Jan. 3, 2022 By Allie Griffin
A Queens council member whose district doesn’t have a single city-run COVID test site said the de Blasio administration excluded his neighborhood based on its racial makeup.
Council Member Robert Holden said his constituents have been denied testing resources since the former administration determined that they didn’t live in one of 33 “hard-hit” neighborhoods identified by the city’s racial equity taskforce.
His district, Council District 30 — which covers Ridgewood, Maspeth, Glendale, Middle Village and parts of Woodhaven and Woodside — has no city-run COVID test sites roughly three weeks after COVID-19 cases began to rise drastically in the city.
Holden told the Queens Post that he repeatedly called on former Mayor Bill de Blasio and his team to open test sites in the district — only to be told that the neighborhoods in his district were not a priority.
The 30th Council District is historically white, while the 33 taskforce neighborhoods are largely communities of color. According to 2010 census data, District 30 was about 57 percent non-Hispanic white. The 2020 census data by district level has yet to be released.
“It’s a sick and twisted policy to actually exclude neighborhoods based on race or ethnicity, and it reeks so badly of the dysfunctional de Blasio administration,” Holden said.
Weeks into this surge, our district still doesn’t have a city-run testing site despite multiple requests. Because @NYCMayor sees us a district of middle-class families who didn’t vote for him, this administration doesn’t give us vaccination or testing sites, or other services. pic.twitter.com/duvUD0tBBQ
— Robert Holden (@BobHoldenNYC) December 29, 2021
The council member’s district — other than a slice of Woodhaven — doesn’t include any of the 33 neighborhoods identified by the city’s Taskforce on Racial Inclusion & Equity (TRIE) as the “hardest-hit communities” during the pandemic.
Holden said that a de Blasio staffer told him in an email that the city is prioritizing the 33 neighborhoods for COVID-19 testing, arguing that they have been historically under-resourced and disadvantaged.
He said that the staffer told him that the city would also not be distributing at-home test kits in his district because none of the neighborhoods have been listed by the Taskforce on Racial Inclusion & Equity.
“That’s when I went ballistic,” Holden said. “I said that’s absurd … and doesn’t make any sense in fighting COVID because it doesn’t only spread in certain areas. It’s everywhere.”
Holden said he eventually got 100 at-home test kits from the city that he had to “scrounge” for and distributed them all to constituents within 20 minutes.
However, he said the same staffer reportedly gave a similar emailed response to Staten Island Council Member Joe Borelli when he asked for more test sites and resources in his district. The emails were also corroborated by a New York Post report.
Holden, who has just been sworn in to his second term, said he’s not ready to let the issue go.
“You don’t fight racism with racism,” he said. “What you try to do is give [resources] to every neighborhood.”
Holden is in the process of sending a letter to Mayor Eric Adams requesting city-run COVID test sites in his district. He will also be calling for the disbandment of the Taskforce on Racial Inclusion & Equity.
The councilmember also said that he wants there to be an investigation into the taskforce and the de Blasio administration’s allegedly unequal distribution of pandemic resources, like test kits and mobile testing vans.
“I want an investigation as to how the Blasio administration withheld very important COVID fighting resources to certain areas,” he said. “… You don’t do that. You don’t exclude neighborhoods.”
In the meantime, Holden and Assembly Member Brian Barnwell are currently offering free COVID-19 testing at their respective offices on select days this week as they await city-run sites.
With allegedly no help from the mayor’s team, Holden said he called Dr. Mitch Katz, the President and CEO of the city’s public hospital system, directly to get the test site opened at his Middle Village district office. The site offers PCR saliva tests with results via email in 24 to 48 hours.
In just two days, more than 600 people got tested.
I am partnering with @Barnwell30, @SenJoeAddabbo and @NYCHealthSystem to provide FREE COVID-19 testing at my office. Please see the flyer below for details. No appointment necessary. First come, first served. #covidtestingnyc #covidtestingqueens pic.twitter.com/dPncs5dZZ6
— Robert Holden (@BobHoldenNYC) December 31, 2021
Despite its success, Holden said he remains upset since people are still waiting in lines in the cold. He said every neighborhood must have multiple city-run test sites and that the city should partner with local pharmacies to reach more areas.
“You need a few sites in every neighborhood,” Holden said. “I don’t want people waiting on lines. If you’re not feeling well, and you want to get tested, you should not be waiting outside in the cold.”