New York Public Health Workers Use Collaboration to Combat COVID-19

It’s been more than a year since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). While there have been many challenges in combating the spread of the virus, there have also been medical breakthroughs, including FDA approval of several vaccines. As distribution of these medical interventions continues, public health experts are urging Americans to practice the 4 Ws: Wear a mask, Wash your hands, Watch your distance, and be Wary of crowds.

COVID-19 is surging across the country at rates not previously seen since the start of the pandemic. This reminder is all too familiar for the residents of New York City (NYC). In 2020, the city became the epicenter for coronavirus in the United States. In the months since, NYC has worked to control the spread of COVID-19 and implement safety measures to protect its residents. This work has impacted nearly every aspect of daily life from retail to restaurants, public transit and schools.

Farukh Bhatti

Etinosa Osagie

Seymour Suncin

The impact to local communities inspired Seymour Suncin, Farukh Bhatti and Etinosa Osagie to join the CDC Foundation’s COVID-19 Corps to work as associate laboratory microbiologists at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) Public Health Laboratory (PHL).

For Seymour Suncin, who majored in biology and plans to pursue a career as a dental doctor, working for the Foundation’s COVID-19 Corps has provided him with an opportunity to give back in memory of a loved one.

“This past April I lost my grandfather due to COVID-19, and I was out of a job during that time because of COVID-19,” said Suncin. “After the loss of my grandfather, I wanted to be a part of the fight against this pandemic.”

Now, Suncin works at one of the nine COVID Express x Quickie Labs that opened this summer at DOHMH clinic sites across the city. At these sites, clients have specimens collected and tested, and results are available through a smart phone accessible portal within a few hours of the visit. He finds his work truly rewarding, is grateful for the career-related experience, and is pleased to be part of the pandemic response.

Etinosa Osagie also works at a COVID Express x Quickie Lab. Osagie plans to become a physician addressing health equity challenges in low-income areas and working at one of the Quickie Labs has allowed her to see beyond the case numbers and death tolls to the impact of this pandemic on communities.

“Every day when I walk by the nurses with their swabs ready and see people in the waiting room area, some seemingly nervous, I am reminded that the work I do is for the patient,” said Osagie. “I am reminded that the samples I run are not just serial numbers but are people whose results may have an impact on their lives.”

NYC Department of Health testing site

This entire collective effort should serve as a model to how society needs to act. Everyone is here doing their job because it ties in with everyone else’s effort to fight COVID-19, no matter how big or small.

“This program has been a great success, allowing young scientists to not only gain important laboratory experience but also give DOHMH much needed help during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi. "I want to thank the CDC Foundation for their support and the COVID-19 Corps for their dedication and skill during a time of crisis."

Farukh Bhatti works in the Whole Genome Sequencing unit at PHL, sequencing the RNA of SARS-CoV-2 from specimens collected from NYC patients. The data generated is used to track the virus in NYC and is shared with collaborators around the globe.

Farukh joined the foundation’s COVID-19 Corps after working in a private, clinical lab and has found the collaborative environment at the health department gratifying and believes it can serve as model for the public.

“This entire collective effort by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to battle COVID-19 and the pandemic is a great understanding of what employees have been dealing with and should serve as a model to how society needs to act,” said Bhatti. “Everyone is here doing their job because it ties in with everyone else’s effort to fight COVID-19, no matter how big or small.”

This critical work is made possible with the help of a $15 million donation provided by TikTok, one of the CDC Foundation’s largest corporate gifts.


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