When Gov. Cuomo designated Ozone Park as a yellow zone, it served as a warning sign to the borough that the virus was traveling into the area south of Forest Park.
But while positivity rates of the yellow zone in the whole Central Queens area have stayed relatively low — hovering below 3 percent for the past seven days — another problem has revealed itself, which precedes the recent rash of positive cases.
South Queens has exceedingly low rates of COVID testing. Five neighboring ZIP codes in South Queens are among the 10 areas with the lowest rates of COVID testing in the whole city. Lawmakers and community leaders say their efforts to set up more sites in the area have met bureaucratic resistance.
“This is nothing new,” said Councilwoman Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica). “The whole phenomenon around the lack of testing in Southeast Queens has gone on since the onset of the pandemic.”
The absolute lowest amount of testing per 100,000 people in the city is bound by a ZIP code bisecting Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park, stretching mostly over Adams’ district. Only 4,837 per 100,000 people have been tested there – nearly half of the city’s average rate of testing per ZIP code.
The next lowest ZIP code covers most of Woodhaven, just a little farther north. The rates of testing in ZIP codes stretching over South Ozone Park, Ozone Park and South Jamaica are not far behind.
While still below the citywide average, Howard Beach’s test rates are not as low as the aforementioned neighborhoods.
None of that information surprised Felicia Singh, a neighborhood advocate and District 32 City Council candidate, who has been calling for more and longer-lasting testing sites in the area for more than three weeks.
“I told [NYC Health + Hospitals, the mayor and governor] that COVID would travel here and sadly I was right,” Singh tweeted.
When she saw lines wrapping around the two-week rapid testing site at the Ozone Park Library on its final day on Oct. 2, Singh filled out a request for a city-run site on the border of the neighborhood and East New York. It was not approved, even though at the time the number of confirmed positive cases per 100,000 people had skyrocketed 650 percent over the two-week period, according to the city’s data.
“Still, getting the testing sites for all of our districts has been a battle,” Adams told the Chronicle over the phone. “We’ve still got communities of color slighted when it comes to testing. There is a lot of bureaucracy that astounds when it comes to maneuvering through this.”
One of the repeated bureaucratic obstacles she faced at the peak of the pandemic was finding spaces that met the requirement of having large parking lots. Adams said that she and other Queens lawmakers had to independently raise funds to establish testing at York College in Jamaica because the mayor and governor would not approve it.
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) joined Adams in criticizing the city’s testing site response, calling it “just another example of how Mayor de Blasio is failing New Yorkers with his coronavirus response” in a statement he emailed to the Chronicle.
Three weeks after the closure of the Ozone Park site, when the governor made the neighborhood a yellow zone, the Mayor’s Office got back in touch with Singh to tell her that it would be approving a mobile test site at Tudor Park to run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 26 to 30.
Community Board 9 Chairman Kenichi Wilson said the city needs to do more to pursue testing opportunities in areas that the governor has designated as hot spots. He suggested that increased testing may show that the existing level of COVID infection is higher than the numbers the city currently is working with.
“When they had the testing at the library on Rockaway Boulevard, that was hot,” Wilson said. “I have a feeling that the results from the testing over there is what pulled us into the yellow because they did do testing in the area.”