On Wednesday afternoon, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo warned that the coronavirus pandemic is “not gonna be over anytime soon,” suggesting that the city’s overburdened hospital system will have to continue its herculean efforts to treat the outbreak for some time.
There is a sliver of good news for the city’s pregnant parents, however. With so many hospital resources across the state going toward treating the virus, New York has announced a maternal health task force that will advocate for the needs of expectant parents, including authorizing dedicated birthing centers that will allow parents to give birth safely.
As Vogue reports, the New York State Council on Women and Girls task force will also look into the effects of COVID-19 on pregnant parents and provide Gov. Cuomo with concrete policy proposals to help keep birthing parents and their babies safe.
“This pandemic strained our hospital system in a way no one could have ever imagined, and while New York leads in ensuring laboring mothers were able to have a healthy partner, friend, or family member with them during childbirth, we can and should explore additional ways to make the experience less stressful,” Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said in a statement. “Birth centers can serve as a safe alternative for low-risk pregnancies—relieving the strain on hospitals and providing a supportive environment for mothers during an already stressful time.”
The birthing centers are the most immediate concern for the task force, which is slated to give Cuomo recommendations by the end of the week. While New York faces unique challenges as the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., other states facing similar shortages of hospital beds and safe birthing facilities could find themselves following suit.
Nan Strauss, managing director of policy, advocacy, and grantmaking for Every Mother Counts, also stressed improving access to midwifery care to Vogue. Black birth workers like midwives and doulas have been instrumental in helping black expectant parents achieve better health outcomes. Increased access to birth workers, as well as birthing centers, would go a long way to ensuring that families across the state have the support and care they need to bring new life into the world.
“Women are nervous about going to hospitals with a lot of very sick people. Even now with the total number of hospitalizations going down, [birthing centers] are a great option for women who are not infected to give birth in a place with less risk of exposure and infection,” said Strauss. “It’s an option that people really have been demanding in New York City, and this makes it that much more urgent.”