Photo Courtesy of Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio addresses members of the media inside City Hall.
By Michael V. Cusenza
The coronavirus recently hit home for South Queens residents as City officials finally decided to shutter schools and the mayor indicated that more drastic measures may soon be implemented.
On Sunday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson confirmed that an NYPD School Safety officer assigned to PS 306 in Woodhaven tested positive for coronavirus. And on Wednesday, the TD Bank branch on Cross Bay Boulevard and 162nd Avenue abruptly closed after an employee learned that they had contracted the pathogen.
“We can confirm that an employee at our TD Bank Store in Howard Beach, Queens, NY has tested positive for COVID 19. The employee is resting at home and will remain in self-quarantine,” a TD spokesman told The Forum. “At TD Bank, the health and well-being of our colleagues and customers is our top priority, and we are working closely with the staff at this location to address their needs and concerns. We are following all guidance from the New York Department of Health and other public health organizations, as well as our business continuity and preparedness plans. The store is temporarily closed for additional cleaning procedures. Until the store reopens, we encourage our Howard Beach customers to use the on-location ATM, TD Bank’s online and mobile banking platforms or visit one of our other TD Bank stores. Customers can also bank by phone by calling 1-800-YES-2000, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza on Sunday announced that the City would move towards a new Remote Learning Model for all school days until Spring Recess. Students will not report to school buildings for instruction during this time. School buildings are scheduled to reopen to students following Spring Recess on Monday, April 20.
This week, teachers and administrators participated in professional development on remote learning as students picked up materials for continued instruction. Effective Monday, March 23, Regional Enrichment Centers will be available for the children of first responders, healthcare workers, and the most vulnerable populations, with more details to follow.
Additionally, remote learning will go into effect for grades K-12. The City Department of Education will support schools at all levels of readiness to deliver remote learning, and more information will be provided to families about online platforms, according to de Blasio and Carranza.
A seemingly omnipresent de Blasio appeared on the Today show on NBC to discuss, in part, a possible move toward the enactment of “shelter in place,” in which residents must remain in their homes and are permitted only to leave for trips to the grocery store or pharmacy.
“This disease is moving so rapidly. Yesterday, we had over 100 new cases in New York City. We’re at almost a thousand cases right now. We’ve lost 10 people already. It’s increasing in a way—I don’t even think our leaders in Washington begin to understand this. But here in New York, we have the most cases of any state in the country,” Hizzoner said. “So, what I was saying to people is get ready for the possibility. It’s a decision we would only make with the State of New York, of course. But people have to realize at this point that this disease is going to put many, many people, thousands and tens of thousands of people’s lives in danger and we’re going to have to do things very differently. And if we even get to shelter in place, we’re going to have to come up with huge new approaches to make sure that people have enough food and medicine because they sure as hell don’t have income right now.”
However, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said that “shelter in place” isn’t even on the menu for consideration.
“The emergency policies that have been issued are of statewide impact, and the governor is making every effort to coordinate these policies with our surrounding states,” Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said on Tuesday. “Any blanket quarantine or shelter in place policy would require State action and as the governor has said, there is no consideration of that for any locality at this time.”
Additionally this week, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) urged the nation’s airline industry to not penalize passengers who alter their flights due to concerns about the coronavirus.
In a letter sent to Nicholas Calio, president and CEO of Airlines for America, the trade association representing major U.S. airlines, Meng called for the suspension of all fees normally charged for changes and cancellations.
“Travel restriction is a necessary preventive measure to limit the further spread of this disease. In this time of public anxiety and to reflect this real public health crisis, airlines have a responsibility to prioritize the health and safety of their customers and employees,” Meng wrote. “Within the last few weeks, however, several airlines have made minimal and insufficient changes to their cancellation and flight change policies.”
In her missive, Meng asked Calio to urge his members to: alter airline change and cancellation policies to ensure those whose travel has been impacted by the coronavirus, or those higher risk individuals who are taking precautionary measures, can change their travel plans penalty-free; ensure any refunds provided to passengers for changed itineraries are provided in the method of purchase, and not a time-limited credit; all changes should apply regardless of when a passenger purchased their ticket; and communicate this clearly to customers.
“The airline industry has offered limited flexibility to travelers, but it must step-up and do more to accommodate the flying public during the COVID-19 outbreak,” Meng said. “Waiving these fees is the right and responsible thing to do for passengers changing or cancelling their flights. I urge all U.S. airlines to immediately adopt this change to their ticket policies. Nothing is more important than ensuring the public health and safety of each and every person.