NYRA secures COVID-19 antibody testing for employees and backstretch workers
May 14, 2020
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NYRA secures COVID-19 antibody testing for employees and backstretch workers

by Pat McKenna

The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) today announced it has partnered with Northwell Health to secure important COVID-19 antibody testing for NYRA employees and backstretch workers at Belmont Park.

"We would like to thank Northwell Health for their commitment to expanding the availability of antibody testing across New York and right here at Belmont Park," said NYRA CEO and President Dave O'Rourke. "This broad testing program will provide additional insight allowing us to to more fully understand how COVID-19 has impacted our community. Going forward, this is a positive step in NYRA's overall testing program as we work toward our goal of providing universal access to both diagnostic testing and antibody testing."

The voluntary COVID-19 antibody testing, provided free by Northwell Health, will be available to all NYRA staff and backstretch workers at Belmont Park on Saturday, May 16.

"We have been able to respond quickly and effectively throughout this public health crisis because of the strong collaboration between NYRA and NYTHA, as well as the tireless work of B.E.S.T, the Racetrack Chaplaincy and the Belmont Child Care Association," O'Rourke added. "I would like to thank everyone involved in these efforts to keep our community safe."

Northwell Health personnel will perform all testing and results will be communicated within two days. Those who have recently experienced COVID-19 symptoms are asked to stay home and contact their health care provider.

The test looks for the presence of antibodies, which are specific proteins made in response to infections. Antibodies can be found in the blood of people who are tested after infection and show that people have had an immune response to the infection.

Antibody test results are especially important for detecting previous infections with few or no symptoms. A positive test result reveals antibodies that likely resulted from a previous COVID-19 infection. Antibody testing does not reveal active infection.

Live racing on the NYRA circuit was suspended on March 19 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Belmont backstretch has remained operational for the 800 men and women, of which nearly 600 live on the backstretch, who tend to the essential daily care of the more than 1,500 thoroughbreds currently stabled on the property.

Should NYRA be authorized to resume limited live racing operations, Belmont Park would be closed to spectators as well as all employees and staff except those required to be present under the rules of New York racing.

With these restrictions in place, the resumption of live racing would add just 60 NYRA employees and racing officials to the population of 800 essential backstretch workers at Belmont Park.

NYRA's Preparedness and Response Plan Committee, comprised of key NYRA staff members as well as representatives from the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (NYTHA), the Backstretch Employee Service Team (B.E.S.T.), and the New York Race Track Chaplaincy of America (NYRTCA), has developed and implemented health and safety protocols aligning with the most updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and New York State Department of Health.

Protocols implemented at Belmont Park include, but are not limited to:

Mandatory health screening and temperature check for all personnel seeking to access the property 

Policy and workplace adjustments to support strict social distancing 

Mandatory personal protective measures including required facial coverings 

Preventative quarantine protocols, testing and contact tracing

Throughout the pandemic, backstretch workers feeling symptoms of the coronavirus, or in need of other care, have been treated at the B.E.S.T Health Center located on the Belmont backstretch or at the Elmont Health Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center, located across from Gate 5 at 161 Hempstead Turnpike.

NYRA's ongoing COVID-19 diagnostic testing program has been led by the Elmont Health Center in conjunction with B.E.S.T.

About the New York Racing Association

The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) holds the exclusive franchise to conduct thoroughbred racing at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.

NYRA tracks are the cornerstone of New York State's thoroughbred industry, which is responsible for 19,000 jobs and more than $3 billion in annual statewide economic impact.

Accredited by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance, NYRA is a founding member of the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, a group of the nation's leading racing organizations working collaboratively to advance safety reforms across the sport.

Over the course of 217 days of live racing in 2019, NYRA generated more than $2.1 billion in all-sources wagering handle with paid attendance exceeding 1.5 million. 

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