The COVID-19 testing operation created in 2020 by Mayor Bill de Blasio (Working Families Party-NYC) when New York City was the epicenter of disease and death was supposed to lead the City out of uncertainty. Since then, the testing company has blossomed in testing contracts and worth, but its record of leading has been called into question after it was late in reporting the newest strain of the Coronavirus to threaten New York’s future : the Omicron variant.
As global worry has spread about the reported rapid rise in cases of the Omicron variant in Africa — a “heavily mutated” strain, which has led to border closings and travel bans amidst a new round of confinements — the world turned to Minnesota health officials to learn about the first case of Omicron in New York City. The silence from the City-created testing facility, the Pandemic Response Lab, did not go unnoticed by online critics of the Government’s pandemic response. Mayor de Blasio has been praising the Pandemic Response Lab since it’s creation, even as some media questioned the return on the City’s unknown investment in the company. Though Mayor de Blasio has hailed the testing being done by the Pandemic Response Lab for public schools as the “gold standard,” that claim was later rejected by a report published by the Gothamist news Web site.
After Progress New York made an interview request to the Pandemic Response Lab for this report, its parent company published a news release, announcing the sequencing of the lab’s first detection of the Omicron variant. Representatives from the parent company later promised to appear for an interview with Progress New York, but they never answered the request after inquiring about the subject of the interview.
The Pandemic Response Lab has reportedly succeeded in cutting the time and cost it takes to process COVID-19 tests. Since it operates as a private sector business, its first order of business is profit, not the use of its funding to promote or protect the public health, regardless of cost.
The fortune-making from the Coronavirus pandemic has triggered accusations that the Government response to COVID-19 has led to large transfers of wealth. It’s unknown how much Government assistance the Pandemic Response Lab has received. It was created in 2020 by the City of New York’s corporate welfare arm, the New York City Economic Development Corporation. It began receiving testing contracts from the City’s public hospital system, and that has reportedly been expanded to include test contracts for individuals in the City’s jail system and the public school system.
As a result of its growth in Government contracts, the corporate owner of the Pandemic Response Lab, Opentrons Labworks Inc., was able to finance an expansion to Washington, DC ; Los Angeles, CA ; and Seattle, WA. In September, Opentrons secured $200 million in new investments by a team led by Softbank Group Corp., which valued the parent company at $1.8 billion, according to a report published by the Bloomberg news service. The pandemic has created a lot of wealth at Opentrons. Last year, the company’s valuation was only $90 million, according to the Bloomberg report, making its current valuation a 20-fold jump in worth.
The Pandemic Response Lab’s focus appears to be profit-making for its parent company. As a result, the City of New York was late in reporting the Delta variant. As revealed by Progress New York, the first time that the Delta variant was reported in New York City was in mid-May, in a retroactive disclosure in an overdue weekly variant sequencing study, even though the virus had by that time spread from India to Europe. Later, as the Delta variant was itself evolving into new sublineages, Progress New York noted that the City of New York was not reporting the AY.3 subvariant at a time when its spread was possibly threatening another confinement in the State of Israel.