Brooklyn Navy Yard companies accelerate coronavirus PPE production, inspire others worldwide

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In late March, companies at the Brooklyn Navy Yard heard New York’s call to action, transforming their facilities virtually overnight to produce personal protection equipment for the battle against the coronavirus.

CEOs Michael Bednark of Bednark Studio and Mike Duggal of Duggal Visual Solutions teamed up and began producing desperately-needed plastic face shields for health care workers.

On Tuesday, Duggal’s Vice President Marc Lovci called the Brooklyn Eagle’s “special local reporting” of this effort “an inspiration that we believe triggered journalists around the world to cover and hopefully inspire the same action to happen in their communities.”

Now Duggal and Bednark have news which they shared exclusively with their “hometown paper.”

To help meet growing demand, the companies have accelerated production of the PPE by 25 percent. Starting with 65 volunteer employees, the team has grown to 200 and is producing 25,000 to 30,000 face shields each day, seven days a week.

“We have produced over 260,000 face shields as part of an initial order totaling 480,000,” Duggal told the Eagle via email. “Over 600 additional units have been donated and 5,000 rush units delivered directly to local facilities in dire need of PPE.”

The facility has expanded to intubation boxes in addition to face shields. These are used to block aerosol or fluid transmission when intubating a contagious COVID-19 patient.

Production is running seven days a week “thanks to the many staff and volunteers who exemplify what it means to be New York strong,” Duggal said. “They are making the choice to travel and volunteer to work in support of healthcare workers—heroes helping heroes.”

Duggal said the companies’ efforts are “inspiring and giving hope beyond what we could have imagined.”

Since the story first broke, “We have been featured by news networks and newspapers across the U.S. and as far away as Germany, France, England and Brazil,” Duggal said.

Cuomo says new coronavirus antibody test could be key to getting New York back to work

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday that the state Department of Health has developed a test for serum antibodies to the novel coronavirus, “which means you’re no longer contagious and you can’t catch it.”

While experts have said that those who recover from the coronavirus will most likely be immune, at least in the short-term, it’s not yet known how long that immunity will last.

The antibody test, and a separate 15-minute test for infection with the virus, are the key to getting people back to work in the future, Cuomo told reporters.

The issue now is developing the tests at a large enough scale for the state’s 19 million people, Cuomo said. The state has only enough serum test capacity to test 50,000 people so far, and will be offering investment capital to private companies who want to develop it on a mass basis.

State DOH Commissioner Howard Zucker said the test was developed at the state’s Wadsworth Labs, and New York would have to work with the FDA to get approval before production could be scaled up.

While there are other serum antibody tests out there, New York has developed a version that measures just Immunoglobulin G, which indicates the infection has resolved, Zucker said.

Other tests measure both Immunoglobulin G and Immunoglobulin M, which is present in the blood when a person is still fighting an infection. Last week the FDA approved on an expedited basis a test made by the company Cellex, which detects both the G and M immunoglobulin types. Zucker said that this type of test would not be able to distinguish whether the individual still had the infection or had recovered.

Cuomo said the effort to restart the economy will be carried out as a tri-state effort with New Jersey and Connecticut.

As of Tuesday morning, New York City reported 72,324 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 3,202 deaths. Broken down by boroughs there were 24,115 confirmed cases in Queens, 19,499 in Brooklyn, 14,421 in the Bronx, 10,098 in Manhattan and 4,154 in Staten Island.

The number of cases and deaths statewide surged to 139,836 confirmed cases and 5,489 deaths after a dip over the weekend.

Cuomo extends coronavirus PAUSE order, bashes New York City rule breakers

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended the state’s PAUSE mandate on Monday, ordering all nonessential workers to stay home until April 29. He also bashed New York City residents who congregated outside over the sunny weekend, breaking coronavirus social distancing rules.

While today’s figures give some hope that a plateau in novel coronavirus cases may be near, “This is an enemy we have underestimated from day one” and it is too soon to get back to work, the governor said during his noon press conference on Monday

“Hong Kong and South Korea made that mistake. We’re not going to make that mistake,” Cuomo added.

In New York City, 72,181 confirmed COVID-19 cases have been reported as of Monday morning, up by 4,630 since Sunday. Statewide, 130,689 cases have been reported, and 4,758 people have died. There are 16,837 people hospitalized in New York state, with 4,504 in intensive care units.

The statistics have been “effectively flat for two days,” the governor said, and the number of people hospitalized over the weekend decreased from Friday’s admission figures. Not enough time has passed to declare it a trend, however.

The federal government is aiding the city by providing an additional 2,500 beds at Javits Center for COVID-19 patients, originally set aside to handle non-COVID-19 patients. Cuomo is also requesting the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort transition from treating non-COVID-19 patients to treating patients with the disease, something the Navy initially said it would not do.

Cuomo said that New Yorkers breaking social distancing rules will be slapped with more expensive fines, which he is increasing from $500 to $1,000.

“There has been a laxness in social distancing, especially last weekend, that is not acceptable,” Cuomo fumed. Pointing out that people in health care fields are taking enormous risks as thousands are hospitalized with COVID-19, Cuomo said, “Show some discipline for other people.”

The police have been visiting restaurants, bars, supermarkets, salons and public spaces like parks to remind people of the ban on congregating. During these checks from Friday morning to Saturday morning, NYPD issued 17 summonses and made two arrests.

From Saturday morning to Sunday morning, however, cops didn’t issue any summonses or make any arrests for social distancing violations.

Summonses have been issued to both business owners and individuals, an NYPD spokesperson told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday.

A video posted on Facebook showed police blaring their sirens at a crowded funeral procession in Borough Park, Brooklyn, for a Hasidic Jewish rabbi who died of the coronavirus.

The funeral was held for 78-year-old Rabbi Meir Rokeachwas, and another crowded funeral procession packed Borough Park’s streets later that same day, according to the New York Post. No tickets were handed out, however.

Another packed funeral was held in Williamsburg, and footage was posted on Twitter. Again no tickets were handed out.

When asked about these large gatherings, Cuomo told reporters he didn’t care “if you’re Jewish, Catholic, it’s a question of social distancing.”

NYPD reported that as of Friday, 6,698 uniformed members of the NYPD were out sick, a figure that represents 18.5 percent of the department’s uniformed workforce. As of Monday, 1,775 uniformed members and 260 civilian employees have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Coronavirus cases are overwhelming Brooklyn’s VA hospital, nurses say

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Nurses at the Brooklyn VA Medical Center say the Bay Ridge hospital is dangerously overloaded with COVID-19 patients and the system is near a breaking point.

RNs in the intensive care unit say they are trying to care for as many as five coronavirus patients at one time, when the standard is one or two. Patients on ventilators need constant monitoring, and ICU nurses must turn and clean patients as they are unable to so themselves.

Nurses also say that health care providers don’t have enough masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment.

The nurses plan to hold a protest outside the hospital Monday evening during shift change, the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United said in a statement.

“We are only able to provide the very basic level of care and it’s just subpar care to the patients with a five-to-one ratio,” said Maria Lobifaro, a registered nurse in the intensive care unit and a union steward. Lobifaro said she objected when she was pressured by management to care for a sixth intubated patient on a recent shift.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs issued their coronavirus response plan in March.

The Brooklyn Eagle has reached out to the hospital for comment on the situation.

In March, the VA directed that New York City veterans who need hospitalization with the novel coronavirus be sent to the Brooklyn VA. Max Rose, a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, had urged the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to drastically increase capacity at the medical center.

“With the Brooklyn VA preparing to be the central treatment center for New York City veterans who contract the coronavirus, we need to make sure that the facility is fully prepared for the influx,” he said in March.

VA New York Harbor announced last month it would open 50 beds to non-veterans after Rose urged hospitals to begin accepting civilian patients.

According to the VA’s coronavirus webpage, The Brooklyn VA Medical Center as of Sunday, April 5, was caring for 85 inpatient and 115 outpatient COVID-19 patients. The Bronx VA center had 38 inpatient and 126 outpatient COVID-19 cases.

The VA said in 2017 it would be the eliminating full hospital services at the medical center — a move that was squelched after political intervention.

Shopping in the time of coronavirus: Brooklynites share their grocery and takeout sterilizing methods

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Most New Yorkers have to go shopping outside their home for food and groceries during the novel coronavirus pandemic, taking the chance of contaminating themselves, their families and their apartments.

The National Institute of Health says coronavirus can live on cardboard for an hour, and on plastic or metal surfaces for three days, so care needs to be taken to disinfect groceries and takeout.

Some Brooklyn residents have shared with us their methods for disinfecting their groceries and food deliveries. Visit the CDC website ( first, then check out these tips from your neighbors:

Don’t forget the dog

Kate Chura, executive director of the Montague Street BID, says she’s always left her shoes outside her apartment. To that she has now added the packaging from her shopping.

“I wipe down everything before it crosses the threshold,” she said. “Wipes and a box cutter are on my welcome mat. Even my dog Wiley gets [an] all-four-paw-cleaning after a walk.”

One-glove method

Brooklyn Heights resident Beverly Closs has developed an ingenious “one-glove” system for shopping without actually touching any groceries.

“I go to Peas and Pickles [aka All In One Market, on Pineapple Walk] at midnight. There is usually one person shopping and four cops hanging around inside. I wear a mask and only one glove,” she said. “My gloved hand picks the groceries. My ungloved hand is in my pocket, always, holding my keys and the money. I bring my own plastic bag and tell the cashier to throw the change in the bag. When I get to my apartment, I leave the bag outside the apartment door, use my gloved hand to take out the groceries and change. I wash the items, throw out the bag and wash my hands.”

Brooklyn Heights resident Beverly Closs has developed an ingenious “one-glove” system for shopping without actually touching any groceries. Photo: Courtesy of Beverly Closs
Brooklyn Heights resident Beverly Closs has developed an ingenious “one-glove” system for shopping without actually touching any groceries. Photo: Courtesy of Beverly Closs

She explained why she just wears one glove.

“My theory is that if you put your gloved hand in your pocket, you are contaminating your pocket and keys. I also don’t bring my phone to minimize contamination. Also, the ungloved hand can unzip my jacket without contamination,” Closs said.

Leave it for three days

Cobble Hill resident Lynn Gordon has also put a lot of thought into her disinfection method.

“First of all, any item that isn’t perishable stays in the bag for up to three days. Same for packages delivered. I leave them downstairs after accepting them, go upstairs and wash my hands, and don’t touch them again for three days,” she told the Eagle. “Mail, too.”

“For perishables, I wipe them down with sanitizing wipes. The wipes actually expired a few months ago so even though they’re still wet they might not as potent. So I boost their sanitizing power by adding a little bit of the worst smelling ‘wintergreen’ isopropyl alcohol,” Gordon said. (The wintergreen variety was all that was available.) “Anything that wouldn’t do well with alcohol on it but can withstand plain old soap and water (apples, lemons, potatoes) gets washed with that.”

Cut back to once a week

Councilmember Stephen Levin told the Brooklyn Eagle that his family shops for groceries only about about once a week to limit exposure.

“And yes, we’ve been using Clorox hydrogen peroxide wipes to wipe them down,” he added.

Disinfect doorknobs and light switches

Lara Birnback, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, says she has started wearing gloves when going shopping, and may be making a homemade mask if she can’t find an official one.

Mayor Bill de Blasio urged New Yorkers on Thursday to begin wearing a face covering like a scarf or a bandana when they leave their homes. The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the White House is said to be considering advising all Americans to start wearing masks or some sort of ad hoc facial covering.

“I haven’t been truly sanitizing anything from the store but washing my hands carefully many many times a day,” she said. She said she tries to wipe down her phone “a lot” and Lysols her doorknobs and light switches.

When shopping for seniors

Will Hasty, a Brooklyn Heights resident, is shopping for his parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hasty is following recommendations he got from cousins and family friends who are doctors, he told the Eagle.

He keeps an extra set of clothes in his house’s front vestibule. “I treat it like an airlock,” he said. When he gets back from shopping, “I disrobe, drop the outside clothes into a container and take it to the washing machine.”

Hasty uses sterile wipes to disinfect the shopping bags’ handles before he brings them inside. “Inside the house, I wipe every container and put the groceries in a separate, sterile bag to give to my older parents,” he said.

He leaves the newly filled bags in the elevator bank in his parents’ building. “I’m in quarantine. They pick them up.”

Hasty wears a mask and gloves as well, he said. Since masks are scarce, he cleans and reuses his. To clean the mask, he sprays it with Lysol and puts it in a plastic bag for awhile.

Imagine your groceries are covered with glitter

Councilmember Laurie Cumbo has shared a YouTube video put together by Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, a family medicine specialist in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Dr. VanWingen says to imagine your groceries are covered with glitter, and your goal is to not get glitter all over your house, on your hands or especially on your face. Disinfectants and soap have the power to dissolve that glitter.

His tips include:

– Wipe down your shopping cart
– Commit to buying an item before you pick it up.
– Don’t go shopping if you are sick or have been exposed.
– Get two weeks worth of groceries at a time.
– Before you go out shopping, sanitize your table or counter and mark off half where you will put the “dirty” items and half where you will only place disinfected items.

Dr. VanWingen throws out unnecessary cardboard packaging, like cereal boxes. He washes fruit for 20 seconds in soapy water, and he lets it soak a bit for good measure.

For takeout food, “Be more concerned about the wrappers than the food,” he sad. Unwrap the food and dump it on the plate without letting it touch the outside of the wrapper.

Heat destabilizes some forms of coronavirus, so choose hot takeout foods over cold foods, and go ahead and reheat them in the microwave. Some coronaviruses can survive frozen up to two years, so scrub down the outside of the ice cream container before you put it in the freezer.

New York City has leased at least 20 hotels to deal with the coronavirus hospital surge

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New York City has leased at least 20 entire hotels to convert into hospitals as the novel coronavirus crisis builds to an expected apex this month. The move is aimed at adding 10,000 beds to the city’s capacity.

Numerous hospitals have reached their maximum capacity already, and patients are being moved to less busy facilities, some as far away as upstate New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at his Thursday press conference.

As of Thursday, 51,809 people in New York City have tested positive for the virus, with 13,383 hospitalized and, of these, 3,396 in the ICU; 2,373 people have died.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday, “A huge number of hotels have become available to the city of New York and, literally, we can go in and lease an entire hotel building, and we can do that dozens and dozens and dozens of times until we get to the point that we have all the beds we need.”

The hotel hospitals will care for people who are recovering but not well enough to leave the hospital, Dr. Mitchell Katz, CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, said.

Specific hotels have not yet been named.

“We so far have secured 10,000 beds and 20 hotels and we believe that the capacity is there,” Katz said. The city will convert entire floors into hospital wards, build out nursing stations near elevator banks and equip the rooms. The next challenge is getting the staffing and equipment necessary in all the facilities, he added.

The city will likely pay the bill and then pass the costs on to FEMA.

Healthcare workers are also being housed in hotels across the city. This strategy is spreading across the country as COVID-19 moves from the coasts inward.

According to Bloomberg News, Aimbridge Hospitality, the largest operator of Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt hotels, announced a deal with Trestle Health and Housing to make more than 700 U.S. hotels with 103,000 rooms available as surge capacity for hospitals and municipalities.

Heather Roiter, the head of hazard mitigation at the city’s Office of Emergency Management, told Bloomberg that workers with COVID-19 symptoms can quarantine in the rooms, “with separate spaces for asymptomatic healthcare workers who want to guard against passing infections to family members.”

An employee of the Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge told the Brooklyn Eagle that healthcare workers were currently being housed at the Downtown Brooklyn hotel.

Trestle and Aimbridge will be charging from $69 a night for a room at the Doubletree in Beaverton, Oregon, to $106 a night for the Hilton in Chelsea — cheaper than the typical cost for a stay in a New York City hotel.


How many hospital beds are coming on line?

– The city started with 20,000 staffed hospital beds before the coronavirus crisis began. The same hospitals are adding 10,000 beds within their existing facilities.

– The hotels leased by the city are expected to add an additional 10,000 hospital beds.

– The Javits Center currently has 1,000 medical surgical beds available, with another 1,500 medical surgical beds to come in late April.

– Samaritan’s Purse located in Central Park will support Mount Sinai. There will be 65 beds, 10 intensive care units and 55 medical surgical beds within 24 to 48 hours.

– The Navy’s Comfort ship located in Western Manhattan has 750 medical and surgical beds and a crew of physicians and nurses.

– H+H facilities on Roosevelt Island is opening up 240 medical surgical beds.

– The National Tennis Center located in Corona, Queens will take care of up to 350 medical and surgical beds.

– The Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook will house up to 750 medical and surgical beds that will go up in mid-April.

In total, plans are in place to raise the city’s total number of hospital beds from 20,000 to 44,655 to cope with the pandemic.

Cuomo to shut down every playground in New York City to combat coronavirus

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday that he is shutting down every playground in New York City because of noncompliance with social distancing rules put in place to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Cuomo has been warning park goers for weeks that this might come to pass, as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise and hospitals have come to resemble war zones.

Following a visit to Prospect Park in Brooklyn in mid March, Cuomo slammed the number of “insensitive, arrogant, disrespectful” people jamming into the playgrounds and nearby farmer’s market.

“There were all sorts of kids playing basketball … You can’t stay six feet away while playing basketball,” he fumed.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has also been warning New Yorkers that the playgrounds might be shuttered. The city said earlier this week that it was removing the basketball hoops from 22 playgrounds due to repeated infractions, but refrained from closing the rest of the city’s playgrounds at that time.

Cuomo said that open spaces and parks would still be open for use, as long as people keep their distance.

A sign at Brooklyn Bridge Park warns that team sports and close contact in parks is forbidden during the coronavirus pandemic. Mayor de Blasio said Tuesday if people can’t keep at least six feet apart, he might move to shut down playgrounds. Photo: Mary Frost/ Brooklyn Eagle
A sign at Brooklyn Bridge Park warns that team sports and close contact in parks is forbidden during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Mary Frost/ Brooklyn Eagle

The number of coronavirus cases rose across the state by more than 10 percent to 83,712 on Wednesday, Cuomo said during his regular press conference. New York City has 47,439 cases, with 12,226 people hospitalized  and 3,022 in intensive care. At least 1,941 people in New York state have died, he said.

Cuomo described various models for predicting peak coronavirus cases and the projected number of deaths. One model, based on limited social distancing, predicts an apex at the end of April, with 110,000 hospital beds and 37,000 ventilators needed for COVID-19 patients.

Another model shows that high compliance with social distancing could result in a need for only 75,000 hospital beds and 25,000 ventilators at the apex.

The Gates Foundation projects that the death toll could hit 16,000 in New York state and 93,000 nationwide, the governor said.

City map breaks down positive coronavirus tests by ZIP code

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The New York City Department of Health has released a map showing the percentage of tests for the novel coronavirus that came back positive in each ZIP code across the city as of March 31.

In Brooklyn, the neighborhoods with the highest percentage of patients testing positive include Williamsburg, Bushwick, Borough Park, Bensonhurst, Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Canarsie, East New York, New Lots and Ocean Hill. In these neighborhoods, from 58 to 77 percent of those tested were positive for COVID-19.

This doesn’t mean that 58 to 77 percent of people living in these neighborhoods have the disease, since the city is, in general, only testing  people whose condition is so serious they require hospitalization.

The Brooklyn neighborhoods with the lowest percentage of tests conducted that came back positive include Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Downtown Brooklyn, Park Slope, Greenpoint, parts of Coney Island and Seagate. In these neighborhoods, 25 to 44 percent of people tested were positive for coronavirus.

Since the city hasn’t released a breakdown of how many are are hospitalized by ZIP code, it’s hard to know what percentage of the population in each neighborhood has the disease.

The map also lacks data on the total number of tests given in each neighborhood.

In general, the neighborhoods with the highest percentages of positive tests tend to have fewer resources than those with the lowest percentage of positives. A 2008 NYC DOH study on the city’s risk from influenza pandemics found that low-income populations may be more vulnerable to pandemics than other groups because they are more likely to experience crowded living conditions and workplaces, and to depend upon public transportation. They are also subject to disparities in underlying conditions and in treatment once the condition has developed.


Brooklyn ZIP code key:
ZIP codes with the highest percentage of COVID-19 positives:
11211 – Williamsburg; 11237 – Bushwick; 11219 – Borough Park; 11230 – Bensonhurst; 11225 and 11213 – Crown Heights; 11203 – East Flatbush; 11236 – Canarsie; 11239 – East New York; 11233 – Ocean Hill; 11208 – East New York/New Lots.

ZIP codes with the lowest percentage of COVID-19 positives:
11201 – Brooklyn Heights / Downtown; 11215 – Park Slope; 11224 – Seagate, parts of Coney Island.

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.