U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez is presumed to have the coronavirus

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U.S. Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez says she has been given a presumptive diagnosis of the novel coronavirus. She began to feel sick Sunday morning, Velázquez said in a statement.

“In the wee hours of Sunday morning, I began to feel under the weather. I developed the abrupt onset of muscle aches, fevers, nasal congestion and stomach upset. I noticed that I could no longer smell my perfume or taste my food,” she said.

“After speaking with the attending physician by phone, I was diagnosed with presumed coronavirus infection. My symptoms are mild at the present time and I am taking Tylenol for fever and isolating myself at my home,” she said.

At the attending physician’s advice, neither COVID-19 laboratory testing nor a doctor’s office visit was recommended, Velázquez added.

“I am carefully monitoring my symptoms, working remotely and in constant contact with my staff.  I’ll continue my work on behalf of New Yorkers as together we overcome this virus. In that regard, I encourage everyone to stay at home and continue practicing social distancing,” she said.

Velázquez, who represents a wide swath of Brooklyn from Williamsburg to Sunset Park, along with parts of Queens and lower Manhattan, was in Washington D.C. last week, speaking on the House floor on Friday during the debate on the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill. NBC notes that she “stood near 80-year-old House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the signing.”

Numerous supporters sent Velázquez good wishes and recommendations for getting better (tea and electrolytes) on Twitter after she tweeted the news.

“We love you,” wrote Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon.

“We’re all pulling for you,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman.

“Pronta recuperación,” said supporter Janet Negron.

“I am one of your constituents. Thank you for all you do and have been doing during this crisis. I wish you good health and a speedy recovery,” said a Twitter user with the handle OpinionatedKyle.

On March 23, Velazquez introduced legislation to suspend rent contributions for tenants in public housing and the Section 8 program during the coronavirus  crisis.

“Our neighbors shouldn’t have to worry about falling behind on rent during this national emergency,” she tweeted.

Representing the 7th District, Velazquez has been deeply involved in Brooklyn politics since 1983, when she was named by then-Borough President Howard Golden to serve on a vacant seat on the New York City Council. She’s the first Puerto Rican woman to serve in Congress, and is the Ranking Democratic Member of the House Small Business Committee. She also serves on the House Financial Services Committee.

Brooklynites say filing for unemployment is a full-time job during the coronavirus pandemic

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Brooklynites who lost their jobs because of the novel coronavirus pandemic report that filing unemployment insurance claims is proving to be a herculean task, taking days of effort in many cases.

With so many trying to apply, the Department of Labor’s computers — some of which date from the Reagan administration — have become overwhelmed. Unemployment Insurance offices are closed, and it takes dozens, if not hundreds of attempts to get through using the the online or telephone call-in system.

In New York state, 80,334 people filed a claim the week ending March 21, according to figures released Thursday by DOL. The prior week, only 14,272 people filed claims. Across the country, a record-setting 3.3 million people filed for unemployment, up from 200,000 the previous week, the highest number by far in the country’s history.

In New York City, these numbers likely represent only a fraction of those trying to sign up.

Aleck Venegas was furloughed last Wednesday from his lab technician job at a film processing lab in midtown. Venegas, who lives in the Brooklyn section of Ridgewood, told the Brooklyn Eagle that he tried to start the process last Thursday at around 9:30 a.m., “but by that point already the website was crashing before I could get to finish my claim,” he said.

“So my next thought was to try and do it over the phone,” he said. “I was successful up until I needed to complete the claim with a specialist. I was immediately disconnected while being transferred.”

Since he had finished half the claim over the phone, the option to file online disappeared, Venegas discovered. “There’s no way to start over and try online.”

Unemployment Insurance Services offices at 250 Schermerhorn St. in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
A sign at the Unemployment Insurance Services offices at 250 Schermerhorn St. says that the office is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Venegas said he called more than 200 times starting at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. “I’m only connected to the automated menu once every 10 to 15 calls, and when I finally am able to navigate my way through the ‘complete an unfinished claim’ section, I’m told to hold for a specialist, only to be told that everyone is currently busy and to call back later! Then they hang up!”

“So it’s been a non-stop loop of calling, getting a busy signal, calling, maybe getting to the menu, getting hung up on, repeat until your eyes fall out,” he said.

On Wednesday, Venegas emailed the Eagle with some good news.

“After 350 calls today I was finally able to get through,” he said, adding, “The specialist was able to tell me that their system they were using is from 1985. Absolutely crazy right?!”

Unemployment Insurance Services offices at 250 Schermerhorn St. in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
The Unemployment Insurance Services office in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Error-page hell

Bushwick resident Mackenzie Faber was a server at a restaurant in the West Village until she was laid off on March 15.

“On the one hand it was a relief; I felt really vulnerable when I was at work, since it’s a small, cramped space where I’m touching used silverware and glassware, and management had been seating well beyond half capacity,” Faber said, referring to the directive from Mayor Bill de Blasio that was only in place for a few days before bars and restaurants were shuttered entirely. “On the other hand, not knowing when I would have income again was daunting.“

Faber’s boyfriend was in the same boat, so they both went through the “how-to” page on the Department of Labor’s website and started their online applications.

“Unfortunately, the website was not equipped to handle that much traffic; when I tried to submit my work history and personal information, I got an ‘error’ page. After that, I had even less luck and more error pages,” Faber said.

“My boyfriend called me that night and informed me that a friend had better luck calling the office directly.” So she tried logging in with her phone early the next morning but hit another ‘error’ page. Then she tried her laptop, but the site didn’t recognize her password. Frustratingly, after trying a few more times she was blocked. Faber tried calling using her phone again and still couldn’t get through.

“After I finished the first portion of filing my claim, the automated voice on the line said that I now had to speak to a representative to finish filing. It said it would connect me to a representative, but then the line went dead,” she said.

Faber said she repeated this procedure Thursday (19 calls), Friday (26 calls) and Saturday on the phone and on the computer. The online system no longer recognized her password, she said.

On the plus side, Farber said, “They’ve been updating it regularly with more information which is helpful and reassuring, and have extended their hours.” Also, now her boyfriend has successfully managed to register.

On the negative side, “I know they’re swamped and doing their best, but I’m losing hope. If they’re already so backed up a mere fifteen minutes after opening the office that they can’t take my call, I feel like I’ll never be able to get in,” she said.

When Broadway goes dark

Amanda Whidden worked as support staff for a Broadway show until all of the Great White Way was shutdown by the COVID-19 outbreak. “Everybody was laid off when the shows closed down,” Whidden said. “Hopefully, my job will come back when Broadway does, but who knows how long that will be and what kind of shape the industry will be in when it does.”

She hit similar obstacles in applying for unemployment insurance, but seems to have gotten through a little faster than others.

At various times throughout her application, she got timed-out error messages and was booted off, she said. “Then I’d have to log in and start from scratch. Twice I got to step 9 out of 10,” before the website quit on her, she said.

“I finally did get it done, though, and I got a confirmation code that it’s all good, so fingers crossed,” Whidden said.

Don’t despair, DOL improvements on the way

DOL spokesperson Deanna Cohen told the Eagle that the agency has been bombarded with applications. Last week when the crisis was just starting, DOL saw “over a 1,000 percent increase in claims in some areas across the state,” she said. The agency received more than 1.7 million calls and 2.3 million web attempts between March 16 and March 21.

DOL is now working “around the clock and has streamlined the process,” she said.

Those filing for benefits need not fear if they don’t have immediate success, she added. “Even if New Yorkers do not get through right away, they will receive their full benefit back to the date of unemployment.”

“We have added servers and increased bandwidth; dedicated more than 700 staff and are adding 65 more; and it is important to stress, following the newly implemented filing system will help dispense traffic more evenly if all New Yorkers adhere to it,” Cohen said, referring to an alphabetical system the department implemented to spread out the incoming tide of new applications.

In addition, the $2 trillion coronavirus spending bill just approved by the Senate and now on its way to the House will send more money to state unemployment departments for system upgrades.

The spending bill will also increase unemployment insurance for four months by $600 a week in many cases, insuring that laid off workers, on average, will receive their full pay for four months, according to U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer. The bill will also extend benefits to those who don’t usually qualify, such as freelancers and gig workers, along with furloughed workers like Venegas.

Filing for benefits is now based on the first letter of the applicant’s last name. People whose last name begins with A through F should file on Monday; G through N on Tuesday; and O through Z on Wednesday. If you missed your day, you can file on Thursday or Friday. Filing later in the week will not delay payments or affect the date of your claim, since all claims are effective on the Monday of the week in which they are filed.

To apply for benefits, you must log in to the New York Department of Labor website at labor.ny.gov or call the claims center at 888-209-8124.

One tip for getting through the system more successfully comes from Robert Griswold, who discovered, after reading the fine print, that DOL’s ancient computer system was designed to work with Internet Explorer and Netscape. He switched from Chrome to a contemporary version of Internet Explorer and “was pleased to find that the difficulties with the site stopped,” the Queens Eagle reports.

De Blasio warns city may shut playgrounds as coronavirus numbers spike

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Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is giving New York City residents until Saturday evening to abide by novel coronavirus social distancing rules in parks and playgrounds.

If people don’t keep at least six feet from each other while getting fresh air and exercise, the city may shut the playgrounds, de Blasio said at a press conference Tuesday.

“We’ve very concerned that people don’t congregate,” he told reporters. Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said his patrols are out checking the playgrounds already.

“We’re seeing in most places people are abiding by the guidelines. In other places we have more who are not,” de Blasio said.

De Blasio said the worst is yet to come as COVID-19 cases continue to multiply and the city lacks the ventilators hospitals need.

People practiced social distancing at Brooklyn Bridge Park on Tuesday. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle
People practiced social distancing at Brooklyn Bridge Park on Tuesday. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

“New York City has one third the cases in the entire nation. We are the epicenter,” he said. The only way to slow the spread is by social distancing, including in parks, he added.

“We’re working with New York state and the City Council to maximize education and enforcement of people enjoying parks and playgrounds. … I’m giving the process till Saturday evening. If by the end of Saturday it’s sufficiently clear that New Yorkers are not following the rules, I’m prepared to shut down the playgrounds,” he said.

By order of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a “limited number of streets will be opened up, two per borough, as a pilot program” to reduce park congestion. The initial number is limited because there needs to be adequate law enforcement, the mayor said. The streets will be chosen by Thursday.

Gov. Cuomo said on Sunday he had been shocked to see the number of people crowding into parks and outdoor farmers markets during a visit to the city. He singled out Prospect Park in Brooklyn, which had been packed on Saturday around the farmers market.

Cadman Plaza Park in Downtown Brooklyn was almost empty on Tuesday, with just a couple of family groups kicking balls around. Gone were the soccer teams that usually dominate the artificial turf on warm days.

Cadman Plaza Park, on Tuesday. Photo: Mary Frost/ Brooklyn Eagle
Cadman Plaza Park, on Tuesday. Photo: Mary Frost/ Brooklyn Eagle

On good behavior at Brooklyn Bridge Park

Tuesday’s sunny weather brought families and joggers out to Brooklyn Bridge Park. Most people there seemed conscious of the need to stay at least six feet from others.

“We are very aware not to get too close,” said one Brooklyn Heights mom who brought her two young children to the park to play. (She did not wish to give her name.) “We stay inside most of the time. We just came out about ten minutes ago,” she added. The family lives in One Brooklyn Bridge Park, so the park is like their backyard, she said.

Another park-goer rode her e-bike all the way from East New York. She wore a cheetah face mask and a helmet with a Garmin action video camera mounted on top.

“This is my first video that I’m filming … for people who are interested in seeing what things are like right now,” she said.

An E-bike rider who goes by the handle The Sweetest Cheetah on Instagram was filming her first video during the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday. Photo: Mary Frost/ Brooklyn Eagle
An e-bike rider who goes by the handle The Sweetest Cheetah on Instagram was filming her first video during the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday. Photo: Mary Frost/ Brooklyn Eagle

“People are out and about, wearing their masks,” she observed. Workers were also “seizing the moment all over the place — planting stuff in the park, finishing up construction.”

Most of the park-goers she saw seem to be abiding by social distancing rules, she said. “Yeah, I see it. I give people their space anyway, because I see people are intimidated by bikes, especially e-bikes.”

On Instagram she’s known as The Sweetest Cheetah (thesweetestcheetah), she said. “As a joke, the bike shop guys were like, ‘You’re cheating, you’re riding an e-bike.’”

A different reality

Brooklyn Bridge Park President Eric Landau told the Brooklyn Eagle that the park was still open, but park users faced a different reality, one of “passive use and solitary recreation.” He urged parents to enforce social distancing and noted that playground equipment is not sanitized.“We will assess how it goes this week,” he said.

Brooklyn Bridge Park is not operated by the New York City Parks Department, but rather by a Public Benefit Corporation under city control. It follows the same social distancing guidelines as city parks, however.

A man walks at a distance from other pedestrians in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo: Mary Frost/ Brooklyn Eagle
A man walks at a distance from other pedestrians in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo: Mary Frost/ Brooklyn Eagle

All permits for team play have been suspended, and areas where social distancing is not practical have been closed. The volleyball courts on Pier 6 and the basketball courts on Pier 2 have been closed since Friday, and signs explaining the new rules have been posted, Landau said. The Environmental Center is also closed, as are most of the bathrooms, for various reasons. (The bathrooms near Pier 5 and Pier 6 are still open.)

The park shut down the Picnic Peninsula and its barbecue pits on Monday. The roller rink, climbing wall, Jane’s Carousel, St. Ann’s Warehouse, Empire Stores and 1 Hotel are all closed.

“The Park Enforcement Patrol is making the rounds,” Landau said. About three quarters of the staff are working from home, but core essential operations like cleaning and trash are still going on.

As of Tuesday evening, 15,597 people in New York City had tested positive for coronavirus. Of these, 4,407 were in Brooklyn. Queens had slightly more, with 4,467. Manhattan registered fewer cases at 3,013, and the Bronx had 2,505. Staten Island had 999 cases. Across the city, 192 people had died from the disease.

Mayor de Blasio noted that those fatalities included the stupendously talented 2019 Tony Award winner Terrence McNally, known as “the bard of American theater.” De Blasio called him, “The greatest playwright in recent memory.”

For all updates on park service changes and closures go to, visit here.

Despite its high case count, no temporary coronavirus hospital is planned for Brooklyn

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Sunday that he had authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to build four temporary hospitals in New York state to help manage the novel coronavirus outbreak. One of the hospitals will be built in New York City, at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan.

This didn’t sit well with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who said on Sunday that he was “surprised and disheartened” that none of the Brooklyn sites his office had suggested were chosen.

“We are not only the most populous county in the state, with more than 2.6 million people — we also currently have the most confirmed cases [of the novel coronavirus] of any borough in the city,” Adams said in a release.

Adams added, “We are hearing from numerous hospitals throughout Brooklyn that will be unable to accommodate new patients in a matter of days unless we take immediate action.”

As of Sunday evening, Brooklyn had 3,154 confirmed coronavirus cases, the highest number of any borough in the city, followed by Queens and Manhattan. Overall, there were 10,746 positive cases in New York City.

New York state has the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the nation, and has only half the hospital beds it’s projected to need, Cuomo warned on Sunday.

Across the state, 53,000 hospital beds are available, but the disease’s growth curve suggests New York will need 110,000 beds. There are only about 3,000 ICU beds in New York, a shortfall of at least 15,000, according to projections.

Three temporary hospitals are set to be built outside of New York City — at SUNY Stony Brook, SUNY Old Westbury and the Westchester Convention Center. The dormitories on the campuses will be used for healthcare staff.

New York has also asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to erect four federal hospitals at the Javits Center, 250 beds each, which would come with FEMA staff and supplies.

Cuomo said these hospitals would “give us regional coverage in downstate New York which is our most heavily impacted area.”

Adams, however, said it was “critical that we target this increased capacity to the areas that need it most,” and that Brooklyn was one such area.

Adams’ office sent a letter to the governor and the mayor last week identifying potential locations that could serve as overflow sites. These included the Brooklyn House of Detention, New York City Department of Education school buildings, the 13th Regiment Armory, the Bedford Atlantic Armory, the Marcy Avenue Armory, the Brooklyn Cruise Ship Terminal, and Floyd Bennett Field/Aviator Sports and Events Center.

While the Army Corp of Engineers did not chose any of those sites, Cuomo did say that the state would be taking over numerous nursing homes to convert into temporary hospitals, including the new, never-occupied, 600-bed Brooklyn Health Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare.

The state has just 3,157 ICU beds, which are critical for patients with COVID-19 because they come equipped with ventilators. However, the state is projected to need between 18,600 and 37,200 ICU beds, Cuomo said. There are 301 ICU beds in Brooklyn, according to the New York State Department of Health.

On a related note, Cuomo urged President Trump to nationalize the acquisition of medical supplies through the Defense Production Act as the states are currently forced to outbid each other for the scarce equipment. Even hospitals in New York must compete against each other for supplies, and price gouging is rampant.

“For masks we were paying 85 cents. Those same masks have gone up to $7. Ventilators have gone from $16,000 to $40,000 each and New York needs 30,000 ventilators. This is impossible,” he said. “If we don’t get ventilators we will lose lives.”

Cuomo issued an executive order on Friday mandating sweeping restrictions on businesses and social life across New York state due to the exponential spread of the virus. The order, which he dubbed “PAUSE” (Policies Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone) went into effect Sunday evening. Only essential businesses are allowed to have employees working outside of the home, and all residents must remain indoors except for essential activities. For businesses that don’t comply, there will be civil fines and there could be mandatory closure, Cuomo said. No fines or penalties for individuals who don’t comply have been announced.

New York on PAUSE after Cuomo issues mandatory coronavirus shutdown

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order on Friday mandating sweeping restrictions on businesses and social life across New York State due to the exponential spread of the novel coronavirus. The order, which he dubbed “PAUSE” (Policies Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone) goes into effect Sunday evening.

“We’re going to take the ultimate step,” Cuomo said. Only essential businesses will be allowed to have employees working outside of the home, and all residents must remain indoors except for essential activities, he said.

“One hundred percent of the of the nonessential workforce must work from home,” the governor said. This order does not apply to essential businesses, which include health care services, mass transit, police, fire and emergency responders, banks, caregivers, grocery stores, pharmacies and the internet and utilities among other essential services, he said. “You have to go to the ATM and get money. But not like luxury services. You want a massage, that’s not essential.”

There are currently no penalties planned for individuals who violate the order, only businesses. “This is not voluntary. There will be civil fines and there could be mandatory closure for businesses that don’t comply,” Cuomo warned.

The governor said the restrictions were necessary because of the acute shortage of hospital beds, medical protective supplies such as masks and gowns, and especially ventilators, coupled with an expected onslaught of patients with respiratory failure due to the virus.

“Ventilators are to this war what missiles were to WWII,” he said, declaring to manufactures that the state will pay a premium to businesses that have or can make the scarce devices.

“I’m increasing the mandates because the numbers are increasing. You have the density control valve. If the numbers start to go up, tighten the valve,” Cuomo told reporters.

To allow more businesses to work online, the state has asked internet providers to increase data capacity, and to do this at no charge, Cuomo said.

Noting that there was some disagreement from some other state officials on the tighter restrictions, Cuomo said, “This is a statewide order. I take full responsibility.”

Earlier Friday, Cuomo announced that hair salons, barber shops, tattoo parlors and other personal care services would be closed beginning Saturday at 8 p.m. to slow the spread of the virus. That order didn’t have time to go into effect before it was superseded by the more sweeping “PAUSE” order.

“This is not life as usual. Recognize it, accept it and deal with it,” Cuomo said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio had warned New Yorkers on Tuesday that a “shelter-in-place” order similar to the one in effect in the Bay Area, and now throughout California, could be coming to New York City, a term that the governor quickly shut down.

“I believe communications are important and words are important,” Cuomo said Thursday, adding that the term shelter-in-place was more appropriate for an active shooter situation or, in past days, a nuclear disaster. “Say what you mean and don’t say what might alarm people,” he said.

He added that years from now he wants to be able to look back and say, “I did everything we could do.”

Individuals are still allowed to leave their homes for exercise, the governor said.

“You need to get out and get some fresh air? Sure, go out and take a walk,” Cuomo said, with the provision that exercise be solitary. “Run, hike. Not basketball.”

He also said that the state would stop evictions of residential or commercial tenants for 90 days, and noted that the deadline for filing federal taxes has been extended to July 15.

The strictest rules would apply to the most vulnerable: Seniors over the age of 70, immuno-compromised people and those with underlying illnesses. People in these groups must remain indoors with the exception of “solitary exercise.” They have been told to pre-screen all visitors and aides by taking their temperature, not to visit households with multiple people and to wear a mask when in the company of others. People in vulnerable categories must stay at least six feet away from others, and not take public transportation unless absolutely necessary, Cuomo said.

To the greatest extent possible, everyone in the presence of vulnerable people should wear a mask as well, the governor said.

For those who are not in the vulnerable group, another set of rules applies.

These include a ban on nonessential gatherings of any size for any reason, such as parties. At any essential gathering, social distancing must be in effect. This means staying at least six feet from others. Essential businesses must put in rules to maintain the six-feet standard. Outdoor recreation must be limited to non-contact activities. Commuters should limit the use of public transportation and must space themselves out by at least six feet. Sick people must not leave their homes except to go to medical appointments, and only after a telehealth appointment. Young people should try to limit their contact with vulnerable populations, even family members.

The governor said that as of Friday morning, there were 7,102 confirmed cases in New York State, an increase of 2,950 since yesterday. By far the greatest number of these are in New York City, with 4,408 cases, up 1,939 since yesterday. Some of the increase is due to increased testing, the governor said.

New York has the highest number of confirmed cases of the virus in the country. The closest second is Washington State, where there are 1,376 confirmed cases.

There have been 245,484 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide, with 10,031 deaths.

‘Here’s to 2020’: Brooklynites share one last round in the time of coronavirus

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By order of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Monday was the last night bars were allowed to be open in New York City due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. That evening, many establishments in Brooklyn were filled with customers trying to get in a final drink — despite warnings that social distancing was necessary in the time of COVID-19.

The Brooklyn Eagle went on a pub crawl to gauge the mood.

The Brazen Head bar owner Sasha Kotlyar, right, laughs with her bartender on the last night of service for the foreseeable future. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

The Brazen Head on Atlantic Avenue, not far from the Brooklyn House of Detention, was packed.

“I think people are just trying to get their last hurrah in,” Brazen Head’s owner Sasha Kotlyer told the Eagle.

“I don’t know how long we’re going to be closed for,” she said. The city keeps “putting out all these different releases, all these different mandates. There’s a lack of consistency and there’s no real communication.”

The Brazen Head bar owner Sasha Kotlyar on March 16, 2020, hours before she had to close the bar due to the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Andrew Cuomo previously ordered all bars and restaurants would have to close by 8 p.m. on the 16th. They could continue with takeout and delivery. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
The Brazen Head bar owner Sasha Kotlyar, hours before she had to close the bar due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

The bulk of the Brazen Head’s business comes from the courts and Downtown offices, and most of them are now closed.

“We have to lay off all ten of our employees, unfortunately,” Kotlyer said. “It’s just me and my GM and my assistant GM that are staying on board.”

A sign outside the bar Floyd in Brooklyn Heights. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Social workers Ben (who didn’t want to give his last name) and Paige McIalkcke were having a couple of beers at the Brazen Head Monday night.

“We both do community-based health care with medically frail people,” Ben said. The job requires them to wear masks, use Saniwipes and take other precautions even without the added stress from COVID-19.

A group sits at the bar while a man coughs into his sleeve at O’Keefe’s Bar and Grill on March 16, 2020, hours before it was to close due to the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Andrew Cuomo previously ordered all bars and restaurants would have to close by 8 p.m. on the 16th. They could continue with takeout and delivery. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
A group sits at the bar while a man coughs into his sleeve at O’Keefe’s Bar and Grill. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

“So … no vacation for us,” he said. “We wanted to have one last vent session at a bar before we got quarantined.”

“We still have work tomorrow so we can’t get too drunk,” Paige said.

The mood was sober (so to speak) at O’Keefe’s Bar on Court Street near Brooklyn Borough Hall.

“It’s frustrating because there’s no end date. And no one knows, do we have the resources to help?” said Crown Heights resident Haydn Long, sitting at the bar near the front.

Patron Hayden Long sits at the bar of O’Keefe’s in Downtown Brooklyn on March 16, 2020. Gov. Andrew Cuomo previously ordered all bars and restaurants would have to close by 8 p.m. on the 16th. They could continue with takeout and delivery. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Patron Hayden Long leans on the bar of O’Keefe’s in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

“Can I get unemployment? Are the landlords going to stop collecting rent? The markets are getting — wow. You hear capitalism, then you hear socialism … Maybe if we had health care right now,” he mused.

Long, the former general manager of Cent’anni, an Italian restaurant in Crown Heights, asked people to remember the restaurant owners.

“If you’re going to order from a restaurant, don’t use Seamless, don’t use Grubhub [because of] the fees that restaurants have to pay. Profit margins are so slim,” he said.

Someday Bar in Boerum Hill. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

The Someday Bar near Hoyt Street on Atlantic Avenue was full of last minute drinkers. Aaron Curran was enjoying a Finback Sour.

“I go to bars pretty much every night, but I have a lot of friends that work at bars so I’m kind of concerned what they’re going to do,” Curran said. “A friend of mine called and said he’s got at least eight weeks off, and a lot of people don’t have rent saved up months in advance.”

Aaron Curran drinks at the bar of Someday in Boerum Hill on March 16, 2020. Gov. Andrew Cuomo previously ordered all bars and restaurants would have to close by 8 p.m. on the 16th. They could continue with takeout and delivery. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Aaron Curran at The Someday Bar in Boerum Hill. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Curran said he’s currently doing bicycle delivery, “and since Thursday it’s been crazy busy. Maybe I’m going to figure out how to do deliver drinks, help my friends out.”

“Sometimes I feel bad because I’ve been going to bars every night to support my friends, and then I feel like I’ll read on Twitter that people were like, ‘Get out of the bars, go home.’ But I’m just trying to support people,” he said.

“I have no idea how we’re going to cope,” said Megan Rickerson, Someday’s owner. “I’m hoping that our landlord will understand with the rent. Any longer than a couple weeks I don’t really know, without some forgiveness, what we’re really going to be able to do.”

“We’re kind of worried that a lot of people are leaving the city. So who’s going to be left?” she said.

Owner of Someday Bar Megan Rickerson on March 16, 2020, the last night of service for her 8-month-old bar for the foreseeable future due to the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Andrew Cuomo previously ordered all bars and restaurants would have to close by 8 p.m. on the 16th. They could continue with takeout and delivery. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Owner of Someday Bar Megan Rickerson on the 8-month-old business’ last night of service. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Someday has only been open for eight months. “That’s why this is kind of devastating, because we just really started catching our stride,” Rickerson said. She added, “I had to lay off my kitchen yesterday. That was really hard because we are so close.”

Elizabeth Stemmer, who teaches in Crown Heights and lives in Boerum Hill, was sitting around the bar’s corner from Curran. She said she thought Cuomo and de Blasio were doing the right thing by closing the bars.

Owner of Someday Bar Megan Rickerson talks with patrons on March 16, 2020, the last night of service for her 8-month-old bar for the foreseeable future due to the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Andrew Cuomo previously ordered all bars and restaurants would have to close by 8 p.m. on the 16th. They could continue with takeout and delivery. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Owner of Someday Bar Megan Rickerson talks with patrons. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

“As a person in their 30s, I very much enjoy going out to the bars. But I’m also very much a fan of social distancing. I’m petrified of New York becoming the next Italy, the next Seattle. So I think this is the responsible thing to do. That being said, I fully believe in supporting my local businesses. I love this bar. The people at this bar, I want them to make it through this crisis, I want to support them in any way that I can in the most hygienic, responsible way that I can.”

She added, “It’s going to be great when we can come back, and we’re going to have the biggest party!”

Next to her, Curran raised his beer. “Here’s to 2020,” he said.

“Better to be drunk at the end” the sign outside the Brazen Head bar on Atlantic Avenue read on Monday night. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Coronavirus update: Brooklyn Hospital tent could be city’s screening model

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To prepare for an expected deluge of novel coronavirus cases, The Brooklyn Hospital Center in Fort Greene on Tuesday unveiled a new outdoor tent facility to pre-screen people for the virus.

This is the first such facility in Brooklyn, but more are expected to roll out in the coming days. (There are also drive through testing centers coming. The first in New York City will open in Staten Island within a few days.)

Borough President Eric Adams said that his office is identifying other sites in Brooklyn that could be converted to backup hospitals to handle the expected crush. These include the Brooklyn House of Detention on Atlantic Avenue, a Department of Education building on Livingston Street, the Armory in Bedford-Stuyvesant and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, along with other sites. The Aviator space at Floyd Bennet Field could add a heated tent as well, he said.

In addition, U.S. Rep. Max Rose, along with Reps. Nydia Velázquez, Tom Suozzi and Jose Serrano are calling for President Trump to deploy a naval hospital ship to New York City.

“We write to ask that you immediately ready the naval hospital ship USNS Comfort, currently retrofitted at Norfolk, VA for deployment to New York City in support of our city’s fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic,” the representatives wrote to the president. The Comfort contains 12 fully-equipped operating rooms, 1,000 hospital beds, lab facilities and an oxygen-producing plant.

Brooklyn Hospital Center, with Borough President Eric Adams, unveiled a new on-site tent facility on March 17, 2020 to screen patients who believe they have COVID-19. The pre-screening will help determine if the patients need to receive tests for the virus and will help with overcrowding in emergency rooms. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Brooklyn Hospital Center’s new pre-screening tent. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the number of confirmed cases in New York City had jumped to 814, and warned that city residents should prepare for a “shelter-in-place” order in the coming days. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who earlier said he might be open to the idea, shot it down for now, noting that only the governor has the power to make such a decision.

Funneling incoming patients through pre-screening tents like the one at Brooklyn Hospital will prevent hundreds of people with undetermined illnesses from flooding the emergency room, Adams and hospital officials said.

Brooklyn Hospital’s tent is connected to the emergency room, and patients who have severe symptoms, such as respiratory distress, will be sent straight through to the ER.

Gary Terrinoni, president and CEO of the hospital, said hospital staff was “literally working 24 hours, around the clock,” to prepare for incoming cases. “What was normal three weeks ago is not normal today,” he said.

Terrinoni said that the hospital is licensed for more than 400 beds, but typically uses less than 300. The cost of the coronavirus test would be handled like any other ER bill, Terrinoni said.

Brooklyn Hospital Center President and CEO Gary Terrinoni, with Borough President Eric Adams, unveiled a new on-site tent facility on March 17, 2020 to screen patients who believe they have COVID-19. The pre-screening will help determine if the patients need to receive tests for the virus and will help with overcrowding in emergency rooms. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Brooklyn Hospital Center President and CEO Gary Terrinoni. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Prescreening services at Brooklyn Hospital start Wednesday, and will be carried out by health care workers using tools such as remote thermometers. The hospital currently has the capacity for just 100 coronavirus tests a day, and the tent will not change that capacity.

Sylvie de Souza, chair of Emergency Medicine at the hospital, said the tent would be open from 8 a.m. to midnight every day.

Further innovations, such as remote pre-screen via telemedicine, are also needed in the face of the crisis, Adams said.

On Sunday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned the escalating COVID-19 cases could “crash like a wave” on hospitals lacking the capacity to handle them, unless people practice social distancing, hand washing and other practices, which could “smooth the curve.”

His health experts estimate peak coronavirus will come in roughly 45 days in New York, Cuomo said. Statewide, there is so far a 19 percent hospitalization rate.

Brooklyn Hospital Center, with Borough President Eric Adams, unveiled a new on-site tent facility on March 17, 2020 to screen patients who believe they have COVID-19. The pre-screening will help determine if the patients need to receive tests for the virus and will help with overcrowding in emergency rooms. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Inside the pre-screening tent. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Cuomo said the state is moving immediately to increase hospital surge capacity. The State Department of Health is suspending some regulations to allow existing hospitals to increase space. Cuomo has also called on the Trump administration to throw the full powers of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers into converting SUNY university dorms and government facilities into hospitals.

“I spoke with the president yesterday. He is ready, willing and able to help,” Cuomo said. “I put my hand out in partnership with the president … I think he is 100 percent sincere in saying he wants to work together.”

Of the 814 confirmed cases in New York City, 157 are in Brooklyn, 248 are in Queens, 277 in Manhattan, 96 in the Bronx and 36 are in Staten Island. Seven people in the city have died so far.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams unveiled a new on-site tent facility at Brooklyn Hospital Center on Tuesday to screen patients who believe they have COVID-19. Photo: Mary Frost
Inside the COVID-19 pre-screening tent. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

Cuomo open to ‘shelter in place’ order, expects coronavirus to peak in 45 days

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo told New Yorkers on Tuesday that “the buck stops on my desk” as he laid out the state’s plan, and to some extent, the region’s plan, for combatting the novel coronavirus.

Experts have predicted the COVID-19 outbreak will peak in 45 days, Cuomo said, setting an unprecedented deadline for creating thousands of new hospital beds to handle the expected influx of patients with acute respiratory illness.

Asked whether he would consider implementing a “shelter in place” order, like the one put into effect in six California counties last night, Cuomo said he’s “resistant to nothing.”

“Just yesterday we took very, very dramatic steps,” he said, referring to the statewide order to shutter restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. “The curve is not flattening to a level we can sustain. Which would suggest that we’re going to take even more efforts to flatten the curve. That’s what we’re exploring now. It is likely that we’re going to take more steps to slow the spread by reducing the density.”

Cuomo went on to say that before imposing a shelter in place order in New York, he would first shut down other non-essential workplaces where people congregate.

The governor called for national unity at this historic moment, saying, “We’re not Democrats, we’re not Republicans, we’re Americans at the end of the day.”

A health care system under duress

After years of cutbacks, there are only 53,000 hospital beds in the state, including just 3,000 of the all-important Intensive Care Unit beds, of which 80 percent are currently occupied.

With the state’s current hospitalization rate for people infected with the virus somewhere between 15 and 19 percent, Cuomo projected New York would need between 55,000 to 110,000 additional hospital beds to handle the outbreak, and of these, 18,600 to 37,200 must be ICU beds.

ICU beds come with ventilators and other equipment, and “ventilators are very hard to get,” Cuomo said, due to demand from other parts of the world battling the virus.

The state is taking two tacks to reduce the stress on its health care system. The first is to “flatten the curve” with “dramatic closings to reduce density,” Cuomo said.

“If we can’t reduce the flow, we need to reduce the spread,” of patients coming in over time, he said.

He said New York is coordinating restaurant, bar and business closings with nearby states to reduce the number of people traveling across state lines to crowd into nightspots and other venues.

The region will also be coordinating other measures in the future to maintain a uniform approach, the governor said.

Build hospitals. Fast.

Warning that the number of novel coronavirus cases would soon “crash like a wave” on hospitals lacking the capacity to handle them, Cuomo said the state is moving immediately to increase hospital surge capacity. The State Department of Health is suspending some regulations to allow existing hospitals to increase space. Hospitals are hiring more staff, and New York is embarking on an all-out effort to build temporary hospitals and health sites.

The state will organize the National Guard and is working with building unions and private developers to find existing facilities — such as college dormitories and former nursing homes — that can be converted to backup medical facilities. Some facilities will be built inside tents, such as a testing center debuting on Tuesday at the Brooklyn Hospital Center.

Cuomo has appointed Greater New York Hospital Association President Ken Raske and Northwell Health President Michael Dowling to lead a council to develop hospital surge capacity. They will be meeting Tuesday, he said.

Cuomo has also called on the Trump administration to throw the full powers of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers into converting SUNY university dorms and government facilities into hospitals.

“I spoke with the president yesterday. He is ready, willing and able to help,” Cuomo said. “I put my hand out in partnership with the president … I think he is 100 percent sincere in saying he wants to work together.”

Cuomo said these times “are a character test for all of us.”

He quoted Rudyard Kipling: “‘What did you do at that moment when all around you lost their heads?’ What does government do? It does what it’s supposed to do, better than before. It does not engage in politics, even at a moment in history that is hyper-political.”

So far 10,000 people have been tested in New York State, and roughly 1,300 have tested positive, an increase of 432 since the last figures reported. About 19 percent of those testing positive have required hospitalization, and 12 people have died.

As of 10:30 a.m. on March 17, there are 644 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New York City.

Cuomo warns coronavirus ‘wave’ threatens hospitals, calls for federal help

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Saying that the number of novel coronavirus cases would soon “crash like a wave” on hospitals lacking the capacity to handle them, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on the Trump administration to throw the full powers of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers into converting SUNY university dorms and government facilities into hospitals with thousands of additional beds.

Only the federal government has the capacity for such a massive construction job, Cuomo said.

“We are looking at a new war that no one has seen before. We have never fought a virus like this, with this potential consequence,” he told reporters at the Sunday press conference, who were seated more than six feet apart from each other to reduce their chances of spreading the coronavirus.

Cuomo said the government must “assume you can’t reduce the size of the wave, and assume the wave breaks at a higher level than hospitals can accommodate.

“If you have too high a number of people sick at the same time, when they descend on the hospital system, they will overwhelm the hospital system,” he said. “That’s the issue here, overwhelming the hospital system. And that, my friends, is important.”

New York State has roughly 53,000 hospital beds, with only just over 3,000 of them being intensive care unit beds. These ICU beds are presently 80 percent occupied, Cuomo said, leaving only several hundred ICU beds available for the whole state.

“People who come in, they need the ICU bed, they need the ventilators … the overwhelming crush is going to be on the ICU beds. Three thousand goes very quickly,” he warned.

There has also been “a global run on ventilators,” he said. “You can’t find them no matter how much you’re willing to pay right now.”

New York State, which has the highest number of confirmed cases in the country, has only several weeks to increase its hospital capacity, Cuomo estimated. The administration is reaching out to medical schools — like SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn — and seeking retired workers to build up a reserve staff.

In New York State, 729 people have tested positive as of Sunday morning, and 65 of them are in ICUs already, the governor said. Of these, 46 have been intubated. Three people have died in the state, the latest a 79-year-old woman who lived in New York City who had other pre-existing medical conditions, Cuomo said.

There were 269 confirmed cases of the virus in New York City as of noon Sunday, an increase of 83 cases since 10 a.m. Saturday. 

The numbers jump not only every day, but twice a day, in part because of rapid spread and in part because of increased testing. On Saturday, two state Assemblymembers from Brooklyn, Helene Weinstein and Charles Barron, said they had tested positive for the virus.

A growing number of officials are calling for a citywide shutdown of all non-essential services, such as bars and restaurants, in response to the continued rise of confirmed cases.

The Army Corp of Engineers “can construct or retrofit any building, acquire thousands of pieces of equipment like this — snap, snap, snap!” Cuomo said, snapping his fingers. “The state can’t do that. I don’t have the physical capacity to turn SUNY dorms into hospitals in three weeks. The Army Corp of Engineers, they build bridges, camps, have tens of thousands of personnel … Their capacity is amazing. And what better time to use these resources, as a massive military machine to save lives.”

Cuomo said the state is trying to “flatten the curve” so the health care system doesn’t get slammed all at once. He is asking businesses and individuals to use social distancing, has banned large gatherings, ordered restaurants and bars to operate at half capacity, and is encouraging all who can to work from home.

He is also pushing for more automated coronavirus testing. “It can’t just be a couple of companies. We need more.”

Cuomo said he wrote an open letter to President Donald Trump, saying, “We know what’s going to happen, look at China, South Korea, Italy, and plot the numbers. We are now looking at a wave … that at any projection will overwhelm us.

“We will be sitting here in nine or ten weeks seeing the health care system overrun, saying, “We knew this was going to happen, why didn’t we do everything we need to make this a reality?” he said.

“I hope he takes me up on it,” Cuomo added.