As the coronavirus outbreak and response continue to escalate, we wanted to keep you as informed as possible about what we are doing to keep people safe and healthy, and also how we can work together (virtually) as neighbors to help out. I know it’s really hard to balance the urgency & anxiety we are all feeling at this moment, especially knowing that things are going to get worse in the coming days. I remain deeply grateful for the solidarity and thoughtfulness of this community in times of crisis.

Updates:

As of our most recent information, there are 95 confirmed cases in New York City, including 24 in Brooklyn (with 22 of the overall 95 currently hospitalized). 

Locally, a parent at P.S. 107 was diagnosed with COVID-19 after being in the school last week. Assembly Member Robert Carroll and I spoke with DOE officials, urging them to at least temporarily close the school today. Given that they did not heed our plea, we issued a statement to the school community expressing our support for parents and staff who decided not to come in. I dropped by the school this morning to say thank you to the staff who did come in today to support the 25% of students who were in school (PS 107 happens to be where my kids went to elementary school, and being there reminded me how immensely grateful I am for our public schools, as places not only of academic education but also the kind of social and emotional learning that build the solidarity we need in times like these). 

The decision to close NYC schools rests with the Mayor and the DOE. We have urged the Mayor to close schools in a thoughtful way to balance the need to keep students fed and cared for while encouraging the social distancing that will slow the spread of the virus. In the meantime, if you are inclined and able, you may keep your kids at home without fear that absences will affect admissions policies. 

Yesterday I released a letter along with Council Member Ritchie Torres from a group of doctors at the City’s hospitals, jails, clinics, and shelters urging the City to turn schools into community support centers, postpone non-essential court proceedings, stop arresting people for low-level offenses, release pretrial detainees over 60, and more steps to both slow the spread and support vulnerable populations. I’ve supported calls on the state to implement a moratorium on evictions and paid sick leave statewide, and am calling for an emergency assistance fund for families and small businesses. 

The situation is changing rapidly. Yesterday, the Mayor declared a state of emergency in NYC. The Governor has issued a containment zone in New Rochelle, which is an epicenter of cases. Large gatherings of all kinds have been cancelled. 

You can follow updates from the City at nyc.gov/coronavirus, and from the State here. You can sign up for updates from the city by texting COVID to 692-692. 

The public health advice largely remains the same: wash your hands, avoid large crowds, stay home if you are sick, telecommute if possible, and call your doctor if your symptoms worsen. 

If you or a loved one is sick: Stay home, and call your doctor. Health care professionals expect that 80% of people who get the virus will get better on their own after a few days. If your symptoms worsen, call 311 to get routed to a healthcare provider, or (especially if you would have been inclined to go, for example, to the emergency room at NYP Brooklyn Methodist Hospital) call the New York Presbyterian Hospital hotline at: 646-697-4000. 

As hospitals prepare to be overwhelmed with people seeking care, it is critical that their resources and energy are going to those who need it most. Let’s all do our part to make sure the “worried well” are not inhibiting their ability to care for those most in need. 

Steps we can take together: 

Thanks to so many of you who sent ideas and questions in response to our email earlier this week. We were heartened by how many of you wanted to help your elderly neighbors, and shared concerns about local businesses and service workers.

Caring for Our Seniors: 

We know that many people are concerned about the increased risk to older people. Here are the CDC’s recommendations for higher-risk populations. Next week, we plan to host a video conference call for people who want advice about family caregiving and supporting seniors with Judy Willig from Heights and Hills Senior Center. Stay tuned for more details on that. 

We are also working with Heights and Hills to set up a program to plug volunteers into check-in calls and possibly food delivery to support isolated seniors. Sign up here if you want to volunteer to help get meals to home-bound seniors or make calls to check in on people and dispel isolation.

Caring for Our Children: 

Susan Fox from Park Slope Parents sent around a very helpful list of thoughtful ways to approach talking with your kids. If there is interest, we can organize a separate video call for next week with Susan to share tips on how to talk to children about the virus and the disruptions to everyday life, and to share tips and resources for keeping kids learning and occupied during this time. More details coming soon.

Supporting Small Businesses:

Like many of you, my staff and I are very worried about the impact of social distancing on the much-beloved small businesses in our community. The City has announced emergency loans and grants to small businesses, find out more here. 

The 5th Avenue BID had to cancel their annual and wonderful “Taste of Fifth” fundraiser, which usually fills Grand Prospect Hall with hundreds of us eating delicious food from dozens of local restaurants. The BID is still raising money for local PTAs and non-profits, go here to donate. 

If you are thinking about getting books, toys, and necessities for your family during time at home, please consider buying local. If you are a small business owner and have other ideas about how the community can help, please reply to this email and we’ll help spread the word.

Emergency Assistance for Families:

Families seeking emergency assistance for evictions, food, rent or utilities should call 311 to get referred to legal assistance, food pantries, cash assistance, and SNAP/food stamp applications. The Hebrew Free Loan Society has interest-free loans of up to $5,000 for all lower-income New Yorkers facing financial challenges caused by the coronavirus outbreak that can be used for making up lost wages or paying for childcare or medical expenses. Details here

Additional resources (which we will keep adding to): 

Centers for Disease Control: Most up-to-date information.

NYC Health and Hospitals: Nursing home and patient visitor policy

Domestic Workers Alliance: How to be a fair employer during coronavirus.

Please do what you can to stay safe and sane in these very anxious times. I’m finding that Prospect Park remains a very beautiful place for a walk, where you can practice social distancing and spend time alone or with family or a friend. 

We’ve got a long way to go, and the next few weeks are going to be hard ones. But it is still by working together (even if more virtually than usual), supporting those who are most vulnerable, looking out for loved ones and neighbors, and building social solidarity, that we are going to get through them.