By Kevin Deutsch and Sasha Gonzales
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Amid a critical shortage of COVID-19 test kits in communities of color, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday said the city would begin buying 100,000 coronavirus tests a week from local companies, as well as an Indiana diagnostic laboratory that produces the vital tool.
“For the first time, we’re going to have a truly reliable major supply of testing,” de Blasio said at a morning press briefing, after his pleas for more tests from the White House went unanswered. “The number one issue from day one has been testing.”
The Indiana lab, Aria Diagnostics, sells a test for respiratory pathogens “including the novel coronavirus associated with COVID-19,” according to the company’s website.
Aria has already donated 50,000 test kits to the city, de Blasio said, and will purchase 50,000 more a week starting next week.
Local companies in the five boroughs will make 50,000 additional kits for the city each week beginning in May, said the mayor, whose plan to open testing sites in high-poverty, virus-stricken communities of color by week’s end has been hampered by a lack of federal cooperation.
The locally produced kits will be “put together right here with companies, universities, New York City workers right here, building a brand new supply chain to feed this industry that will now develop in New York City,” de Blasio said.
The Trump administration has overseen a dramatic increase in production and shipping of coronavirus test kits recently, but New York’s needs have gone largely unmet amid a chaotic federal response to the outbreak here.
“If the federal government can’t figure it out, then get out of the way and let us at the local level get this done,” de Blasio said. “But support us. Get us the components. Get us the help so that we can do this rapidly and protect ourselves.”
“New York City will be self-sufficient,” the mayor said.
The plan to produce 400,000 test kits a month would still fall far short of what is needed to create a widespread testing regime in a city of 8.6 million.
Currently, there is no COVID-19 testing facility in the South Bronx—America’s most impoverished congressional district per capita, and a community with some of the highest coronavirus death rates in the city.
“We have scoured the world looking for test kits on the open market. It’s been extraordinarily frustrating,” de Blasio said. “We’ve had so many good people searching everywhere just to buy the test kits to get a reliable supply. It has not been possible.”
The dearth of testing comes at a time when New Yorkers are dying in their residences at about ten times the normal rate, city data shows. Causes of death have not been established for many, meaning they are not reflected in the city’s daily COVID-19 death totals.
The city’s public hospitals say COVID-19 tests are so scarce, they are only testing patients who require hospitalization. And testing at urgent care clinics, private hospitals, private practitioners, and state-run facilities remain difficult to access for the general public.
Testing is critical to isolating, treating, and limiting the spread of coronavirus, which, in addition to infecting 23, 352 Bronxites and killing 1,400 of them as of Tuesday, is taking a devastating economic toll on the city’s poorest borough, local officials, business owners, and activists said.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.