Coronavirus Update From New York City: September 23, 2021

I hope all of my readers are safe, regardless of where you are.

The virus in my part of the world is, more or less, spreading at a constant rate, as cases are showing a stable trend, as opposed to one where cases are significantly increasing or decreasing.[1] I really would like my city and region to get better control of the virus, but honestly, I’m not sure how much of that is a priority at the moment compared to getting things back “to normal” (whatever normal is).

Part of that “normal” (or at least a modified one) is a major event that is pretty much on my doorstep: the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). I am a five-minute walk from the United Nations, so I see a lot of people related to UNGA around me when I am heading to and from work, whether it be press, protestors, police, or dignitaries. Worse yet, some world leaders have largely been ignoring safety protocols related to the Coronavirus, raising concerns about whether UNGA may itself be a super spreader event.[2] I hope that UNGA is not a super spreader event, even more so because it is right in the neighborhood where I work, but I have concerns it may be one.

Another part of that “normal” has been the reopening of schools. Schools have been open for nearly two weeks now, more or less. I say “more or less” because public schools in New York, which have schools closed on Jewish holidays, were closed for one day because of Yom Kippur. Thus far, one school in the city has had to go fully remote for a period of time (10 days) due to the virus.[4] When this school went remote, it made the national news because it was the first school in the nation’s largest school district to have to go remote due to the virus. However, less covered is the fact that there are many hundreds of places in New York where there are partial or complete classroom closures due to the Coronavirus–over 1,300 of them, as of the time of my writing this.[5] To put this into context, there are 1,876 schools in the DOE system, which means that COVID is so widespread in DOE schools that we have nearly .7 classroom closures (full or partial) for every school in the system. I definitely continue to be concerned about COVID spread in schools.

At the same time schools are reopened and in-person again, restaurants are now required to have those interested in dining indoors show their proof of vaccination. And it has already resulted in a hostess on the Upper West Side in New York City getting beat up by three tourists from Texas over having to show proof of vaccination status.[6] I hope that these incidents don’t happen with frequency now that there restaurants whose staffs in certain parts of the country are now required to ask for vaccine proof. But regardless of whether attacks like what happened on the Upper West Side become more common, I certainly hope that the attack I talked about can serve as a reminder, to all of us, to be kind to our service workers during a really difficult time.

As far as ICUs are concerned, 40% of ICU beds are still available in my region (the New York City Metro).[3] This continues to thankfully buck the trend in certain parts of the United States when it comes to running out of ICU beds and even ration medical care (which I am hearing more and more about in certain parts of the country). I mention this so that people are aware that if they hear stories about parts of the country where ICU beds are in a desperate shape, the part of the country that I am in is, thankfully, not one of them. That being said, we were one of those areas at the very beginning of the pandemic, back in Spring of 2020, so perhaps I have an inkling of what people in places like Florida and Idaho are going through right now (except for the whole vaccine part–there was no vaccine available to keep one from getting ill back in Spring of 2020 when New York was slammed; now there are vaccines and many who end up on the hospital were ones who refused to get vaccinated).

So, that is a summary of where things are where I am. As always, I am happy to hear how others are doing!







Coronavirus Update From New York City: December 3, 2020

I was really hoping that I wouldn’t have to resume my weekly updates on the coronavirus ever again. But alas, here I am, resuming my weekly updates on this virus.

While there are still many places in much worse shape than my city and my state, we are trending in a very bad direction. Just a few weeks ago the COVID test positivity rate in my zip code was quite low, but now we are at a positivity rate of 6.5%. Given that we are trending in a direction that could lead to many more hospitalizations and deaths (deaths being a lagging indicator but an indicator that’s also starting to go in the wrong direction in New York State), it seems like a good time to restart my weekly updates.

Another reason I’m restarting my weekly updates is that, even though we’re not quite the center of the COVID universe in terms of cases and deaths right now (though if numbers keep on trending the way that they are, I fear we will be in bad shape before long), we still seem to be at the center of the American universe (or at least a center) when it comes to questions over COVID-related restrictions. Two instances where my city was at the center of questions about COVID restrictions were with the closure of schools citywide and the restrictions on the number of people attending religious gatherings in COVID hotspots.

With regards to the school closures, the public schools had a hybrid of in-person and online learning at the start of the school year, with schools in COVID hotspots (or schools with COVID issues) going fully online until those issues with COVID were resolved. However, with COVID rates spiking in New York City, a decision was made to go fully online for now. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has received significant criticism for this move, which perhaps explains why there’s work towards schools reopening again for hybrid learning in the coming days.[1] We’ll see how that goes.

With regards to the restrictions on the number of people attending religious gatherings in COVID hotspots, what happened was that entities of various kinds, from religious gatherings to non-essential businesses, faced various restrictions if COVID were bad enough (based on the test positivity rate) to warrant placement in an “orange” or “red” zone. In the case of religious gatherings, they were limited to 25 people in orange zones and 10 people in red zones. These restrictions were controversially struck down by the Supreme Court.[2] My thoughts on this are…complicated. Personally, I think that it was rather bizarre to have such arbitrary numbers for the number of people allowed to attend religious gatherings, regardless of the size of the religious building (whether it be a large cathedral like St. Patrick’s or a smaller church like the one I go to every Sunday)–it would have been better in my humble opinion if the capacity limits were determined by percentages (33% of space capacity, 25% of space capacity, etc.) instead of arbitrary numbers that applied to religious spaces of all sizes. That being said, I don’t see eye-to-eye with the argument made by the religious institution I am a part of,[3] and by extension the Supreme Court’s argument, that this is an issue of religious freedom for Catholics[4]–the real infringement on this freedom is if we don’t take the proper precautions, get ourselves and each other sick, and then prevent ourselves and others from feeling up to a vibrant exercise of our religion. In other words, the attack on religious freedom, at least in my own humble opinion, is from the virus itself and those unwilling to take basic precautions against it. I would also add that with the existence of televised and online Masses where you can even receive the most important sacrament (the Eucharist) spiritually,[5] I have a hard time seeing how being forced to watch a Mass virtually for the sake of COVID precautions crosses the line from “not ideal” to an attack on religious liberty. Maybe someone can enlighten me though, as I know I have readers with substantial amount of knowledge on Catholic theology.

Between the news coming down from the Supreme Court (just in time for major religious celebrations) and the number of people travelling during the holidays, I fear that these numbers are about to get much worse. I hope my fears are inaccurate.

I do have hope though for New York City. This hope comes from the fact that we know so much more about this pandemic now than we did in the spring, and that as a result we hopefully will not have hospital and death rates anywhere near as high as what we did back then. I want my hope to turn into reality, but alas, global pandemics do their own thing and do not listen to any hopes I may have.



[3] I am a Catholic, and I live in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. It’s the same diocese that was involved in legal challenges to Governor Cuomo’s restrictions for “red” and “orange” zones.

[4] However, I cannot speak for other denominations of Christianity, let alone other religions.

[5] Catholics have something called Spiritual Communion, where one who desires to physically receive the Eucharist but is unable to because of circumstances can receive the Eucharist spiritually.

On Starbucks, Other Employers, and Racial Bias

While I took my break from the blogging world on the week of Memorial Day, Starbucks had racial bias training for its employees.

The reviews of the racial bias training from the general public were about as mixed as the reviews are for their lattes and cappuccinos. Some thought of this as a necessary step, while others were skeptical as to whether one afternoon of racial bias training would have any impact on individuals.

I will not use this post to review their racial bias training or racial bias training in general, because there are probably hundreds of other sites doing the same. Instead, I’m here to suggest that Starbucks and other employers should not just look at the racial biases of their rank-and-file employees but also at their own leadership’s racial biases. Likewise, we as consumers should look at the biases of not just rank-and-file employees but also at the leadership of companies.

Without looking both outward at employees and inward at the employer’s leadership, one ends up with a company like Starbucks, a company that outwardly gives the façade of attempting to be just but inwardly has its own biases. Those biases are demonstrated through the company’s stunning refusal to open up stores in neighborhoods dominated by people of color (even neighborhoods dominated by people of color that are middle class, such as my neighborhood in Queens). If you doubt me, look at how many Starbucks are in Harlem (in New York City), Chicago’s South Side, Baltimore excluding the parts around the Inner Harbor or Johns Hopkins University, or Philadelphia outside of Center City and the area near the 30th Street Station. Indeed, Starbucks’ bias training feels like a façade for its own biases.

However, I am not here just to pick on Starbucks, because the fact is that Starbucks is not the only large organization guilty of having bias training while having its own biases. For example, Google’s bias training has existed much longer than Starbucks’, yet their demographics demonstrate that there is bias somewhere along the way: their workforce is severely lacking in black and Latino employees, for example. The New York City Public Schools will spend millions in racial bias training for its educators while allowing a school system that is severely segregated. They are just two of numerous employers that have training to try preventing racial bias while continuing to have their own unconscious biases as an organization.

This is not to suggest that the racial bias training should end at these organizations—I am not enough of an expert (yet) on them to give an answer on that. What I am suggesting, however, is that we can’t just look at the racial biases of a barista at Starbucks or a public school teacher in New York City, but also the racial biases of those who decide where to open up Starbucks or those who decide on policies that segregate schools further in New York City. After all, if we fail to look at organizations’ racial biases, from top to bottom, we will find ourselves blind to a significant amount of racial injustice.

Southeast DC is predominantly black. It is also almost completely lacking in Starbucks, just like many other American neighborhoods where people of color are in the majority. This picture taken by me.