The messy rollout
As the country continues to grapple
with the ramifi cations of a violent
attempted coup on the Capitol, we
haven’t been able to put a pause on our ongoing
battle with the COVID-19 pandemic.
We must remember that this virus has run
rampant all over the country at the present
time for almost a year now. The second wave
that began in November is now killing at a rate
of more than 3,000 people a day nationwide,
including another 164 in New York state alone
The hope we cling to is the advent of the
COVID-19 vaccine, which fi nally became
available in New York on Dec. 14, 2020, one
month from Thursday. Governor Andrew
Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have pointed
the fi nger at one another for the slow overall
vaccination rate in New York City, which went
up just a bit in the last week.
More people than ever are now eligible to get
the vaccine. The process began with high-risk
healthcare workers and nursing home residents/
staff getting the fi rst priority. Then, on Monday,
more essential workers — from police offi cers
to teachers — were added to the priority list.
Tuesday marked new guidance from the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
All persons 65 and older, and people with
compromised immune systems, are now
eligible to receive the vaccine.
It sounds too good to be true — and in
this case, it is.
Now, more than 7 million people are eligible
to receive the vaccine — but Cuomo pointed out
that the federal government only provides about
300,000 doses to New York state a week. At the
current rate, these New Yorkers likely won’t be
fully immunized until about July — then the
rest of the state would be eligible.
Coinciding with the CDC guideline change,
the Trump administration also authorized the
release of millions of vaccine doses held in
reserve which were to be the second of the two
shots each patient needs to be fully immunized.
That potentially solves one problem, but
creates another; will the government be able
to secure enough doses from Pfi zer and Moderna
to ensure that everyone gets both shots
within 21 to 28 days?
The incoming Biden administration will
likely change the direction of the vaccination
policy, hopefully for a plan that’s more
consistent and effi cient.
But the complications caused by this messy
vaccine rollout on the city, state and federal
levels will only delay our ability to recover
from this virus and fi nally work to rebuild.
isn’t the only health
concern for New
Yorkers at Rikers
BY KEITH POWERS AND
REVEREND KEVIN VAN HOOK
There is a long list of New Yorkers
who have been devastated by the
COVID-19 crisis: essential workers,
the working poor, and parents struggling to
juggle remote school with their own work,
to name a few.
Yet often lost in the conversation is how
the pandemic has impacted justice-involved
individuals. Not only do those cycling in and
out of jail face an extraordinary high-risk of
contracting the virus as they sit in inhumane
facilities where social distancing is impossible
and access to health basics are scarce,
the pathway to stability and success upon
release has become even more daunting.
Jails are hotspots for COVID-19. At the
height of the pandemic, Rikers Island had an
infection rate that was approximately four to
fi ve times higher thancity and state averages.
We cannot let lack of testing stop our fellow
New Yorkers from reuniting with friends and
family or fi nding stable housing due to the
fear of the disease, or worse, increased infection
rates. Just one day without a place to stay
can spell disaster and lead to homelessness.
The City needs to take action now to ensure
the hundreds of people returning home
from Rikers can get back on their feet. While
the Mayor’s administration listed several
positive steps in a City Council hearing last
month to create a more unifi ed reentry process,
there are key issues we must act on now:
providing COVID-19 testing and eliminating
NYCHA’s permanent exclusion.
There are common-sense solutions will
stem the tide of New York’s homelessness
crisis and greatly improve the health, safety,
and lives of countless New Yorkers.
Given the high-risk jails pose to community
spread, it is imperative that justiceinvolved
individuals are guaranteed testing
before they leave. As we see an increase in
density in jails, this infrastructure should
mirror that of entry testing to ensure COVID
19 does not spread.
In addition to addressing private landlord
discrimination, we must confront lessdiscussed
discrimination in public housing:
the NYCHA permanent exclusion.
This policy allows NYCHA to unilaterally
decide whether someone with criminal history
is “non-desirable,” thereby banning them
from tenancy for as long as 5 years. Only
after reapplying can former residents have
the chance at having this status removed.
This unfair and unjust rule mirrors the
Walgreens Pharmacist Jessica Sahni
holds the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) vaccine at The
New Jewish Home in the Manhattan
borough of New York City, New York,
U.S., December 21, 2020.
racist and unequal treatment in our criminal
legal system. We know thatpeople of colorin
New York City arefar more likelyto get arrested
than white residents. Rather than try
and right the wrongs of the past, the NYCHA
exclusion policy actively legitimizes this broken
NYCHA’sproposed changes to this ruleoffer
an opportunity to create a public housing
system that treats formerly incarcerated New
Yorkers with the respect and dignity they deserve.
We must eliminate this discriminatory
policy once and for all.
These changes are no-brainers that do
not require a meeting of the minds or timeconsuming
study. Time is of the essence
during this pandemic.
Council Member Keith Powers represents
New York City’s District 4 in Manhattan.
Rev. Kevin VanHook presides at
Riverside Church in New York City.
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8 January 14, 2021 Schneps Media