Coronavirus Update From New York City: September 30, 2021

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

On a personal level, the news about Moderna booster shots is big, as I have some family members who took the Moderna vaccine who would be eligible to get a booster shot. Though alas, I am on Team Pfizer so the time has not come (yet) for me to get a booster. As soon as I am eligible for one (assuming the science says that people who got the Pfizer two-dose should get a third dose), I hope to get one, though.

The biggest news out of my area this week has been over vaccine mandates, for both New York City’s Department of Education (DOE) employees and for health care workers in New York State.

The vaccine mandates for DOE employees has been subject to legal challenges, but as of the time of my writing, it looks like the mandates will go into effect at 5 PM this Friday. I hear that there’s a last-ditch effort for the vaccine mandate to be appealed to the United States Supreme Court, though I would be somewhat surprised if the Supreme Court blocked it–Justice Amy Coney Barrett turned away a challenge to a vaccine mandate at Indiana University (not to be confused with University of Indiana), so if that’s any indication, it seems like even the conservative Supreme Court justices have little appetite to take up anti-vaccine mandate cases. I support this mandate, because ultimately DOE needs to look out for the best interests of those most vulnerable in their system: unvaccinated kids under the age of 12 who cannot get vaccinated at this point. A public school system of teachers and other faculty who are fully vaccinated (with exemptions for extremely limited religious and medical reasons, of course) is a system that is looking out for those unvaccinated little kids. There is some concern as to what schools will do when confronted with teachers who remain unvaccinated, in spite of the mandates. While that is an understandable concern, I still remain hopeful that the majority of currently unvaccinated teachers will get vaccinated when push comes to shove, and that in the cases where there are teachers who continue to remain unvaccinated, there will be enough vaccinated substitute teachers to step in. We’ll know by this time next week, unless I am wrong in my prediction about what the Supreme Court will do, about whether I was correct to be hopeful.

The vaccine mandate for health care workers in New York State is already in effect, and there are reports of some hospitals taking a hard line on unvaccinated health care workers, even firing some of the unvaccinated.[1] In cases where there are staffing shortages at hospitals, people from the National Guard are stepping in. I support this mandate as well. Given the tragic consequences of not being diligent enough with how we care for COVID, I personally am led to be on the side of being more rather than less diligent, including with vaccinations for our health care workers. The side of being more diligent means health care workers getting vaccinated, with some rare exceptions.

Mandates aside, the virus seems to be spreading at more or less a steady rate in my area.[2] This gives me hope that we have weathered the potential storm of schools getting started, though honestly, even if it were a storm, at least the New York City area would’ve started with a decent amount of capacity in our ICUs in order to manage it. The fact that we have weathered this also gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, the spread of the virus will slow down some more.

Speaking of ICUs, I must continue to say that thankfully, the horror stories of ICUs at capacity still do not exist in the New York City area. As of last Tuesday, only 60% of ICU beds are filled.[3] This stands in stark contrast with the parts of the country that have lower vaccination rates than New York City and higher occupancy of ICU beds (still to the point of medical care being rationed in the most extreme of cases). I genuinely hope and pray for those of my readers in those parts of the country and world where there aren’t many, if any, available ICU beds for other COVID patients.

So, that is it for me for now. Feel free to leave comments below about the situation I describe in New York, the situation with COVID in the United States, and/or the situation where you are!


[1] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/covid-vaccine-mandate-new-york-hospital-workers-2021-09-28/

[2] https://covidactnow.org/us/metro/new-york-city-newark-jersey-city_ny-nj-pa/?s=23561273

[3] Ibid.

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!


[1] https://covidactnow.org/us/metro/new-york-city-newark-jersey-city_ny-nj-pa/?s=23371255

[2] https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/09/20/unga-coronavirus-threat-new-york-un-brief/

[3] https://covidactnow.org/us/metro/new-york-city-newark-jersey-city_ny-nj-pa/?s=23261246

[4] https://www.schools.nyc.gov/school-life/health-and-wellness/covid-information/daily-covid-case-map

[5] https://www.schools.nyc.gov/school-life/health-and-wellness/covid-information/daily-covid-case-map

[6] https://abc7ny.com/hostess-assaulted-carmines-uws/11027118/

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: 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.


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/nov/29/new-york-city-public-schools-to-reopen

[2] https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2020/11/26/scotus-rules-against-ny-religious-gathering-restrictions/

[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.

Cutting Civics from School Curricula: An Unjust Move

With the school year either coming up or starting in many states, kids are preparing to learn a multitude of subjects: history, English, Math, and Science, to name a few.

One subject will be noticeably absent for some kids: Civics.

Civics, which is defined as “a social science dealing with the rights and duties of citizens,”[1] can teach students about, among other things:

  1. The importance of voting;
  2. How to know who their representatives are;
  3. How they can be involved in the legislative process, by writing to their representatives about important issues (or calling their legislators);
  4. How people can use their representatives to solve a wide range of issues (provided the representative is responsive, of course);
  5. How to follow the affairs of the government in your city, state, and country.

Teaching kids about these things, and more, through a vibrant Civics curriculum, should be an absolute no-brainer. It promotes civic involvement and awareness of local affairs.

And yet, it seems like Civics education is often on the chopping block in school districts, states, and even federally.[2]

When these cuts come to fruition, what this means is that many kids will grow into adults who are in grave danger of lacking awareness of the full extent of their rights and duties as citizens, ranging from voting rights to the right they have to push their representatives on major issues.

In short, hyperbolic as this may sound to some, cutting Civics is a form of voter suppression and a form of weakening our democracy. After all, if kids aren’t taught about who their representatives are, how will they know to vote for (or against) their representatives when they are adults? If kids don’t know that they can write to their representatives, what will keep a representative from going against the will of their residents, whether that will is spoken or unspoken? If kids aren’t taught how to follow government affairs, how can they cast an informed ballot when they’re adults?

For those of us who think that voter suppression and disenfranchisement starts at the age of 18, when a citizen can vote, think again. It starts when kids are taught minimal or no Civics. However, my readers (or at least readers who live in the United States) can play a role in stopping this—if you ever hear your government, whether it be your school district, your city, your state, or your country, considering cuts to Civics programs, contact your representatives and make it known just how important Civics truly is.

Please note that I will not publish a post next Tuesday, as it will be the Tuesday after Labor Day.


[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/civics

[2] Apparently, Civics was among Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s proposed budget cuts. I don’t know if this proposal saw the light of day, but the fact that Civics is so frequently on the chopping block, even at the federal level, should alarm proponents of Civics education: https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2019/04/03/special-olympics-funding-outcry-is-over-its-been-crickets-over-some-devoss-other-proposed-education-budget-cuts-think-civics-history-arts/?noredirect=on