SUNSET PARK – When people in the city were urged to stay at home and quarantine during the worst of the coronavirus, Dr. Henry Chen, an internist, came to his office in Sunset Park and worked.
In addition to running his private practice with offices in Sunset Park, Sheepshead Bay, and Bensonhurst, Dr. Chen is the president of SOMOS Community Care, a non-profit, physician-led network of over 2,500 health care providers serving over 700,000 Medicaid beneficiaries in NYC.
SOMOS physicians work especially with vulnerable populations, including Latino, Asian, Black, and immigrant communities. Since March, doctors from the SOMOS network have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response in those vulnerable communities – including testing, treatment, providing health education, and providing nearly 2 million meals to hungry communities. These doctors also treat over 200,000 public school kids, run over 50 testing sites, and have administered over 400,000 COVID-19 tests during the first wave of the pandemic.
And while the city is going back and forth regarding opening schools for in-person learning, Dr. Chen believes schools should be re-opened sooner rather than later. “I see these kids, they stay home, lack of energy, they get depressed, anxiety, and no focus of learning,” he told us.
Do you think it is safe for NYC to re-open schools? we asked.
“I do think so. The disease is winding down and we don’t see a second wave coming, so that’s good news,” he said. “Second, we discuss this a lot among ourselves as providers, we feel that the disease is not so severe at this time. We probably understand it better than before. And we know how to treat the disease in its early stage. We give them antibodies earlier. We boost their immunity earlier… The chance for them to get sick is less and even when they do, it won’t be as severe.”
“You cannot have the kids sitting at home. It doesn’t make sense. One, the parents have to go back to work… they can’t leave the kids at home,” he said. “It’s kind of risky. There’s no monitor in case they play around and do other things. Their attention span is very small when they are home. So it has to be inside a classroom.”
Dr. Chen believes the city needs to be doing more to keeping students and teachers safe, including strict measures like temperature checks for each student, teacher, and staff member entering the building, and rapid testing – the kind that gets you results in 15-30 minutes, should be available for anyone with symptoms so the person doesn’t infect anyone else.
“We need to boost testing and rapid testing. We don’t have any rapid tests at this time. Many tests take seven days, ten days. I have patients waiting for two weeks for the results,” he said. “If this patient got infected, and you don’t inform him, he’s going to infect people in those days. We have not done a good job on this. And I’m saying this just from a medical perspective. We have no rapid testing available for the general public. South Korea, China have rapid tests. But, we don’t. I don’t know why our government has not made this effort.”