NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Starting today, thousands more coronavirus tests are available for people living in New York City.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city initially tested severely ill patients, health care workers and first responders.

Testing sites have now opened in some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods as new information about disparities paints a dire picture.

There was a line outside of Gotham Health East New York Friday afternoon as people waited to get a coronvirus test. It was a similar sight at Gotham Health Morissania in the Bronx. Starting today, testing was increased at both facilities as the city tries to zero in on the hardest hit communities, providing more access to area residents – especially those 65 and older with preexisting conditions.

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Add to that new partnership with OneMedical – first in Brooklyn and Queens – especially to target front line and essential workers.

“It is not a statement of anything but focusing on the people whose lives are in greatest danger,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

More walk-up sites with be added Monday, in all providing nearly 6,000 more tests a week. The walk-up sites are expected to process at least 2,400 tests per week. Residents can call 311 to set up an appointment.

Three new community-based testing sites opened Friday:

  • Health + Hospitals Gotham Health in East New York, Brooklyn
  • Health + Hospitals Gotham Health in Morrisania, the Bronx
  • Vanderbilt Health Center in Clifton, Staten Island

Followed by two more on Monday:

  • Syndham Family Health Center in Harlem, Manhattan
  • Health + Hospitals Queens Hospital in Jamaica, Queens

The mayor admits it’s not nearly enough.

Councilman Mark Levine is the chairman of the Health Committee.

“For this entire pandemic, for most people, it has been difficult to get a test. But for the rich powerful and connected, they found a way,” Levine said.

The mayor’s new community approach aims to address that. Updated information from the Department of Health show black and Latin New Yorkers are infected at a much higher rate, and make up nearly 62 percent of all confirmed deaths from COVID-19.

“We’re going to ramp that [testing] number up as rapidly as possible. We want to reach everyone we can reach to keep people safe. That’s the bottom line, and to particularly keep those safe who are most vulnerable,” de Blasio said.

The mayor said in addition to the testing sites, the city plans to increase education in at-risk areas and free up 11,000 hotel rooms for people to safely quarantine.

CORONAVIRUS: NY Health Dept. | NY Call 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Health Dept. | NYC Call 311, Text COVID to 692692 | NJ COVID-19 Info Hub | NJ Call 1-(800)-222-1222 or 211, Text NJCOVID to 898211 | CT Health Dept. | CT Call 211 | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“We need to ensure that we’re prepared for a second surge and a third surge,” said Murad Awawdeh of the New York Immigration Coalition.

Awawdeh says increased testing is only the first step to addressing the widening disparities.

“How are we going to ensure that everyone has a test and everyone does not get charged for it? And if people are positive and they need treatment there are no hidden bills down the road?” Awawdeh said.

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Each borough is also opening another testing site for health care workers, essential workers and people over the age of 65 with preexisting conditions. Those appointments can be made by calling 1-888-ONEMED1 or using the code NYCCare30 at OneMedical.com.

The mayor is asking the federal government to step in and help with the testing shortage. In the meantime, 11,000 hotel rooms are now available for those recovering from COVID-19 and are unable to social distance in their homes.

Six weeks into the fight, first attempts to bridge the divide that existed long before the pandemic hit.

De Blasio said he plans to hire 120 more 311 staff members after callers reported long wait times. He instructed the staff to prioritize coronavirus-related issues, particularly getting people the food they need.

“311 calls have grown exponentially during this crisis. Before, go back to February, typically 311 got something like 55,000 calls a day,” he said. “The peak in April was 200,000 calls in a single day.”

He added many seniors rely on the phone line and asked anyone who can use the website or app to do so. Residents can also text photos of social distancing violations to 311-692.

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