Coronavirus Update From New York City: April 15, 2021

Unfortunately, I have to start tonight’s post yet again in a downbeat manner.

Last weekend, my family lost a family friend to COVID.

It was devastating to learn this news. While it was my dad who knew this person far better than anyone else, it is news that affects all of us in one way or another.

The news also provided me with a somber reminder that nobody is truly invincible when it comes to this virus. This person was barely in her forties and had already received her first vaccine dose–two things that some people may mistakenly think are things going for this person. But nope. While some of us may like to or want to believe that this is a virus that mostly older persons get (not that it makes the disease any less serious because younger persons can carry the disease to older persons), or that this is a disease that makes you invincible even upon the first dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, such things are not the case.

Last, but not least, this death is yet another reminder that this pandemic is far from over. We may like to think that because vaccines are coming to us, the pandemic is coming to an end. While I hold some hope for the vaccines, we need more than vaccines–people need to stop the partying, the masklessness, and the lack of social distancing. People who continue to willfully ignore the public health guidance on COVID need to start caring for individuals other than themselves.

As for what numbers are like in my part of New York City this week, the test positivity rate is at 8.3%. That is actually relatively level compared to where the numbers were last week. Still, these numbers indicate that my part of New York City is far from being out of the woods with the virus, even if more people are getting vaccinated.

I guess the ultimate takeaway, between the news I have this week and the test positivity numbers I just said, is that even if some of us may want to be done with the virus, the virus is far from being done with us. Let’s continue to wear our masks, socially distance, and keep non-essential travel to a minimum.

What Is…the School-to-Prison Pipeline?

What appears to be a photo of someone in a prison.

In a post I made a couple of months ago about policing and schools with majority-minority populations, one of the replies to my post reminded me of how there was a connection between what I talked about and something called the “school-to-prison pipeline.” And, it is indeed the case that there is a connection between the post I wrote about a couple of months ago and the school-to-prison pipeline.

But what it is the school-to-prison pipeline?

In short, it is “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.”[1] This trend, which some kids from disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly vulnerable to (hence, this is an issue that often disproportionately affects kids of color and kids with mental health issues, to name two particular populations), involves isolating and punishing kids who cause trouble in school, in the process pushing them out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. In many such cases, various educational and counseling services might be most warranted, but instead students are often isolated and punished.

Some issues that lead to the school-to-prison pipeline include, but are not limited, to:

  • Zero-tolerance policies, which impose severe punishments upon students regardless of circumstances. Such policies are often punitive to the point that the punishment does not fit the crime. Such policies can push students out of the “school” part of the school-to-prison pipeline.
  • Police officers at schools, who are often responsible for policing the hallways at schools—a role usually reserved for teachers and school administrators. This can lead to something called school-based arrests—an issue that happens with some frequency.[2] Worse yet, these arrests can happen on quite a few occasions for minor behaviors,[3] issues that might not have resulted in arrest were it not for police officers at schools.
  • A lack of resources for many schools, which means that the extra educational support or counseling support that a troubled student might need is not available. Because of that lack of availability to such vital services (and generally the lack of ability some schools have in providing vital services), students can be at an increased risk for dropping out and for future legal involvement.[4]

So how do we address this pipeline?

For one thing, I think we need to go back to a question I asked in my previous blog post on policing and schools with majority-minority populations: Should we really have police officers in schools? I know that “abolish the police” is a controversial idea, but if police in schools don’t protect the schools, don’t protect the students at the schools, and mostly serve as a major enabler in the school-to-prison pipeline, then I honestly think that law enforcement at schools is doing way more harm than good. One other thing I will add is that if there must be law enforcement in schools (and I’m not convinced personally that it is something we must have), I think it is a must that said law enforcement is competent in interacting with kids the age that they’re supposed to work with and protect.

For another thing, zero-tolerance policies need to be reevaluated. Not all actions should receive the same punishment. Creating an environment of restorative justice (repairing the harm caused by the crime, as well as giving the offender the opportunity to do better in the future) as opposed to punitive justice (punishing the offender severely, regardless of the severity of the crime) gives an opportunity for people to learn from their mistakes, not to mention that it creates an environment likely to decrease the chances of seeing the school-to-prison pipeline come to fruition.

Last, but not least, in cases where local municipalities are unable to provide the resources needed for schools to be well-resourced, I think that states and the federal government need to step in and make sure said schools and school districts are properly resourced. A significant piece of school funding relies on local property taxes,[5] which means that if you live in an area where property values are depressed, then revenue from property taxes is depressed. This creates a ripple effect which leads to school funding in a district also being depressed. Depressed school funding, in turn, results in a lack of access to many resources for the students who need them the most.

The school-to-prison pipeline is shameful. Hopefully, in my lifetime, progress can be made to address this problem.


[1] https://www.aclu.org/issues/juvenile-justice/school-prison-pipeline

[2] There were nearly 70,000 such arrests nationwide in the 2013-14 school year. I would like to see more current data, but this number gives us a sense of how much of a problem this was, as of a few years ago: https://www.edweek.org/which-students-are-arrested-most-in-school-u-s-data-by-school#/overview

[3] https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/metrocenter/ejroc/ending-student-criminalization-and-school-prison-pipeline

[4] https://www.aclu.org/issues/juvenile-justice/school-prison-pipeline

[5] https://www.npr.org/2016/04/18/474256366/why-americas-schools-have-a-money-problem

Coronavirus Update From New York City: April 8, 2021

First of all, I hope people have had a good Easter, Passover, or whatever holiday you celebrate.

This evening’s post, unfortunately, is starting on a sorrowful note. The reason for that is because I learned this week that a couple of people in a family who live in a house near mine lost their lives to COVID-19. As if I don’t already have enough reminders of how serious this pandemic is, I received yet another reminder this week. I don’t know when the two individuals passed away, but regardless, I keep these two individuals in my own thoughts and prayers.

This news also is a reminder of how fickle the pandemic can be. Nobody in my family has gotten COVID to our knowledge, yet we have people nearby who got COVID, and people nearby who even died of the pandemic. It’s so fickle that at this point I don’t know if it’s the strict following of public health precautions, dumb luck, or some combination of the two that has kept my family COVID-free. Personally, I think that it’s a combination of the two.

The other downer in the past week, albeit a downer in a different way, was the nature of the Easter Sunday holiday for me. Now, I went to church, but it was not like going to church on a regular Easter. I say that because I didn’t sing any hymns last Sunday, while in contrast I would passionately sing hymns on a regular Easter Sunday. I realize that from a COVID transmission standpoint, it was for the best that I didn’t sing, because droplets from your mouth travel much further when you sing than when you speak in a normal tone of voice. Yet, it it was still painfully difficult for me to abstain from singing–so much that I was in tears from resisting that temptation to sing the songs played on my church’s organ. While it was not as difficult as having to do Easter from home last year, it was challenging nevertheless.

The irony is that according to the church calendar of in the Catholic tradition and some other Christian religious traditions, we have just passed through Lent–a season that involves some form of sacrifice for many believers. And yet, even though the church calendar says that this season is over, emotionally and spiritually it feels like I haven’t even exited Lent 2020, even though Lent 2021 has already passed. I say this because the COVID-related sacrifices started in Lent 2020 and for me, at least, they haven’t stopped since then. I guess I can hope that the COVID situation turns around so that it spiritually feels like Easter by late summer? Fingers crossed.

On a different (and better) note, the test positivity rate for COVID in my neighborhood is at 8.2%, which is down from where it was last week. This seems to be bucking the trend (in a good way) compared to many parts of the United States, where COVID is again on the rise to the point that there is debate about whether there is now a fourth wave of the pandemic. This is also bucking the trend compared to the rest of New York City (at least at the moment), where the test positivity rate is stable.

The other positive piece of news is that vaccine distribution seems to be accelerating, to the point that 38% of adults in New York City have received at least one vaccine dose. As vaccine supply continues to expand, and as vaccine eligibility has expanded massively in the past couple of weeks (to the point that all New Yorkers 16 and older are now eligible for a vaccine), I trust that this number will go up even further. It is concerning, though, that there continues to be racial disparities in who is getting vaccinated–Blacks and Latinos are getting vaccinated at much lower rates than whites.

I know my post was a bit of a downer in parts today, but in spite of that, I do retain hope for better days ahead.

The (COVID) Crisis at the United States–Mexico Border

The surge of migrants coming into the United States has become a game of political maneuvering from both Democrats and Republicans—Democrats blame the Trump administration for the current situation, and Republicans blame the Biden administration for being too “soft” on certain immigration matters.

I’m not even going to begin to sort out where the truth lies on the border situation as a whole. However, what is clear is that there is a crisis when it comes to COIVID at the border.

Certain elements of this crisis are the results of issues that go well beyond the United States-Mexico border. The bulk of the migrants are coming from countries in Central America—namely, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—that had extreme levels of violence and poverty to begin with, and then got slammed by two devastating hurricanes last fall.[1] To say that the situation appears to involve a lot of desperate people fleeing desperate situations might sound like an oversimplification of the current situation, but that is what this situation appears to be the result of—people, many of whom are desperate, fleeing from desperate situations.

That being said, some of the crisis could have been avoided with a more competent response from the Biden administration.

Among the “lowlights” of the administration’s handling of COVID among migrants include:

  • A March 18th article from POLITICO said that Biden administration officials admitted that there was no centralized system for tracking or responding to COVID cases among the migrants.[2]
  • A more recent NBC article said that migrant children are not tested for COVID until they transfer to a facility run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Department of Health and Human Services.[3]
  • The Biden administration outsourced testing and quarantining for many migrants. As a result of this outsourcing, it was “unclear how many have been tested for the virus, how many have tested positive and where infected people are being isolated along the border.”[4]

In reading these pieces, what became evident is that we’ve had two administrations violate the three basic principles involved in handling COVID, when it comes to migrants: testing, tracing, and isolating.

The fact that we are over one year into this pandemic, yet still do not have a competent way of dealing with COVID among migrants is, in my opinion, almost incomprehensibly careless and dangerous from a public health standpoint. Even if you were to believe the Biden administration’s argument that they inherited a mess (and based on the way Trump often handled the pandemic, I would not be the least bit surprised if Biden did inherit a mess), the administration’s response has been woefully short of following the science many on that team say they want to follow.

Because of the lack of a centralized, organized, and competent system for preventing as well as dealing with COVID among migrants, we get situations where COVID-positive migrant children are transferred from one facility to another[5] and where some COVID-positive migrants are still allowed to continue with their journey in spite of the positive test.[6] In other words, this failure by the current administration in grappling with COVID concerns at the border has resulted in preventable spread of the virus.

We can debate about the ultimate fates of the people at the border, and there will be debate about what should be the ultimate fates of people at the border; however, one area that should not be ignored during this public health crisis is the need for preventing COVID spread among migrants, and from migrants to others. Given that COVID is a global disease, the United States not doing all it can to prevent spread of the virus among migrants at the United States–Mexico border is a global headache, even if migrants are sent back to where they came from.


[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-55699540

[2] https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/18/biden-administration-covid-southern-border-tracking-477073

[3] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/cbp-not-testing-migrant-children-covid-border-stations-though-many-n1262059

[4] https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/18/biden-administration-covid-southern-border-tracking-477073

[5] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/cbp-not-testing-migrant-children-covid-border-stations-though-many-n1262059

[6] https://spectrumlocalnews.com/tx/san-antonio/news/2021/03/20/positive-covid-19-tests-continue-to-climb-among-migrants-in-brownsville

Coronavirus Update From New York City: April 1, 2021

Me after I got my first vaccine shot. This is not the best photo of me in the world, but in my defense, it was misty and windy, plus my glasses were fogged up.

Like with last week’s COVID Diary blog post, I have some big news to share!

The big news this week is that I have received my first COVID vaccine shot.

Literally the morning after I published my previous COVID update post, I was able to secure an appointment to receive my first shot of the Moderna vaccine. That appointment happened last Sunday.

Side effects were overall relatively minimal. My arm felt rather sore last Sunday evening and Sunday night, and felt a little sore last Monday. All that being said, the side effects of the first Moderna shot don’t seem any worse than side effects from many flu shots I’ve had over the years. That being said, I’ve heard that side effects from the second Moderna shot can sometimes leave someone feeling sick for a couple of days. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it though (a bridge I’ll get to on Sunday, April 25th, when I’m scheduled for my second vaccine shot).

Speaking of vaccines, vaccine eligibility is rapidly expanding in New York, to the point that everyone sixteen and older should be eligible for COVID vaccines by next week. Even if I weren’t obese, I’d be becoming eligible soon anyway. However, since I am obese, I was able to get the vaccine at least a couple of weeks before when I would have otherwise received it.

My younger brother is no longer in quarantine at college. He reported to me that the quarantine experience was not as bad as he had feared (I think he was expecting to be completely stuck in his room for a week). More importantly, though, he remains healthy.

The news in my neighborhood, on the other hand, is not quite as good. The test positivity rate is is up above 10% again, to 10.2%. Test positivity seem to have been see-sawing around 10% for the past few weeks–sometimes just above that mark, sometimes just below that mark.

In terms of my travel plans for Easter…I have none. I’m not fully vaccinated, and even if I were fully vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States is still recommending against domestic and international travel. I figure that the CDC has taken me this far without getting COVID (or at least COVID symptoms), so I’m not going to stop following their advice now.

That’s my update for this week. I hope others are well and safe, and I wish my readers a Happy Easter, or Passover, or whatever holiday you choose to celebrate!