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COVID Newsletters

Weekly COVID newsletter (12/31)


Last Saturday, the day after Christmas, the United States reached a grim milestone: 1 in 1,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. (The Census Bureau estimates the U.S. population at around 330,750,000. Saturday afternoon, deaths from COVID-19 reached 331,116, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. COVID-19 infections in the U.S. reached 18.7 million.)

In our neck of the woods, Manhattan has had 61,205 cumulative confirmed cases and 3,323 deaths (that’s 5,046 cases and 55 deaths in the last 10 days). The city as a whole has had 415,357 total cases and 25,055 total deaths (which is 34,884 cases and 358 deaths in the last 10 days), 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 2.9%, up from the 2.7% reported in our last edition.

  • New York City’s seven-day positivity average as reported by the NYC Dept. of Health is 7.93%, up from the 6.05% reported in our last edition.

The University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s (IHME) weekly “reference scenario” represents what they think is most likely to happen based on their current analysis of all the testing, hospitalization, death, vaccination, and other data trends.

This week’s reference scenario estimates 226,084 additional deaths nationwide from 12/23/20 – 4/1/21, for a cumulative total of 567,195 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. The model predicts that more than 118,000 Americans will die in January 2021 alone, but that the pace of deaths will slow as more people are vaccinated. The IHME estimates that if 95% universal mask compliance were attained in the next week, 49,197 fewer cumulative deaths would occur by 4/1/21; if mandates were eased, their model projects approximately 162,196 more deaths by then.

Gov. Cuomo updated New York’s self-isolation guidelines for people exposed to the virus to align with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines this week. New Yorkers exposed to COVID-19 can now end their self-isolation after 10 days without a COVID test if they were asymptomatic throughout the quarantine.

My next MNN cable program is on the topic of vaccines, and there’s so much to talk about– would you help me by recording a short video asking your most pressing question? Send a copy of it (or, better, a link to it so we can download from your iCloud) to us at

We’ll have public health experts as guests on the show to answer the most frequently asked questions. Please send those questions by Monday morning 1/4/21.

In case you missed it, you can watch the Columbia University Neighbors vaccine Zoom town hall I hosted last week with Community Boards 7, 9, 10, 11, and 12.

New York State is in Phase 1 of vaccine distribution, and has already vaccinated more than 140,000 people with either the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine or the similar Moderna vaccine. The first New Yorkers to receive them, according to the State, will be:

  • Hospital emergency room workers, ICU staff, and pulmonary department staff

  • Nursing home residents and staff

  • Federally qualified health center employees

  • EMS workers

  • Coroners, medical examiners, and certain funeral workers

  • Staff and residents at NYS developmental disability and mental health facilities managed by OMH and OPWDD

  • Staff and residents at NYS OASAS addiction facilities

  • Urgent care center employees

  • Individuals administering COVID-19 vaccines

  • Next week, 1/4/21, the State plans to begin to vaccinate ambulatory care center staff and public-facing public health workers.


Last week I released a “Police Reform Toolkit” to aid in formulating the NYPD reform proposals required by Gov. Cuomo to be submitted by 4/1/21.

The report compiles reform research regarding the role of police in the community, including accountability, transparency, and diversity efforts, and demilitarizing and re-training officers. Sources include New York State Attorney General Letitia James, Communities United for Police Reform, and data from the NYC Office of Management and Budget.

You can download the 32-page police reform toolkit (PDF) here.

In a special edition of my newsletter this past Monday (12/28), I honored three “Manhattan Heroes” for their above-and-beyond dedication to our borough: Pam Stewart, my appointee to Community Education Council 5, who co-created the Harlem Laptop Initiative for Students in Need; Carey King of Uptown Grand Central and the fabulous East Harlem Open Streets on Pleasant Ave. and East 101st; and Dr. Jason Compton, who volunteered his Inwood optometry practice as a COVID self-testing site. Click on their names to read more.



President Trump finally signed the $908 billion coronavirus relief package on Sunday, 12/27/20, after threatening for several days to veto. The House passed his suggested $2,000-per-person stimulus check, and the Senate– the world’s greatest deliberative body– is… deliberating. (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seems unlikely to bring the measure passed by the House to a vote before the end of this Congress.)

The package includes these provisions (according to this piece at the Washington Post):

  • $600 stimulus checks for those earning under $75,000 annually, including children– so a family of four would receive $2,400. (The size of the payment decreases for people who earned between $75,000 and $99,000 in the 2019 tax year until it is eliminated above $99,000.)

  • Extended unemployment benefits of up to $300 per week, at least through 3/14/21.

  • Extended Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for part-time and gig workers who did not qualify for state unemployment insurance benefits. But there’s a twist: Applicants must provide documentation proving employment or self-employment within 21 days of applying; those extending their benefits before 1/31/21 have 90 days to submit the documentation.

  • $284 billion for first and second forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans, expanded eligibility for nonprofit organizations, news outlets, churches, and faith-based organizations and modifications to the program to better serve smaller businesses and independent restaurants.

  • Recipients of forgiven PPP loans will be allowed to deduct the costs covered by those loans on their federal tax returns.

  • $20 billion for targeted grants through the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program.

  • Extension, until 1/31/21, of the federal moratorium on evictions (slated to expire at the end of this year) and $25 billion in emergency assistance to renters.

  • $20 billion for the purchase of coronavirus vaccines, $8 billion for vaccine distribution, and $20 billion to assist states with COVID-19 testing.

There were many other, non-COVID measures in this legislation, including…

  • A provision to end surprise billing for emergency and scheduled care.

  • Tax credits to support employers offering paid sick leave.

  • $7 billion to increase access to broadband.

  • $26 billion, split 50-50 between nutrition assistance for food-insecure Americans and agricultural assistance and programs.

  • $300 million to help the fishing industry meet the collapse in demand for seafood.

  • $1.4 billion in new funding for Trump’s border wall with Mexico and new border security technology.

  • To supposedly help struggling restaurants, a tax break for corporate meal expenses urged by the White House.

  • Also funded were two new museums, the National Museum of the American Latino and an American Women’s History Museum (which Manhattan’s own Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney has been pushing). Both museums will be funded through 50-50 matching with private donations.

The relief package also included $15 billion to fund the “Save Our Stages Act” to help save independent cultural venues ranging from Broadway theaters to dive bar rock clubs, from museums to movie theaters (and includes talent agents and managers, too).

The bill restricts publicly traded companies and other large players from applying. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, cosponsor of the bill (with Sen. John Cornyn) said, “I wanted to make sure it didn’t benefit the Ticketmasters of the world.”

As the NY Times describes it, independent entertainment businesses “may apply for grants from the Small Business Administration to support six months of payments to employees and for costs including rent, utilities and maintenance. Applicants must have lost at least 25 percent of their revenue to qualify, and those that have lost more than 90 percent will be able to apply first, within the first two weeks after the bill becomes law.” Grants will be capped at $10 million.

The application is not yet live, but I will keep you posted when it’s opened by the SBA.

Finally, tucked away as a “committee comment” and not in the actual language of the 5,593 page legislation, is a requirement that calls for government agencies to disclose all they know about UFO’s. As blogger Tyler Cowen comments, “I don’t expect anything revelatory, simply confirmation that the current data truly are puzzling, and are considered puzzling by the most serious observers.”

The legislature extended the New York State eviction moratorium until 5/1/21 (it was set to expire today, 12/31). The bill also allows tenants and homeowners to submit a financial hardship declaration form to their landlord, mortgage lender, other foreclosing party, or a court. Landlords and mortgage lenders must provide the declaration form with notices informing tenants/homeowners of owed rent/mortgage payments. In addition, under the legislation Senior Citizens’ Homeowner Exemption (SCHE) and Disabled Homeowner Exemption (DHE) benefits will be automatically renewed in 2021– no recertification necessary. State Senate Housing Committee Chair Brian Kavanagh worked tirelessly to craft and pass this bill; Gov. Cuomo signed it Monday (12/28).

If you were struggling with rent at the height of the pandemic last spring, Gov. Cuomo has reopened applications and broadened eligibility for COVID Rent Relief for April, May, June, and July 2020. Applications may be submitted until 2/1/21; apply here. (Those who previously applied and were denied will be automatically reconsidered for this next round.) To qualify, tenants may now meet these criteria:

  • Earned reduced income in the four months of 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 (leave a voicemail if necessary and we’ll call you back!).

The Mayor extended the City’s Open Storefronts program through 9/30/21, allowing storefront retail businesses to continue operating directly outside their store. Plan now for warmer weather; read the FAQ for eligibility and operating guidelines, and apply here.

NYC public schools admission season is upon us, and the Dept. of Education released some new information. Students applying to arts high schools that require auditions must register by Tuesday, 2/23/21 and submit the virtual audition material by Monday, 3/1/21 (depending on the school, it might require a PDF, video, or other digital supplement). Learn more here.

Rising 6th graders in a K-8 school and rising 9th graders in a 6-12 school will have priority for seats in their current schools.

GetFoodNYC Grab and Go locations will be closed tomorrow, New Year’s Day, and reopen Monday (1/4/21). The GetFoodNYC map shows all Grab and Go sites and many food pantries, soup kitchens, grocery stores, and greenmarkets.


The NYC Campaign Finance Board is offering “train the trainer sessions” to prepare organizations to educate community members about Ranked Choice Voting. Sign up for one of 16 training sessions in January and February here.

The city’s blood supply is low, so please donate at a New York Blood Center location. While I don’t agree with the FDA policy excluding gay men from donating blood unless they have been celibate for three months, those who are eligible to donate should, in order to help save lives. And New Yorkers who tested positive for COVID can donate convalescent plasma— used for lifesaving treatment– up to eight times.

The MAP (Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety) team at NYCHA St. Nicholas Houses can help residents apply for NYC Human Resources Administration benefits for food, rent, and other living expenses. Fill out this form or leave a voicemail at 929-221-0050.

Apply by 2/16/21 for one of 32 affordable apartments in six West Harlem buildings (118 W. 139th St., 123 W. 112th St., 30 W. 132nd St., 281 W. 118th St., 120 W. 139th St., and 122 W. 139th St.). Studios to four-bedrooms are available with income limits of $48,480-$120,080. Apply through the NYC Dept. of Housing Preservation and Development’s Housing Connect portal.

Through Monday (1/4/21), drop off gently used winter coats during Exodus Transitional Community’s coat drive (268 3rd Ave., 10 am – 7 pm). Then next Friday (1/8/21) from 2-6 pm, those in need of a coat can pick one up (268 3rd Ave.).

Save the date (Tuesday, 1/12/21 at 2 pm) for “Set Your Business Up for Success in 2021,” a free small business webinar hosted by the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. It will feature advice on taking advantage of the new federal stimulus package, the latest consumer behaviors, and free resources for online marketing. Click the title to register.

Arts organizations, take the UMass Amherst “COVID-19 Response Policies and NYC Arts: Access and Impacts” survey by Thursday, 1/14/21. The results will be used to identify which federal relief efforts were helpful, which fell short, and how the government can support arts and culture organizations going forward.

Lower East Side residents can apply to community arts group FABnyc’s two fellowships, the Lower East Side Community Culture Council (apply by THIS Tuesday 1/5/21) and the LES Young Artist of Color Fellowship (apply by NEXT Saturday 1/9/21). Both fellowships offer stipends and give priority to NYCHA residents.

Applications close Friday, 1/15/21 for the virtual ILI Year 3 program, a yearlong arts and culture fellowship sponsored by the Intercultural Leadership Institute. Apply here.

Apply by Wednesday, 1/27/21 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s paid internships for undergraduate and graduate students. The internships all begin in the summer but vary in length.

HYPOTHEkids organizes free science clubs for schools, community-based organizations, NYCHA developments, and shelters. Email to learn more.

Stay up to date on new service changes due to the MTA’s track work on the 1 train north of 137th and rehab work on the Rutgers F-train tunnel. The work on both is planned for weeknights and weekends for the next three months; shuttle buses will be provided.

“A Christmas Carol in Harlem” is available to stream for free through The Classical Theatre of Harlem through Sunday (1/3/21).

Watch the global concert “As One,” produced by New Heritage Theatre Group and Inamori Art Project Group, through Monday, 1/18/21.


In August 1946, The New Yorker devoted their entire issue to John Hersey’s account of the effects of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. This week, the magazine does virtually the same thing for “The Plague Year” by Lawrence Wright, recounting “the mistakes and the struggles behind America’s coronavirus tragedy.”

Some other recent articles to cap off the year:

The inside story of how Trump’s denial, mismanagement and magical thinking led to the pandemic’s dark winter
By Yasmeen Abutaleb, Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey, and Philip Rucker, Washington Post, Dec. 19, 2020

‘I needed something good to happen’
Dr. Valerie Briones-Pryor, on ending a year of grief with a moment of hope
As told to Eli Saslow, Washington Post, Dec. 19, 2020 (part of their “Voices of the Pandemic” oral history series)

Why Americans are numb to the staggering coronavirus death toll
“Death is everywhere and yet nowhere in America during the worst stretch of the pandemic.”
By William Wan and Brittany Shammas, Washington Post, Dec. 21, 2020

More Americans are traveling to Mexico’s Riviera Maya than ever before. The parties have led to more coronavirus cases.
By Kevin Sieff, Washington Post, Dec. 22, 2020

The isolation of 2020 is doing weird things to our bodies
Stress and the many changes this year could be causing irregular periods, hair loss, and more.
By Anna North, Vox, Dec. 22, 2020

How much herd immunity is enough?
By Donald G. McNeil Jr., New York Times, Dec. 24, 2020

“Recently… Dr. Anthony S. Fauci… has begun incrementally raising his herd-immunity estimate. In the pandemic’s early days, Dr. Fauci tended to cite the same 60 to 70 percent estimate that most experts did. About a month ago, he began saying 70, 75 percent in television interviews. And last week, in an interview with CNBC News, he said 75, 80, 85 percent’ and 75 to 80-plus percent. In a telephone interview the next day, Dr. Fauci acknowledged that he had slowly but deliberately been moving the goal posts. He is doing so, he said, partly based on new science, and partly on his gut feeling that the country is finally ready to hear what he really thinks.”

A ‘Great Cultural Depression’ Looms for Legions of Unemployed Performers
By Patricia Cohen, New York Times, Dec. 26, 2020

A (Virtual) Walk Through New York History
The Times’ architecture critic Michael Kimmelman spent the past 10 months exploring the city’s communities with architects, writers and historians. Here’s what he learned.
By Sarah Bahr, New York Times, Dec. 20, 2020

The Kimmelman Collection
17 walking tours through New York City
By Michael Kimmelman, New York Times, Dec. 28, 2020

Finally, Bob Hardt, a longtime New Yorker and political editor for NY1 who publishes an occasional political newsletter for the cable channel published a holiday edition with these two beautiful paragraphs:

Our actions, large and small, take on extra gravity in times of crisis. A seemingly innocent visit to someone’s house for dinner could suddenly get a lot of people sick. Many of us conduct virus calculus before our every move. It grows tiring, but the alternative is the 21st-century equivalent of a stinging telegram.

But small actions can also yield large victories. Something as simple as a phone call or even an email to a friend takes on significance that could be missed in the past.

Read the whole thing, “Saving Emil Gower on Christmas Eve.”


Stay safe.