shows that the town understands the need to keep first responders safe.
“Let’s face it: Nobody else is going to come out for an emergency unless it’s a first responder,” McNeill said. “We’ve got to make sure that our people are good to go so that they can do their jobs, and also to keep their families safe, too.”
More than a dozen people attended a news conference on Nov. 6 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 Town Board 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 regularly come in contact with the public and put their own lives at risk.
Testing has since taken place in Oceanside and Island Park as well, and other locations are to be determined. Northwell Health has staffed each location, and made sure the facilities are properly cleaned before and after testing.
“Even though we’re no longer a host,” McNeill said, “we can still provide communication to let others know where they can go once the future sites are established, which we’ve done through social media. Keeping up that kind of information is key.”
Made possible by CARES Act funding that U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer helped secure, the program aims to 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 of ambulances rushing people to hospitals. Clavin said that the town’s physician, who worked at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola (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,” said John Durso, president of Local 338 and of the Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, “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.”
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, so thank you for advocating for your membership while they went through this,” Carini told Durso. “Thank you for being on the front lines and for fighting for your workers’ rights.”
Clavin encouraged all essential workers 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 those working in grocery stores, pharmacies, schools, nursing homes and health care.
To make an appointment or to learn more about the testing, call (516) 821-2500.
Dr. Jennifer Mieres, of Northwell Health, speaking on behalf of Chief Executive Officer Michael Dowling and Dr. Deb Salas-Lopez, senior vice president for community and population health, that the hospital was 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.