By Bill Finley
The number of individuals who work on the Belmont backstretch and have tested positive for coronavirus has risen to six. On Mar. 19, NYRA confirmed that a backstretch employee had tested positive and, according to NYRA Communications Director Patrick McKenna, five more racetrack workers at Belmont have tested positive since that time.
After the first case of the virus was found, NYRA announced that live racing at Aqueduct had been postponed indefinitely. On Wednesday, NYRA announced that live racing was suspended through at least Apr. 5. With the latest outbreak, that target may have to be pushed back.
According to McKenna, two of the people who tested positive are recovering off the property, while four others remained at Belmont, where they were being isolated and were in quarantine.
McKenna provided the TDN with a statement, which read: “NYRA is following the most up-to-date health guidance established by the New York State Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. As such, all individuals residing at Belmont Park who have tested positive are under quarantine and in isolation in a Belmont Park facility dedicated to these efforts. We are in close communication with NYS and Nassau County health departments to ensure we are taking all appropriate steps to reduce the risk of spread. The Belmont backstretch is home to 585 workers, who tend to the essential daily care of the 1300 Thoroughbreds stabled on the property. NYRA suspended racing operations at Aqueduct on Mar. 19 to devote all resources, energy and attention to maintaining the health and welfare of the backstretch community.”
Containing the virus and trying to keep the workers safe has been a joint effort among NYRA, the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA), the Backstretch Employee Service Team (BEST), and the New York Race Track Chaplaincy of America (NYRTCA).
“This has been a collaborative effort among many groups,” said BEST Executive Director Paul Rushames. “We’re all in this together. There are so many moving parts that we have a teleconference twice a day. We’re all here trying to help. Still, it’s a scary thing. There are remaining challenges, like the need to fund raise. We need help.”
McKenna said he could not release the names of those who had gotten sick or who they worked for because it would be a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA.