New York City faces a pandemic paradox
Less than four weeks from Thursday,
New York City’s public schools are
set to reopen. But today, it seems few
outside of City Hall or the Department of
Education’s headquarters are confi dent in
the game plan.
We’ve heard about the “blended model”
of education students will face this year
during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,
in which students will be in class three days
a week and working remotely from home
the rest of the time.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that
they’re expecting more than 700,000
students to return to in-person classes in
September. Another 200,000 students have
opted out and will instead do all of their
Many times, when it comes to government
policy, we have a tendency to think
that there’s a one-size-fi ts-all solution to
every problem we face. The fact, of course,
is that not every problem can be solved so
easily. That’s especially true with education
during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s easy to be like President Trump and
demand the schools reopen regardless
of the situation, without concern for the
collateral damage caused by COVID-19
outbreaks in school communities.
Likewise, it’s easy to suggest that all the
students stay home and work remotely —
and suffer the collateral damage of further
isolation, a loss of interaction with their
peers and guidance from their teachers.
But there is one question that troubles us…
Should we reopen school buildings to
hundreds of children and teachers at a time
when New York City indoor restaurants,
bars, malls, museums and movie theaters
are still told they cannot reopen safely due
to the risk of COVID-19?
If city leaders do not believe that a group
of less than 50 can gather and eat inside
a restaurant for an hour or so without a
heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19,
how can they justify reopening the schools
and congregating scores of children and
adults for six hours a day?
This is the pandemic paradox facing
New York City. The COVID-19 infection
rate blessedly remains low here. Everyone
fears a spike. We want to reopen schools
and businesses, but reopened safely to
avoid a second wave.
But if we’re going to reopen the doors
to our public schools, even on a part-time
basis, then it no longer makes very much
sense to keep the doors to other public
venues completely closed.
Keeping essential services
essentially human in the
age of coronavirus
Food service and other non-essential are among those hardest hit by coronavirus,
but they also live in communities suffering disproportionately.
BY SHAREN I. DUKE
Gregory Meade takes the subway.
It’s not because he’s fearless. It’s
because he’s on a mission. He
wears a mask and carries several more
along with other personal protective
equipment. The bags he totes are fi lled with
pantry provisions and food vouchers. His
frequent subway rides will include stops in
Gregory is delivering hope and health
to people in need and helping us provide
essential services to New York City’s most
vulnerable population—folks who are suffering
from a range of chronic illnesses,
substance use, poverty, and homelessness,
who now, under the cloud of COVID-19,
are too sick, frightened, isolated, or otherwise
unable to reach necessary services.
Now, even as the coronavirus releases its
grip on our city, our nonprofi t, Alliance for
Positive Change and countless others like us
are adapting to a new world where we must
fi nd ways to pivot from what has essentially
been a face-to-face operation to one that
goes beyond a face mask. The pandemic
has forced us to consider how an agency
that’s in the business of social services and
public health can provide assistance when
all of the rules for helping no longer apply.
Gregory, one of our legion of trained
volunteers and peer advocates, is part of
the solution. “Some of these people are
afraid to go outside,” the 23-year-old says.
“But I check on them, and make sure they
are okay. It humbles me to help out at a
time like this.” It’s not that this Bed-Stuy
resident believes he’s invincible; it’s quite
the opposite. Six years ago, he arrived on
our doorstep, seeking help. Alliance offered
PHOTO BY MARK HALLUM
him in-person support and a welcoming
Gregory and others like him have literally
been a lifeline for many of our clients.
And while these personalized deliveries are
powerful, the model is not a one-size-fi ts-all
solution for us or the community we serve.
For many, simply having a place to go,
a professional to speak with, or a peer to
offer counsel is critical to their progress.
Grabbing a snack or having a meal was an
ever-present option for all those who came
to our six locations for services, workshops
and training, or to get medications from
our pharmacy access center.
But with several of our doors still closed
or only partially open, we needed a revised
strategy for providing sustenance and addressing
the increasingly severe issue of
food insecurity. We quickly supplemented
the delivery service that Gregory was a
part of with grab and go meals available at
three of our centers. We secured support
to distribute hundreds of meals each week.
And for those hundreds of people who were
homebound or unable to get to us, we began
mailing or delivering food gift cards
twice a month, along with masks, recipes
Throughout the pandemic, our goal has
been to provide continuity of service, and
to do it with the kindness and humanity
that is our trademark.
Staff and volunteers make thousands of
calls each month to provide information
and offer support, and we encourage all
New Yorkers to support organizations like
Alliance that are on the frontlines.
Sharen I. Duke is the founding Executive
Director and CEO of Alliance for Positive
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8 August 13, 2020 Schneps Media