NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- New York City broke ground Wednesday on the new NYC Public Health Laboratory in Harlem, this as COVID cases rise across the city.
The NYC Public Health Lab has responded to emerging disease outbreaks for 125 years, ranging from diphtheria in 1892 to the current coronavirus and monkeypox outbreaks.
COVID-19 cases are up, but it is unknown if the city is plateauing or "if this is the beginning of a more prolonged increase," Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said.
Either way, Dr. Vasan says people should be wearing high quality masks indoors.
He said he is also disappointed with private testing sites packing up their tents because they stopped receiving subsidies, and he called for the federal government to continue funding the city.
"Absolutely I am concerned with private providers deciding to step out of private markets and really public rights and public services that are so critically needed, and doing so for purely economic reasons," he said. "It's kind of hard to imagine a world where we can maintain a robust COVID response without federal funding, so we are planning for a world where we are going to continue to get some level of support. But it's really the flexible emergency authorized funding that is so helpful to us to respond to the shifting needs."
The timeline for the new lab, located on West 137th Street between Malcom X Boulevard and Fifth Avenue, is approximately four to five years, with construction expected to be largely completed by 2025 before it is occupied in 2026.
It will be a 10-story beacon for science and prevention built on the campus of Harlem Hospital at a time when public health has never been more critical.
Dr. Vasan cited the start of the pandemic and the value of those in these labs that validated more accurate methods of COVID testing and sequenced the newest COVID variants to hit the city.
"I call it a miracle, because the work that they do is the part that we don't see," he said.
Additionally, new COVID-19 infections among kids are back on the rise for the first time in nearly two months.
Last week, nearly 76,000 additional child COVID-19 cases were reported, up from the 63,000 cases reported the week prior, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children's Hospital Association (CHA).
Overall, totals remain significantly lower than during other parts of the pandemic. However, child cases are still "far higher" than one year ago, the groups said, when just 12,100 cases were reported.
Many Americans who are taking at-home tests are also not submitting their results, and thus, experts say daily case totals are likely significantly higher than the numbers that are officially reported.
About 13.8 million children have tested positive for the virus, since the onset of the pandemic, and children represent about a fifth of all reported cases on record. Since the beginning of 2022, approximately 5.9 million reported cases have been added.
At this time, data for how many children under 5 have been vaccinated against COVID-19 is still unavailable. Even so, millions of kids over 5, who have been eligible for a shot since November, are still unvaccinated.
25.2 million children, over the age of 5 remain completely unvaccinated. Overall, about 44.4% of eligible children have been fully vaccinated.
AAP and CHA noted there is an "urgent" need to collect more age-specific data to assess the severity of illness related to new variants as well as potential longer-term effects.
"It is important to recognize there are immediate effects of the pandemic on children's health, but importantly we need to identify and address the long-lasting impacts on the physical, mental, and social well-being of this generation of children and youth," the organizations wrote.
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