New public health laboratory breaks ground in Harlem

NEW YORK – New York City health leaders broke ground on a new 10-story public health laboratory in Harlem Wednesday. The high-tech research facility will be on the frontlines of the fight against disease.

The $454 million public health lab was designed with the pandemic in mind. The Economic Development Corporation is managing construction of the facility, and operations will be led by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“There are certainly lessons to be learned and successes to replicate and resources to build upon,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan.

The blueprint for groundbreaking work on the campus of Harlem Hospital includes energy-efficient equipment and solar panels to further the city’s commitment to a healthy environment.

“That is in keeping with the heroic work of the scientists within it,” Dr. Vasan said. “When COVID began mutating, it was our very own public health lab that sequenced variants to identify which strains were becoming dominant in our city.”

While this urgent work stands out, the lab scientists continue to combat more common diseases that infiltrate food, water and the atmosphere.

“It is every bit as critical as the emergency mobilizations that this lab has participated in for Zika, for Ebola, and, of course, for COVID,” Dr. Vasan said.

Beyond bracing for the next global pandemic, the new lab will help the Harlem community in a special way. The health department will grow its current lab staff of 250, targeting youth of the neighborhood.

“We’re really going to be able to expand our training programs for the next generation of laboratory scientists, epidemiologists, and to really draw from the Manhattan and Harlem community to find those folks, which are careers that have historically been hard to access for children of color,” explained Dr. Vasan.

The lab will also bring vital research closer to a neighborhood in need of health support.

“We would rely on the public health lab to tell us whether or not the person had COVID, so we saw right then and there how critical the partnership is,” said Dr. Mitch Katz, president and CEO of NYC Health and Hospitals.

Scientists have been using the same headquarters since the 1960s. Their new space will keep them ahead of the curve to see the next threat still to come.

Construction is expected to finish in 2025 – with the lab set to open in 2026.

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