To understand how the coronavirus has cut an unequal path across New York City, take a look at the Rockaway peninsula. Along an 11-mile stretch of land in Queens, the disparity between the haves and have-nots has come into stark relief.
In Far Rockaway, predominantly black and Hispanic New Yorkers head to jobs in nearby nursing homes and medical centers, which are hot spots for the spread of the virus. They earn less than the average Queens resident and are living in one of the hardest-hit areas across the city, with 443 people per 100,000 dead, our Sally Goldenberg and Michelle Bocanegra report.
Yet residents of the affluent beach-front Breezy Point neighborhood just a few miles away on the western end of the peninsula have been largely spared from the ravages of the virus. The death rate in their ZIP code was among the lowest in the city, and nearly eight times less than that of Far Rockaway. In raw numbers, that means 287 people have died on one end of the peninsula and two on the other.
City Council Member Donovan Richards has been moved to tears by the stories of one constituent after another dying in Far Rockaway. “Just because you live in public housing or a nursing home doesn’t mean your life should be expendable. Just because you live in poverty doesn’t mean you should die over Covid,” he said.
Across the city, new antibody test results reveal much higher coronavirus infection rates in low-income, black and Hispanic neighborhoods. Testing done at churches found 27 percent of people had been infected with the virus at some point, compared to 19.9 percent of the city’s population overall. In some neighborhoods, nearly half of residents showed signs of past infection: the highest rate was found in Morrisania in the Bronx, where 43 percent had antibodies. “The spread is continuing in those communities, and that’s where the new cases are coming from,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.
WHERE’S ANDREW? No public schedule
WHERE’S BILL? Holding a media availability on Covid-19
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It’s like throwing a rock into a cave.” — Chris Cuomo making fun of the governor’s live coronavirus test on CNN last night
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Due to Memorial Day weekend, POLITICO New York Playbook will not publish on Monday, May 25. It will return Tuesday, May 26. Please continue to follow us here.
VACCINATION RATES for children in New York City have plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic, raising fears that the crisis will leave children vulnerable to other health hazards. Mayor Bill de Blasio called the decline “shocking and troubling” on Wednesday, urging parents to make sure their children get vaccinated despite instructions to stay home as much as possible. The number of vaccines administered to kids in the city dropped 63 percent in the six-week period from March 23 to May 9, compared to the same period last year. For children older than two, the decline was a dramatic 91 percent. For children age two and under, vaccines dropped by 42 percent. “The reasons are obvious: Doctors’ offices have been closed in many cases. Families are staying home. We’ve had to focus on the most urgent needs on health care,” de Blasio said. “It makes sense that even parents, grandparents, other guardians, family members who wanted to get a child vaccinated might not have known where to turn, or might have been hesitant to go out and get it done.” POLITICO’s Erin Durkin
“IF THE UNITED STATES had begun imposing social distancing measures one week earlier than it did in March, about 36,000 fewer people would have died in the coronavirus outbreak, according to new estimates from Columbia University disease modelers. … In the New York metro area alone, 21,800 people had died by May 3. Fewer than 4,300 would have died by then if control measures had been put in place and adopted nationwide just a week earlier, on March 8, the researchers estimated. All models are only estimates, and it is impossible to know for certain the exact number of people who would have died. But Lauren Ancel Meyers, a University of Texas at Austin epidemiologist who was not involved in the research, said that it ‘makes a compelling case that even slightly earlier action in New York could have been game changing.’” New York Times’ James Glanz and Campbell Robertson
“FACE COVERINGS have become an essential fashion and health item in New York City, but not everyone is complying with new state rules requiring them. Complaints have been pouring in from affluent parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, more so than in other areas, even though these neighborhoods have lower rates of infection and death than many lower-income sections of the city. City records show about 4,000 people have reported violations of the city’s face-covering rules since the city’s 311 system began tracking such complaints about three weeks ago, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows. The data don’t provide a clue about the reasons for the disparity in reporting face-covering complaints: Whether residents set higher expectations in those prime neighborhoods, or whether compliance was better elsewhere.” Wall Street Journal’s Josh Barnabel
“IN BOROUGH PARK on Wednesday morning, hundreds of Hasidic teenagers discreetly filed into the back entrance of a synagogue for another day of underground instruction. At the same time, a few miles north, NYPD officers were dispersing a packed yeshiva in Williamsburg. Once police left, students returned to the building and resumed studying, undeterred by the interruption, a source said. After weeks of social distancing lockdowns, Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods seem to be entering a period of normalcy, according to some concerned observers. A growing number of schools and synagogues have reopened in recent days, defying city and state restrictions. Some have made an effort to hide their noncompliance, while others have flouted the rules openly — seldom attracting more than a warning from the NYPD. Outside a Satmar synagogue in Williamsburg on Wednesday, police dispersed a ‘large crowd,’ but did not issue any summonses or arrests, according to Detective Annette Shelton, an NYPD spokesperson.” Gothamist’s Jake Offenhartz
“SALAH-DEEN Fouathia, an eighth grader at Voice Charter School in Queens, was struggling in school. It was hard to pay attention. Math was a challenge. His grades in health class weren’t great. So when the pandemic closed all schools, reducing his classes to the size of a screen, his parents feared Salah-Deen would struggle even more. To their delight, the opposite has happened. With fewer distractions and the help of his parents and teachers, his schooling has been going better, and his grades reflect that. ‘At home, it seems to be a bit easier to focus on all the work I’m getting and it’s almost like we’re one on one with the teacher,’ Salah-Deen said. ‘Everything in general is easier.’ For the vast majority of students, remote learning is a poor substitute for being in the classroom. Not everyone has a laptop or reliable internet at home, and the socialization that happens in school can’t be replicated online. There is widespread concern that many students, especially the most vulnerable, will fall behind. But one unexpected silver lining of the shutdown has been an improved learning experience for certain students, including some who struggle to pay attention in class and even some high-achieving self-starters.” New York Times’ Elizabeth A. Harris
— The city will offer free coronavirus tests for all city nursing homes, and will provide staff to fill in for workers who test positive.
— Alternate side parking is back, though it will be suspended again starting next week.
— Neighborhood and business groups and non-profits joined Transportation Alternatives in a plea to Mayor de Blasio to expand the size and scope of the open streets program.
— New lawsuits and divorces can be filed electronically in New York City, Long Island, Westchester County starting on Monday.
— Census response rates have dragged in wealthier neighborhoods where many people have left the city during the pandemic.
“RELIGIOUS SERVICES with 10 or fewer people will be permitted again in New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday, as restrictions related to the new coronavirus are relaxed. The Democratic governor had already said that Memorial Day celebrations with that number of people could take place in the coming days. Services can resume starting Thursday, Mr. Cuomo said, so long as participants stay apart and wear masks. Drive-in services are also permitted. ‘I think those religious ceremonies can be very comforting,’ Mr. Cuomo said. He cautioned: ‘The last thing we want to do is have a religious ceremony where more people are infected.’ The Rev. Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, which lobbies on behalf of evangelical Christian churches, sent Mr. Cuomo a letter Tuesday signed by more than 300 pastors who asked to prioritize in-person religious services.” Wall Street Journal’s Jimmy Vielkind
“GOV. ANDREW CUOMO defended his administration’s policies toward nursing homes Wednesday as criticism mounts over New York’s high death toll in the facilities and the governor’s handling of the situation. The governor has been roundly criticized for policies his administration implemented in March that allowed nursing home employees who tested positive for COVID-19 but were asymptomatic to continue working and that forbid nursing homes from turning away residents who were infected with the virus. Industry observers say this allowed the virus to become introduced into facilities, where Cuomo himself has said the virus could spread ‘like fire through dry grass.’ Both policies have since been rescinded, and the governor later stated that nursing homes were always allowed to turn away COVID-19 patients if they didn’t have the capacity to care for them. But some contend the damage had already been done. As of Tuesday, more than 5,800 nursing home and adult care facility residents had died from the coronavirus. Asked Wednesday whether he believes his policy requiring homes to admit infected patients contributed to the death toll, Cuomo said no.” Times Union’s Bethany Bump and Brendan J Lyons
— Former GOP Gov. George Pataki has thoughts: “WHY did he wait 47 DAYS to reverse policy? Did #POTUS tell him to do that too?,” he tweeted.
— “Allegations that insufficient numbers of personnel at nursing homes contributed to COVID-19 related deaths has raised questions about the status of a required state report on the benefits of minimum staffing ratios in health care facilities. ‘A report, by law, was due from the health department in December of 2019 and I don’t know if they ever did the study, but it has certainly not been published,’ Assembly Health Committee Chair Dick Gottfried told The Capitol Pressroom on Wednesday morning. The statutory requirement was born out of a budget compromise last year with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose administration ‘pushed back very hard’ on legislative language that would impose mandatory staffing levels for nursing homes and hospitals, according to Gottfried. In response to inquiries about the status of the report, a spokesman for the state Department of Health said Wednesday afternoon, ‘The study remains under review.’ WCNY’s David Lombardo
— Nursing homes in New York with more black or Latino residents saw 52 percent more coronavirus cases than homes where most residents are white, a New York Times analysis found.
— Across the river, officials are dealing with a similar death toll and complaints against Gov. Phil Murphy.
“DESPERATE to get production back up and running after a Covid-forced shutdown, Elon Musk recently openly defied health officials’ warnings not to reopen his California auto plant. ‘If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me,’ Musk tweeted last week. Three thousand miles away in Buffalo? It’s unclear what Musk’s company — Tesla Inc. — has in store for his signature solar panel factory. The state on Tuesday began a soft opening of the Covid-ravaged economy in Western New York, permitting manufacturing companies like Tesla’s operation at RiverBend to commence its solar panel work after two months of state-ordered suspension.
Tesla has not responded to questions about the facility and its plans to restart its solar work. The uncertainty comes as state officials are considering delaying deadlines on job creation requirements that companies like Tesla received in return for various financial and tax incentives. In Tesla’s case, the state taxpayers built and equipped the solar plant at RiverBend at a cost of nearly $1 billion.” Buffalo News’ Tom Precious
E-ZPASS TRANSPONDERS could be among the most soulless devices in existence. Their only purpose is to make sure that the often solitary act of driving remains uninterrupted by a few fleeting seconds of interaction with a fellow human. But behind every recorded transaction at a toll booth is a human story about a journey, made for reasons best known to the drivers themselves. And by examining the millions of weekly transactions in New York, it’s possible to get a sense of how life has changed since the pandemic hit. The New York State Thruway Authority maintains a database for each of the exit plazas on the tolled portions of the roads it maintains, including I-87 between Woodbury and Albany and much of I-90 between western Massachusetts and Erie, Pa. POLITICO analyzed this data set, which includes information on the number of cars entering by hour and the routes they each took. The number of vehicles on the road has plummeted, which is not surprising. But the data also provides some specific details about life under stay-at-home orders, the kind of raw material historians of the pandemic will examine to piece together how New York responded to an unprecedented lockdown. POLITICO’s Bill Mahoney
#UpstateAmerica: The North Country’s Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism wanted social distancing guidelines to be “a bit friendlier” for its “Politely Adirondack” campaign. You’ll do it if an cartoon moose or raccoon tells you to, right?
— Several Staten Island Republicans are pushing for the city to reopen quickly, but Borough President Jimmy Oddo supports Gov. Cuomo’s cautious approach.
— The number of transit workers killed by the coronavirus has risen to 123.
— A City Council proposal would allow more city employees to work from home permanently, aiming to save money by leasing less office space.
— If de Blasio’s warnings aren’t enough to scare you away from the beach this weekend, maybe “human waste” will.
— Every public school student in New York City will soon receive more than $400 in federal benefits to help pay for food while school buildings are shut down, regardless of family income.
— Most pharmacies are not doing coronavirus testing despite an order from Gov. Cuomo three weeks ago allowing it.
— Some of the city’s homeless outreach workers argue that their clients should be offered hotel rooms.
— Buses have become more popular than the subway during the pandemic.
— State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said 44,212 of the more than 1.2 million unemployment applications the department received before April 22 have yet to be paid, and 7,580 might never be paid because they lack key information.
— Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.) is one of a congressional letter’s lead authors demanding an explanation for why the Trump administration had planned to end deployments of National Guard members one day short of the 90 days required for federal retirement and education benefits. POLITICO reported on Wednesday evening that the administration is now preparing plans to extend the federal deployment through July.
— The state Unified Court System is restoring the filing of new nonessential lawsuits for New York City and downstate counties starting Monday.
— Five finalists have been chosen in the state’s contest to make an ad promoting mask wearing.
— State lawmakers introduced a bill that would add to the incentive for whistleblowers to report fraud against the state during a state of emergency.
“The CARES Act passed by Congress in March effectively postponed federal student loan payments through September in light of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic — but some borrowers say their credit scores have taken a hit as a result. 29-year-old Andrew Dellinger says he has been particularly on-top of his weekly Credit Karma reports lately. He and his wife plan to buy their first home in Wisconsin in a few months — so he was shocked when he suddenly got an email saying his Equifax score dropped 53 points last week.” WAMC’s Jesse King
“PRESIDENT TRUMP’S former lawyer Michael Cohen will be released from a federal prison due to coronavirus concerns and is expected to serve the rest of his three-year sentence from home, a person familiar with the matter said. Mr. Cohen will be leaving the facility in Otisville, N.Y., on furlough on Thursday, pending processing to home confinement, the person said. He is among more than 2,500 federal inmates who have been placed on home confinement in recent weeks as prison officials try to identify those who are at high risk for the disease and low risk for re-offending.” Wall Street Journal’s Sadie Gurman
— Former Brooklyn state Sen. Jesse Hamilton, one of a group of former IDC members defeated in 2018, announced he is running for the Assembly against incumbent Diana Richardson.
— The Police Benevolent Association endorsed City Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr. for a Bronx congressional seat.
— Tests that children took earlier in the year for gifted and talented programs in city public schools have been lost.
— A man wearing a transit uniform killed his sister-in-law and attacked a building superintendent before a police officer shot and killed him in a Harlem apartment on Wednesday evening.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Arthur Brooks is 56 … AP’s Deb Riechmann … Rebecca Leber, Mother Jones reporter … Fred Frommer, head of the sports business practice at Dewey Square … Baupost Group’s Seth Klarman is 63 … Jeffrey Toobin, staff writer for The New Yorker and CNN chief legal analyst, is 6-0 … Mike Viqueira is 6-0 … Mosheh Oinounou … City and State’s Tom Allon is 58 … N.Y. Daily News’ Michael Gartland … Jessica Lahey is 5-0 … CNBC’s Steve Liesman is 57 … Edelman’s Amy Larkin Long … Emily Bucci
“CITIGROUP INC. is considering opening satellite offices outside New York City as the finance industry grapples with when it will be safe to bring workers back to Manhattan. With the pandemic fueling anxiety about public transportation and dense urban offices, large banks and financial firms in Manhattan are looking elsewhere for space to let workers spread out and avoid commuting into the city. Citigroup is considering short-term leases for space that is furnished and ready to be occupied in locations including Long Island, Westchester and New Jersey, according to people familiar with the matter. The discussions are preliminary as the company weighs its options, the people said.” Bloomberg’s Natalie Wong and Jennifer Surane
“WHEN YOU FINALLY return to work after the lockdown, coronavirus might not be the only illness you need to worry about contracting at the office. Office buildings once filled with employees emptied out in many cities and states as shelter-in-place orders were issued. These structures, normally in constant use, have been closed off and shut down, and health risks might be accumulating in unseen ways. ‘The buildings aren’t designed to be left alone for months,’ said Andrew Whelton, an associate professor of civil, environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University. Dr. Whelton, other researchers and public health authorities have issued warnings about the plumbing in these buildings, where water may have gone stagnant in the pipes or even in individual taps and toilets. As lockdowns are lifted, bacteria that build up internally may cause health problems for returning workers if the problem is not properly addressed by facilities managers. Employees and guests at hotels, gyms and other kinds of buildings may also be at risk.” New York Times’ Max Horberry