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COVID Newsletters

Weekly COVID newsletter (1/28)

Friends,

It’s Thursday, January 28, 2021. Welcome to my weekly COVID-19 newsletter.

These statistics have been psychologically numbing for a while now.

But it’s worth noting that January has been America’s deadliest month of the pandemic so far– over 83,000 deaths. And the British variant (known as B117) “may be associated with a higher degree of mortality” according to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week. Britain’s preliminary data suggests the new variant has a 30% higher death rate– among 1,000 cases, the new mutated virus would kill 13 or 14, up from 10. (Great Britain is able to identify virus mutations more quickly due to their vastly more sophisticated health care infrastructure.)

The U.S. CDC estimates that the B117 version will become the dominant strain in the U.S. by mid March.

The first known case of the Brazilian variant (known as P1) has been detected in a Minnesota man who recently returned from Brazil. The first two U.S. cases of the South African variant (known as B1351) have been identified in South Carolina. The Biden administration has banned non-citizens traveling to the U.S. from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil, South Africa, and Europe’s Schengen Area.

Here are the bullets for NYC according to nonprofit news site TheCity.nyc’s COVID-19 tracker, the New York State COVID testing dashboard, and the NYC Dept. of Health:

Manhattan:

  • 83,934 cumulative confirmed cases (+5,771 from last week)

  • 3,535 cumulative deaths (+79 since last week)

  • 3.4% is the seven-day positivity average (down from 3.6% last week)

NYC:

  • 576,449 total cases (+38,848 more cases since last week)

  • 26,763 total deaths (+514 more deaths)

  • 8.09% seven-day positivity average (down from 8.83% last week).

The University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s weekly “reference scenario” estimates 154,606 more deaths will occur nationwide from 1/22 – 5/1 (a projected total of 568,806 deaths since the pandemic started).

They estimate 21,663 fewer cumulative deaths would occur by 5/1 if 95% universal mask compliance were attained in the next week; on the flip side, if mask mandates were eased, their model projects approximately 52,357 more deaths by then.

Here’s the wrap-up on the vaccine front…

An amazing team of volunteers (sign up to help them here) has created NYCVaccineList.com, an all-in-one website that aggregates all available vaccine appointments at City, State, and private sites by pinging those sites electronically and by phone every few minutes.

Of course, the City and State should have created something like this weeks ago; nevertheless I’m grateful for these volunteers stepping up. This is an example of how the open web can improve– and even save– lives. (It’s one of the reasons why I sponsored the law creating the City’s Open Data portal years ago, if you’ll indulge my shameless self-promotion!)

I’ve formed a Manhattan Vaccine Task Force to improve local implementation of, and increase health equity within, the City and State’s vaccination efforts– composed of community-based organizations, volunteer groups, elected officials, Community Board chairs, and other stakeholders from across the borough with on-the-ground knowledge of all of Manhattan’s communities. Our first meeting was this week, and we’ll meet weekly. Contact info@manhattanbp.nyc.gov to learn more.

Seniors who schedule an appointment at City-run vaccine sites through vaccinefinder.nyc.gov will be asked if they need transportation, and NYC Dept. for the Aging (DFTA) providers will then contact those seniors by phone to coordinate free ride pick-ups using Access-a-Ride, private car services, and cabs.

In case you missed it, you can watch last night’s (1/27) informative testing and vaccines town hall I participated in with the National Black Leadership Commission on Health and community partners to dispel misinformation. Watch on MNN’s Facebook.

Gov. Cuomo announced that New Yorkers can now report suspected fraud in the vaccine distribution process to 833-VAX-SCAM (833-829-7226) or stopvaxfraud@health.ny.gov.

The U.K. is going to delay the second, booster shots to extend their vaccine supply. The wait between doses could lengthen to 12 weeks– up to four times the period tested in clinical trials.

The CDC has now said that second doses may be given up to six weeks after the first in cases where supplies are limited (instead of the three-week period used in clinical trials).

This is the approach that Mayor de Blasio is asking to follow: to use all doses received from the manufacturers when they’re received, and not warehousing second doses at all– trusting that vaccine supplies will be continually replenished sufficiently to handle the cycle of second doses.


COMMENT

Yesterday (1/27), I submitted my ULURP recommendation for the Governors Island rezoning proposal— a “no” (with conditions). My top concern is the effect that development on the island will have on this once-in-a-lifetime public amenity. The island should be protected not only from large/tall development (they’re asking for 300 ft. towers!), but also from uses that could take away the public’s enjoyment of this important city asset. The City Planning Commission will hold a hearing on the matter on Wednesday (2/3) at 10 am. Submit comments here and watch the hearing on the Dept. of City Planning’s YouTube channel. Last week, I held a hearing about the proposal. Watch it here.

As you can see from the banner above, I’ve extended the Community Board application deadline until Monday, 2/22. Community Boards are the most local form of government, composed of everyday New Yorkers who live, work, or go to school in their community and want a shot at tackling the biggest policy questions and how it impacts their neighborhood. Apply here.

I’d like to give a huge shoutout to my Northern Manhattan Office staff, who go above and beyond to help Manhattanites, especially now. Recently, a couple in their 70s reached out to my office after finding no vaccine appointments. My staff found a pop-up vaccination site 20 blocks from the couple’s apartment, and they got vaccinated that very afternoon. I could tell countless stories like this, so THANK YOU to the NMO team.

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 requirements.

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

  • Nonprofits should apply via the NYC Office of Management and Budget Capital Grants portal. These 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.

This week, I submitted testimony before the NYS Public Service Commission about the hours-long July 13, 2019 power outage– which affected 70,000 Manhattanites. Another blackout like that could have disastrous consequences for temperature-sensitive vaccine doses, hospital patients relying on ventilators, and businesses struggling to stay open, so Con Ed must take all precautions to ensure it doesn’t happen again, especially now.


NEW FACTS/INFO

Gov. Cuomo now says he’ll release a plan allowing indoor dining by Friday (1/29). Gothamist covered it here, and the NY Times recapped his dilemma.

The NYC Panel for Educational Policy rejected the Gifted and Talented testing contract in the wee hours of last night/early this morning (1/27-28). While my PEP appointee voted yes to keeping the existing G&T test, we both recognize that there need to be many changes in order to make the G&T program equitable, and I look forward to working with the administration on these changes.  Gothamist covered the story here.

President Biden signed an Executive Order last Friday (1/22) asking the Dept. of Agriculture to allow states to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and to increase by 15% the Pandemic EBT funding– which I’ve written about before in this newsletter– which goes to students who would have qualified for free or reduced-priced school meals if schools were in session.

File your taxes for free if you earned $68,000 or less in 2020, thanks to NYC Free Tax Prep. If you didn’t receive some or any of the two pandemic stimulus checks, NYC Free Tax Prep can assist with claiming the equivalent amounts as a “Recovery Rebate Credit.” (Volunteer tax preparers are needed for these sites, too.)

As a result of the relief act passed in December, filers can also take advantage of a one-time look-back provision, allowing them to choose to use their 2019 or 2020 income for the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, a change that benefits those who lost their job in the last year.

In other personal finance news, the Biden administration has extended the pause on most federal student loans– due to expire Sunday (1/31)– through 9/30, which means payments are suspended, collections on defaulted loans are stopped, and the interest rate is 0% through September. The Federal Student Aid Office’s website has a detailed FAQ about eligibility.

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 the June 22 election. The City Board of Elections may use the Universal Ranked Choice Voting Tabulator software to tally votes in upcoming local elections, the State Board of Elections said this week. The first use of ranked choice voting will be used in a special election for City Council in Queens on Tuesday (2/2).

Manhattan landlord James Fong has created UpPeg.com, an online platform where landlords can list available retail space and potential tenants can approach landlords directly. List vacancies or find a vacant storefront. In August 2020, my staff found 335 storefront vacancies along Broadway alone, so efforts like UpPeg.com will hopefully help combat prolonged vacancies.

The Port Authority Bus Terminal is looking at a major overhaul in the next 10 years. The agency says the bus terminal would remain open while it’s updated and enlarged. The new terminal will be able to handle up to 1,000 buses during rush hour, up from 850.

Data from the 2020 Census hasn’t been published yet, but the 2019 American Community Survey was just released, covering the five-year period of 2015-2019. See Manhattan’s data here; search for any area here.

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau has delayed delivery of data used for congressional apportionment until 4/30; data needed to reapportion state and local legislative bodies likely won’t be available until at least the end of July, according to this AP report.

One of the many executive orders signed by President Biden on his first day was to rescind the previous order that would have excluded non-citizens from the numbers used for divvying up congressional seats.

COVID News Clippings

How the new Covid-19 variants could pose a threat to vaccination
By Julia Belluz and Umair Irfan, Vox.com, Updated Jan. 20, 2021

Can the COVID-19 Vaccine Beat the Proliferation of New Virus Mutations?
By Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker, Jan. 21, 2021

What We Know About the New P.1 Strain of the Coronavirus
By Chas Danner, New York Magazine, Jan. 22, 2021

We could know soon whether vaccines work against a scary new coronavirus variant
By Antonio Regalado, MIT Technology Review, Jan. 23, 2021

Send Out the Search Party for New Covid Strains
By Scott Gottlieb and Caitlin Rivers, Wall St. Journal, Jan. 24, 2021

Moderna’s vaccine is less potent against one coronavirus variant but still protective, company says
By Andrew Joseph, StatNews.com, Jan. 25, 2021

Why Vaccines Alone Will Not End the Pandemic
By Matthew Conlen, Denise Lu, and James Glanz, NY Times, Jan. 24, 2021

Opinion: Everyone should be wearing N95 masks now
By Joseph G. Allen, Washington Post, Jan. 26, 2021

CDC finds scant spread of coronavirus in schools with precautions in place
By Laura Meckler, Washington Post, Jan. 26, 2021

New Playbook for Covid-19 Protection Emerges After Year of Study, Missteps
Mask-wearing, good air flow and frequent rapid tests are more important than surface cleaning, temperature checks and plexiglass. Scientists say America needs to double down on protection protocols as potentially more-contagious coronavirus variants take hold and vaccines are slow to roll out.
By Daniela Hernandez, Sarah Toy, and Caitlin McCabe, Wall St. Journal, Jan. 26, 2021

Opinion: The coronavirus is mutating. Will our vaccines keep up?
by John M. Barry, author of “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History” in the Washington Post, Jan. 27, 2021


ANNOUNCEMENTS

This 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.)

K-8 students in blended and remote learning can enroll for free in Fresh Youth Initiatives’ Learning Lab (505 W. 171st St.). The lab offers tutors, breakfast, lunch, and a snack Monday-Friday, 8 am – 3 pm, as well as an after-school program until 6 pm. For more information call (212) 781-1113 ext. 248 or email wpena@freshyouth.org.

Travels Far,” the MTA’s memorial to the 136 transit employees lost to COVID, is now available to view online.

Helpers for COVID-19 is an organization that delivers essential goods to the immunocompromised. To volunteer, click here. To request deliveries, click here or call (862)-621-9614‬. Assistance is available in English, Hindi, Russian, Mandarin, Spanish, and Hebrew.

Applications close tomorrow (1/29) for restaurants that wish to participate in Harlem Restaurant Week (2/15 – 2/28). Apply here.

Applications close Friday, 2/12 for “Project Innovation,” a grant for nonprofits from NBC 4 New York and Telemundo 47. Apply here.

The Green City Force Service Corps is hiring NYCHA residents ages 18-24 with a GED or high school diploma. This 8-month, paid AmeriCorps opportunity prepares members for roles in the green jobs industry. Register for an information session, Tuesdays at 2 pm, by contacting (646)-622-6778 or recruitment@greencityforce.org. Apply for the Service Corps here.

Multicultural arts and education nonprofit Get Empowered has launched a free, virtual fitness and wellness series for adults. Email info@getempoweredall.com to register for Zumba (Mondays and Tuesdays, 6 pm) and/or yoga, movement, and mindfulness classes (Wednesdays, 7 pm).

Women’s nonprofit The Transition Network is seeking an executive director. View the job description here.


EVENTS

Friday (1/29) at 1 pm, commercial, industrial, and multifamily property owners are invited to a webinar about using the NYS FlexTech cost-sharing program for an energy study, hosted by the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. Register here.

Saturday (1/30) from 9 am – 1 pm, the INCLUDEnyc virtual fair features organizations and programs supporting young people with disabilities. Register here.

Saturdays from 10 am – 2 pm, Betances Health Center offers free COVID testing (280 Henry St.).

Saturday (1/30) from noon – 3 pm, register your e-bike or bicycle with the NYPD 23rd Precinct (164 E. 102nd St.). This makes the bike more easily identifiable in the case of theft.

Saturday (1/30) at 2 pm, parents, teachers, advocates, and experts on special education are invited to an open newsroom to discuss finding solutions to help vulnerable public school students facing a lack of legally mandated services (including IEPs) amid the pandemic, hosted by THE CITY and Chalkbeat New York. Register here.

Sunday (1/31) at 10:30 am, families are invited to a virtual “Sing and Dance Along,” hosted by the Children’s Storefront. Click the title to register.

Sunday (1/31) at 1 pm, the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum hosts a virtual story hour with interactive folktales from around the world. Register here.

Monday (2/1) at 9 am, “Breakfast Brief on Ranked Choice Voting” explains what the local ballot will look like for the June 22 election, hosted by Citizens Union. Register here.

Monday (2/1) at 10 am, NYCHA hosts a virtual town hall about the Blueprint for Change, with a presentation by Chair Greg Russ and a Q&A. Translation is available in Spanish, Russian, and Chinese. Register here.

Monday (2/1) through Thursday (2/4) from 3-5 pm, the 7th annual “To Code + Beyond: Toolkits for Change” presents tools for bringing high-quality computer science education to public schools, hosted by Cornell Tech’s K-12 Initiative. Educators, policymakers, and funders can click the title to register.

Monday (2/1) at 6 pm, The Anderson School hosts a middle school virtual open house. Join via Zoom.

Tuesday (2/2) from noon – 4 pm, I’m hosting a free COVID self-testing site at Word Up Bookshop (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.

Tuesday (2/2) at 6 pm, small theaters are invited to an information session about receiving $2,000 operating grants from Art New York’s Creative Opportunity Fund, hosted by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Register here.

Tuesday (2/2) at 6 pm, PS 149 Sojourner Truth hosts a virtual open house. Join the Zoom here.

Tuesday (2/2) at 6 pm, Lenox Health Greenwich Village hosts “Ask the Experts: Updates on COVID-19” on Zoom. RSVP to wkawadler@theprojectnyc.org.

Wednesday (2/3) at 9:30 am, West Prep Academy Middle School hosts a virtual tour. Register here.

Wednesday (2/3) at 6:30 pm, I’m co-sponsoring the first of three virtual information sessions and Q&As about the SoHo/NoHo Neighborhood Plan, with Council Member Margaret Chin. Register here.

Next Thursday (2/4) from 10 am – 3 pm, I’m co-sponsoring free, walk-in COVID testing at Penn South (327 8th Ave.), with State Senator Brad Hoylman.

Stay Safe.