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De Blasio sat on offer to provide free COVID-19 testing for students

August 29, 2020

While educrats scramble to get schools ready for opening in less than two weeks and teachers threaten a sickout over the lack of planned mandatory COVID-19 testing, a respected healthcare agency has revealed that Mayor de Blasio for two months sat on its offer to test all school kids and teachers for free.

Beginning in June, the 800,000-patient, 2,500-doctor Somos network said it reached out to the mayor five times to offer to set up free testing sites at NYC’s most at-risk public schools. But meetings were canceled and calls ignored — until this week, when de Blasio finally had a video chat with the agency on Wednesday.

Still, no deal was struck and the non-profit says Hizzoner continues to say he doesn’t want to mandate testing.

Dr. Ramon Tallaj, chairman of Somos — which runs 38 city-backed COVID-19 testing sites in clinics, tents and churches throughout New York and has tested 325,000 low-income New Yorkers since March — says on-site testing at schools is a matter of life and death.

“The mayor is surrounded by people who do not grasp what is going on,” Dr. Tallaj told The Post. “If he opens schools the way he is proposing, parents are going to die.”

Currently, the city’s official plan to reopen schools relies on students and teachers to voluntarily seek out testing at city-run sites and hotbed hospitals.

The Department of Education website adds: “If a student or teacher is feeling sick, they are required to stay home and, if their symptoms are consistent with COVID-19, are asked to get tested.”

Without mandatory testing, warned Tallaj, a specialist in internal medicine, “58% of the children and their families who have not seen the virus could get infected by the 1 or 2% who are positive with the virus.

“The majority of the newly infected children, who do not show symptoms, will go back to their small apartments in poor neighborhoods, potentially infecting their parents and grandparents in our community.”

Somos proposes an initial wave of 80 testing sites at public schools in more poor areas, handling 120 to 140 students per day. Tallaj said his 2,500 doctors could eventually test all of the 1.1 million students at all 1,866 DOE schools, but would need financial backing from the city.

Tallaj believes de Blasio balked at his offer because he wants to do testing in city hospitals, which would keep federal Medicare, Medicaid and FEMA charges with the city.

Somos also relies on those federal programs. But with a coronavirus crisis looming when schools reopen on Sept. 10, Tallaj said his agency would provide its physicians to the city gratis and do the testing using its own funds. He said Somos will seek reimbursement from the city at a later date for costs like testing supplies and PPE.

No student or teacher would pay for the tests, he said.

Tallaj says that he believes de Blasio only returned his call this week because of building pressure from the teachers union and the City Council, which has both demanded mandatory testing for teachers and students. The United Federation of Teachers has even threatened a sickout if every student and staffer in the public school system isn’t tested before in-classroom schooling resumes.

In an Aug. 21 letter to the mayor, Tallaj wrote, “It is truly unfortunate that … [we] have yet to find a time to schedule our meeting which we agreed upon back in June. Usually when this happens, it means this isn’t a priority for you. Is this fair for me to assume?”

Tallaj also offered to donate 500 telemedicine computers to public schools allowing symptomatic students direct access to their pediatricians and medical charts at school. But the city was also hesitant to accept, according to a Somos spokesperson, citing the need for legal review.

“We’re working through every option to make testing as widespread and convenient as humanely possible for members of our school community,” a spokesperson for the mayor said, noting that back in June the UTF was not yet demanding mandatory testing for teachers and students.

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