NEW YORK - For nearly six years, LeVar Lawrence has called Coler, the city-run nursing home on Roosevelt Island, home. On Monday, he learned he tested positive for the coronavirus.

"Highly upset. Because I don’t understand how. I’ve been on this lockdown for five weeks,” he explained. “The only time I’m around somebody is either when the staff is feeding me or washing me. That’s the only time I have contact with staff."

Lawrence’s body was paralyzed below his neck after he survived a gunshot about 15 years ago. Now he depends on the daily help from nursing home staff for basic needs.

According to the NYC Health + Hospitals Corporation, which runs the nursing home and 11 public hospitals, 73 of Coler's 540 residents have tested positive for COVID-19.

"It started off with two people sick. Next thing you know, it’s five people, and next thing you know its seven people, and it’s on both sides of the unit," Lawrence said.

"Thirteen percent - it’s very high," said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer of the percentage that of the resident population that’s tested positive. “The question is why, what kind of precautions, I also wonder about the staff, you have here nurses but you also have home health aids who work on the regular basis with the permanent residents. That’s why they are there. Are they getting their full PPE?"


The agency said PPE is available for those who need it and that the proportion of positive test results is less than what is reported at equivalent locations citywide.

The de Blaiso administration announced in March that a temporary hospital would be built on the Coler campus to treat up to 350 people. Officials initially said no COVID patients would be put there, but later reversed that decision
On Sunday, the temporary hospital had 166 patients, but Health and Hospitals would not say how many have COVID-19.

The city nursing residents like Lawrence do not interact with patients in the temporary hospital, which the city says is set up on unoccupied floors in separate wings of the Coler Campus. But Lawrence says he lives on the third floor of one of the wings the city says it is using for the transferred patients.

Brewer says she wants to know how the outbreak at the nursing home could have happened and if the temporary hospital patients are responsible.

“This is a city facility. When you hear about nursing homes in the paper, most of them are private. This is city funded,” she explained. “I want to know how separate the COVID patients are.“

State Senator Jose Serrano co-signed a letter with Brewer and Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright earlier this month requesting weekly COVID19 testing for Coler residents.

“As we hear reports that a significant number of Coler residents could have since become infected with COVID19, I reiterate our call on Health + Hospitals to provide transparent and complete information so that we can work toward ensuring the health and safety of our neighbors at Coler,” Serrano said in a statement.

The agency maintains that it follows guidance from the state department of health on COVID testing and that any patient can receive a test at the discretion of their physician.

Health and Hospitals said in statement the temporary hospital and nursing home have separate staff, but share elevators, a hallway, the main lobby, cafeteria and lounge. The agency says staff are supposed to remove PPE before entering the shared spaces.

According to the agency, fewer than six nursing home residents have died due to the coronavirus.