A coalition of New York City clergy and minority activists is urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to stop using them as political “props” and designate houses of worship as “essential,” letting them operate as long-term COVID-19 vaccination sites and community health centers.
“We’re not just going to be pop-ups. We’re not going to be props,” said Black Institute CEO Bertha Lewis, referring to Cuomo holding closed-press COVID “press conferences” at sites in Harlem and other minority neighborhoods as he battles multiple probes over his handling of nursing homes during the pandemic and a slew of sexual harassment accusations.
“Stop doing this to us. We’re not a `pop-up’ community,” Lewis said. “We’re tired of being treated as props and pawns by Governor Cuomo. …. He only shows up at black and brown churches when he wants a photo op. Enough is enough.”
Lewis joined a cross-section of clergy and politicians — including mayoral candidate and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Manhattan Borough Gale Brewer — at a rally at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Height to press the governor on faith-based vaccination sites.
Said Pastor Gil Monrose, leader of the 67th Precinct Clergy Council in Brooklyn, which includes over 100 churches, “Our houses of worship can play a big role in vaccinating Black and brown New Yorkers, but Governor Cuomo must designate them as Essential to make that happen.
“Until a larger number of our folks are vaccinated against COVID, our communities will be left out of the recovery after COVID. Cuomo must act now and designate houses of worship as Essential, so we can operate as long-term COVID vaccination sites and community health centers.”
Vaccination rates are way down in the city’s lower-income and minority communities, among those hardest hit by the coronavirus.
The most recent city Health Department data show that less than 40 percent of residents in Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant, Brownsville and Canarsie neighborhoods had gotten at least one dose.
Vaccination rates were also under 40 percent in Hunts Point in The Bronx and South Jamaica and Laurelton/Rosedale in Queens.
Citywide, 55 percent of residents have received at least one dose.
The Post just reported a massive slowdown in the number of Big Apple residents getting vaccinated.
Adams on Thursday endorsed the clergy effort.
“We cannot underestimate the power of credible messengers in delivering messages — and results — to communities that are hard to reach through mainstream airwaves and traditional PSAs,” Adams said.
“Time and time again, I have found that our diverse community of interfaith clergy has the essential trust of audiences who are receptive to their messages, from vaccinations and preventive healthcare to youth empowerment and caring for our homeless neighbors in need.”
Cuomo has designated 17 houses of worship statewide as pop-up sites — many in black and Latino neighborhoods — to improve access for people to get vaccinated.
Cuomo’s office referred calls for comment to the state Health Department, which said it was “reviewing” the clergy’s request.
“We enthusiastically welcome any offer to join New York’s multi-pronged, multi-faceted efforts in breaking down barriers to access and empowering all New Yorkers to confidently make the decision to get vaccinated,” said Health Department spokeswoman Jill Montag.
“Our goal is to get as many shots into as many arms as we can, as quickly and equitably as humanly possible. We continue to make tremendous progress in vaccinating eligible New Yorkers and to date, over 16,234,370 shots have been administered statewide – meaning 37% New Yorkers are fully vaccinated. We look forward to reviewing their plans.”