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COVID Newsletters

Weekly COVID newsletter (1/14)


It’s Thursday, January 14, 2021. Welcome to my weekly COVID-19 newsletter.

The United States has hit a grim milestone. The past two days have each seen more than 4,000 COVID deaths, an all-time high.

Manhattan has had 72,353 cumulative confirmed cases and 3,409 deaths (5,983 more cases and 42 more deaths since last week). The city as a whole has had 495,273 total cases and 25,741 total deaths (41,140 more cases and 379 more deaths since last week), according to nonprofit news site’s COVID-19 tracker. Experts say seven-day averages are a more reliable indicator of the course of the pandemic:

  • Manhattan’s seven-day positivity average as reported by the New York State COVID testing dashboard is 3.7%, down from the 4% reported in our last edition.

  • New York City’s seven-day positivity average as reported by the NYC Dept. of Health is 8.53%, down from the 9.21% reported in our last edition.

According to New York Times data, the city’s case average this past week is 44% higher than the average two weeks ago, while deaths are up 23% in that time.

And add the fact that the more highly contagious U.K. strain of COVID has arrived in the city according to Mayor de Blasio; a case has been confirmed upstate, and a cluster has been found on Long Island as well.

The arrival of that more contagious strain brings new urgency to the vaccination rollout, which has been bumpy at best.

I’ve written the Mayor today expressing my deep concerns about the inadequacies in the vaccination rollout. There’s clearly not enough coordination and planning going on, and we’ve got to get this right, now that we have lifesaving vaccines in our hands– and the prospect of competent leadership in Washington in charge by this time next week.

Large swaths of people are now eligible to obtain vaccines in New York State, including those 65+; the CDC claims to allow those who are immuno-compromised (of any age) on the eligibility list, but there’s no word yet on when NYS will add that category.

That’s the good news. The bottleneck is getting the required appointment. There is a city program and a state program, each with different web-based appointment systems and call-in numbers with long wait times. (Here they are: 877-VAX-4NYC or 877-829-4692; and 833-NYS-4VAX or 833-697-4829.)

And here are two new links to vaccine sites: Northwell Health locations and the Fort Washington Armory (216 Fort Washington Ave.) for those 65+, sponsored by NewYork-Presbyterian and New York State.

I’ve created a Testing & Vaccine webpage on my site in an attempt to create a one-stop portal. I’ll update it as we receive new information.

The steps listed on that page are deceptively simple: (1) determine if you are eligible; (2) make an appointment; (3) bring your appointment submission ID or confirmation and a photo ID with birthdate or proof of employment to the vaccine site on the date and time of your appointment.

It’s all still a challenge, and not as easy as 1-2-3.


Last week I tried to explain why the current vaccines being distributed were based on different technology– mRNA cells– than the kind of vaccines most of us are used to (like measles or even flu shots), which use a small bit of disease to provoke an immune reaction in the body that will then protect against a full-strength infection.

There are two of those more typical kinds of vaccines in development, one from Oxford-AstraZeneca and another from Johnson & Johnson. The J&J vaccine uses what’s called an “adenovirus” to provoke an immune response in humans, and results from early-stage clinical trials among 805 individuals in the U.S. and Belgium in two age segments, 18 to 55 year-olds and those 65 and older, were published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The results were promising. On day 29 after the first vaccine dose, neutralizing antibody levels were detected in 90% or more of all participants who received it. These are only results from Phase 1-2a trials, and they still must complete Phase 3 trials, but these are good signs for another vaccine to be added to our COVID-fighting arsenal.

Perhaps the best feature of the one-shot J&J vaccine is that it’s expected to be stable at normal freezer temperatures for two years or longer– and even at slightly warmer refrigerator temperatures, the vaccine is thought to have a three-month shelf life. (The Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines require super-cold freezers that most pharmacies don’t have, and transporting them requires those freezers or dry ice.)

Unfortunately the NY Times reports that J&J is behind schedule in producing the vaccine under the contract signed with Operation Warp Speed.

Visit to read an analysis of the J&J results.

Many have asked me about the demographic composition of the 18,000+ participants in the Pfizer vaccine trial. The FDA’s FAQ about the vaccine reports 9.1% of participants were Black, 28% percent were Latinx, 4.3% were Asian, and 0.5% were Native American/Alaska native. The remainder were white.

In case you missed it, you can watch a special vaccine edition of my “Represent NYC” on MNN cable public access channels and Youtube. I spoke with Dr. Mary Bassett (former city Health Commissioner and current Harvard School of Public Health Professor) and Dr. Jennifer Rosen (Director of Epidemiology and Surveillance at the Dept. of Health), who answered constituents’ questions about the vaccine.

This Tuesday (1/19) from noon – 4 pm, I’m hosting a free COVID self-testing site at Word Up Bookstore (2113 Amsterdam Ave. at W. 165th St.) in Washington Heights. Results will be emailed to you approximately 48 hours later. Children age four and older can be tested with a parent or guardian present.

Wednesday (1/20) and Thursday (1/21) from 10 am – 4 pm, free rapid COVID testing is available at Wise Towers (133 W. 90th St.), hosted by NYC Laboratories.

Manhattan nonprofits, schools, and other organizations that serve New York City can now apply for capital funding from my office. Visit my website to learn more about the process and requirements.

  • Schools should apply via my Grants Portal Schools Application. The deadline is Sunday, 2/21 at 5 pm.

  • Parks, gardens, libraries, NYCHA developments, H+H hospitals, etc., can apply via my Grants Portal City Application. The deadline is Sunday, 2/21 at 5 pm.

  • Nonprofits should apply via the NYC Office of Management and Budget Capital Grants portal. Applications are due Thursday, 2/25 at 5 pm.

My budget staff is available to meet with your group virtually if you have questions, want to share your project ideas, or missed the December capital funding workshops. Make an appointment here. You can also review the capital funding training videos and materials.


To address the scourge of helicopters flying over Manhattan (mainly coming from New Jersey and Westchester!), I reconvened the Helicopter Task Force in December, with elected officials, the NYC Economic Development Corporation, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, Hudson River Park Trust, and helicopter companies. We discussed the origin of these helicopters, the impact of unmitigated noise, and proposed solutions.

I’ve been in touch with NYC & Co., the city’s tourist agency (which has three helicopter partners and sometimes promotes discounted tickets), to determine if any of their helicopter partners are violating the City’s ban on nonessential flights over Manhattan. I’ve also contacted the NYPD and the NYC news and traffic channels to determine exactly how many of their aircrafts are flying over Manhattan. Our next step is to meet with elected officials from New Jersey.

The federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) reopened applications for loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA) this week.

Just like last spring, eligible businesses may use the loans for payroll costs (including benefits), mortgage interest, rent, utilities, worker protection costs related to COVID-19, uninsured property damage, and certain supplier costs and expenses.

Eligibility details and loan terms are available here; the application form is available here. Contact your lender to find out if they’re participating in the program, or use the SBA’s Lender Match tool to find a participating lender. The SBA will forgive loans if all employee retention criteria are met, and the funds are used for eligible expenses. Applications close Wednesday, 3/31, but last spring’s first round of PPP loans went fast, so apply ASAP.

Yesterday (1/13) I testified about NYCHA 2.0 and PACT/RAD at a hearing before the NYC Council Committee on Public Housing.

Monday, 2/1 is the deadline to apply for COVID Rent Relief. The State will subsidize eligible tenants’ rent for April, May, June, and July 2020. Apply here. (Those who previously applied for this relief over the summer and were denied will be automatically reconsidered for this next round.) To qualify, tenants may now meet these criteria:

  • Earned reduced income in April, May, June, or July 2020, compared to March 2020 and paid more than 30% of that income in rent.

  • Had a household income at or below 80% of the Area Median Income before 3/7/20. (See the 80% AMI for your household size here.)

If you need help with your application, gather your income and rent documentation for the March-July period and call 212-531-1609 ASAP (leave a voicemail if necessary and we’ll call you back!).

A little-noticed provision of the most recent pandemic relief bill is the fact that veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces were made eligible to receive the $600 stimulus checks. (I personally know Vietnam veterans who received checks.) So if you served, or know someone who did, please be on the lookout for an actual check, or a deposit to your bank account (depending on how the IRS usually reaches you with tax refunds).

The Dept. of Education announced that this April is the last time the Gifted and Talented test will be administered. The City hasn’t yet said what will become of the Gifted and Talented program.

2021 is an election year for NYC’s Community Education Councils. Parents can learn more here about how to run for a council and help shape policies and priorities for city schools.

Apply by Tuesday, 2/2 for one of 16 affordable apartments in four Upper Manhattan buildings (2110 Amsterdam Ave., 2185 Amsterdam Ave., 2488 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., and 2794 Frederick Douglass Blvd.). Studios to three-bedrooms are available with income limits of $26,023 – $84,600. Apply through the NYC Dept. of Housing Preservation and Development’s Housing Connect portal.

The Dept. of Sanitation is seeking locations with indoor storage space that can host eCycleNYC bins for electronics recycling. Interested building owners and managers can fill out this form, and DSNY will be in touch.

Tenant leaders, community organizers, and anyone who works with voters can take the NYC Campaign Finance Board’s Ranked Choice Voting “train the trainer” sessions to prepare to educate community members about the new ranked choice ballot for local elections on June 22.

News clippings

Large-scale global study to investigate links between covid-19 and cognitive decline
By Tara Bahrampour, Washington Post, Jan. 5, 2021

U.S. Is Blind to Contagious New Virus Variant, Scientists Warn
By Carl Zimmer, NY Times, Jan. 6, 2021

Will 250 Lanterns Be Enough to Save Chinatown?
By Alyson Krueger, NY Times, Jan. 1, 2021

Study suggests Pfizer vaccine works against virus variant
By Lauran Neergaard, Associated Press, Jan. 8, 2021

3 Questions: Phillip Sharp on the discoveries that enabled RNA vaccines for Covid-19
Curiosity-driven basic science in the 1970s laid the groundwork for today’s leading vaccines against the novel coronavirus.
MIT News, Dec. 11, 2020

How mRNA helped scientists create a coronavirus vaccine in record time (video)
Washington Post, Dec. 8, 2020
A bit dated– the video is from early December– but this video does a good job of explaining why mRNA vaccines were faster to develop than traditional vaccines. 

After 2020, we need to talk about how we talk about catastrophe
Narratives of crisis can create feedback loops that make it harder to inspire action.
By Ezra Markowitz and Lucia Graves, Washington Post, Dec. 30, 2020

One 18-Hour Flight, Four Coronavirus Infections
A flight from Dubai to New Zealand offered researchers a rare chance to study in-transit contagion.
By Benedict Carey, NY Times, Jan. 7, 2021

Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine protects against key mutation found in fast-spreading virus variants, study shows
By Carolyn Y. Johnson, Washington Post, Jan. 8, 2021

Once you and your friends are vaccinated, can you quit social distancing?
Expect life to return to normal in 3 stages — not all at once.
By Sigal Samuel,, Jan. 12, 2021

People with disabilities desperately need the vaccine. But states disagree on when they’ll get it.
By Jessica Contrera, Washington Post, Jan. 13, 2021

Census Bureau Stops Work On Trump’s Request For Unauthorized Immigrant Count
By Hansi Lo Wang, NPR, Jan. 13, 2021


Wednesday (1/20) at 6 pm, I’m hosting a virtual hearing about the future of Governors Island. I look forward to a lively panel featuring experts in the arts, architecture + urban design, community + economic development, and environmental resiliency. Following the panel will be a comment period for members of the public to share their ideas and concerns about the proposal. Register here.

Students in Community School District 1 (Lower East Side) have remote learning devices but are in need of keyboards, headphones, and chargers for 6th generation iPad. If you’re able to donate any of these items, contact Elvis Marte at

Applications close Tuesday (1/19) for West Harlem artists interested in The Children’s Art Carnival and Centro Civico Cultural Dominicano’s upcoming exhibition. Apply here.

Teachers can order free NY Sun Works Home Hydroponic Kits, which include growing materials and a six-week curriculum. Order kits here by Friday, 2/12.

Teens age 15-18 can apply until Monday, 3/1 for Virtual Encampment for Youth, a summer civic training program, sponsored by The Encampment. Apply here.

Painters, sculptors, and printmakers with 20+ years of experience can apply for up to $25,000 in funding from the Gottlieb Foundation. Applications close Friday, 2/26. Learn more and apply here.

Enroll in Weill Cornell Medicine’s free, online Community Research Academy to learn about scientific research and expand the research process’ engagement with often-overlooked community members. Classes are Thursdays, 2:15 pm – 3:30 pm, 1/28 – 4/8. Send an email to with the subject line “CRA Enrollment” and include your name in the body of the email.

Watch the global concert “As One,” produced by New Heritage Theatre Group and Inamori Art Project Group, through Monday (1/18).


Tonight (1/14) at 7 pm, the Greater Harlem Coalition hosts a virtual town hall about plans for the 2021 elections. Register here.

Tomorrow (1/15) and Saturday (1/16) are the final days of the Black Comic Book Festival, hosted by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. See the free virtual events and register here.

Tomorrow (1/15) at noon, small business owners are invited to a workshop about negotiating commercial leases, hosted by the NYC Dept. of Small Business Services. Register here.

Tomorrow (1/15) at 1 pm, seniors are invited to “Organizing & Decluttering,” a Zoom workshop with professional organizer Felice Cohen, sponsored by Search and Care. Click the title to register.

Tomorrow (1/15) at 2 pm, in Mandarin and Cantonese, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and Union Settlement host a virtual presentation about city services for immigrant communities, including benefits, immigrant rights, and COVID information. Join the Zoom here or call in: (646) 558-8656, meeting ID 998 6144 5887.

Videos of past presentations are available in English and Spanish.

Tomorrow (1/15) at 6 pm, join me for Rep. Adriano Espaillat’s virtual event honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Watch on Facebook.

Tomorrow (1/15) at 7 pm, ZING! hosts its “Guns Down, Mic Up” virtual open mic. RSVP to for the Zoom link.

Saturdays at 11 am through February, virtual sessions of Performing Arts Saturdays’ “Black Lives Matter: Music and Dance to Inspire Change” enable young artists to delve into topics of social justice, civil rights, civic engagement, protest, community, and change, sponsored by Goddard Riverside’s Community Arts program. Click the title to register.

Saturday (1/16) at 2 pm, Theater for the New City presents the 10th installment of “Open ’Tho Shut,” its afternoon of “walk-by theater” staged in its set shop and visible from East 10th St. between 1st and 2nd Aves.

Sunday (1/17) at 1 pm, Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling presents a virtual “Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” featuring a musical choreopoem celebrating his life. Click the title to register.

Monday (1/18) throughout the day, volunteer to distribute masks and information about COVID-19 testing and vaccines during the National Day of Service. Register here.

Monday (1/18) from 10 am – noon, the Manhattan Church of Christ hosts a free meal for those in need(48 E. 80th St.).

Monday (1/18) and Tuesday (1/19) from 11 am – 7 pm, free vision screenings are available at the Wagner Community Center (435 E. 120th St.), sponsored by Helen Keller InternationalSCAN-Harbor, and the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety.

Monday (1/18) at 3 pm, the Apollo Theater and WNYC host “Uptown Hall: MLK and the Fierce Urgency of Now!” WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, Tanzina Vega, and Jami Floyd will lead a discussion about the implications of the 2020 presidential election through the prisms of civil rights and modern-day social justice movements. Click the title to register.

East Harlem seniors and stakeholders are invited to a virtual three-part workshop series, “The Intersections of Anti-Blackness, Xenophobia, and Health Outcomes in East Harlem,” sponsored by Public Health Solution’s East Harlem Village. The workshops are Mondays, 4-6 pm: 1/18, 1/25, and 2/1. Email to register.

Tuesday (1/19) at 11 am, preview the forthcoming Art21 short film featuring Abigail DeVille’s “Light of Freedom” sculpture, on view in Madison Square Park through the month. The film will be followed by a discussion on documenting public art, hosted by the Madison Square Park Conservancy. Register here.

Next week, PS/IS 180 Hugo Newman College Preparatory School hosts two virtual open houses, Tuesday (1/19) at noon and Thursday (1/21) at 9:30 am. Click here to join either Zoom meeting.

Tuesday (1/19) at 6:30 pm, learn about the vaccine rollout at a Zoom panel hosted by Progressive Action of Lower ManhattanUptown Progressive Action, and the 504 Democratic Club. Click here to join the meeting.

Tuesday (1/19) at 6:30 pm, Dept. of Education Chancellor Richard Carranza joins a virtual town hall with the Citywide Council on High Schools. Translation is available in Spanish and Mandarin. Register here.

Tuesday (1/19) at 6:30 pm, “Facing the Plastic Pollution Crisis” features a virtual discussion with Judith Enck of environmental activism group Beyond Plastic, hosted by the BrooklynBronx and Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Boards and the Queens SWAB Organizing Committee. Click the title to register.

Tuesday (1/19) at 7 pm, poet Roberto Carlos Garcia speaks about his latest collection, “[Elegies]” in a virtual parlor chat with Morris-Jumel Mansion. Register here.

Wednesday (1/20) at 2:30 pm, webinar “Science, Older New Yorkers and the Covid-19 Vaccination” features health, aging, and medical experts for a discussion on why all older New Yorkers can confidently get vaccinated against COVID-19, sponsored by the Dept. for the Aging, the Global Coalition on Aging, and Age-friendly NYC. Click the title to register.

Next week, MS 247 Dual Language Middle School hosts two virtual open houses about their English-Spanish curriculum. Click the date to join via Google Meet: Wednesday (1/20) at 5 pm or Thursday (1/21) at 10 am.

Next Thursday (1/21) at 8:30 am is the Manhattan Borough Board. In response to the Governor’s order for police reform proposals by April, the Mayor’s office will present its preliminary plan and solicit recommendations. I recently published a “Police Reform Toolkit” to aid in these efforts (click the link to read the toolkit). Register to watch the meeting here.

Next Thursday (1/21) at 8:30 am, SoHo Broadway Initiative hosts a virtual community roundtable. Register here.

Next Thursday (1/21) at 12:30 pm, webinar “Demystifying NYC’s Newly Released Property Tax Assessments” delves into the implications of COVID-19 on tax assessments and the issues to consider in preparing appeals to the Tax Commission, sponsored by law firm Stroock & Stroock & Lavan and the Real Estate Board of New York. Click the title to register.

Next Thursday (1/21) from 2-6 pm, parents and educators are invited to a free virtual conference, “STEAM Education at Home: What’s Working?” hosted by Robofun. Click the title to register.

Stay Safe.