Camille Ferraro (1953-2020)

“Why don’t you start a blog and write a book?”

Camille Ferraro was a teacher in Queens, New York for over 40 years before retiring this year.

That was one of the last things I remember Miss Ferraro (Even into my thirties, I wouldn’t dare call her Camille) said to me the last time I saw her more than a year ago, and I held her ear for one of my many rants.

I was never *officially* a student of Miss Ferraro’s second grade class at St. Mary Gate of Heaven, but at my elementary school, every teacher was our teacher, and she was one of the VIPs. She taught for over 40 years and retired this year, working right up until the school’s closure.

Miss Ferraro passed away today, June 11, at the age of 66.

I started this blog to share my thoughts, opinions and my writing. Miss Ferraro encouraged me, but she is also a big reason why I am who I am, so I’m taking this moment to celebrate her.

It’s impossible to tally how many people have had their young lives molded in some way by Miss Ferraro; that number is definitely thousands, maybe tens of thousands. In some cases, she taught two generations of the same family. So many of us carry a piece of her influence and guidance every day. I’m lucky to count myself among them.

What I will miss most about Miss Ferraro is perhaps how much fun she was, not only in school, but also in social settings. She was such a community staple that we just kind of always assume she’d always be there. Miss Ferraro often got an invite to her students’ and former students’ Communions, or Confirmations, graduations and even weddings, and she made a point to go to as many as possible and when she arrived, EVERYBODY was excited to see her. She even came to our class reunions. It was kind of awkward to be doing shots of Blackhaus with your former teacher standing right next to you, but (although she didn’t drink) she enjoyed watching us have fun and celebrating.

Miss Ferraro, bottom row, third from the right in pink, joins St. Mary Gate of Heaven’s Class of 1997, her former students, during our ten year reunion in June, 2007 at McFadden’s Saloon in Midtown Manhattan. I am in the black shirt, front row, third from left

She was funny, warm, witty and smart. She was always interested in what her former students were up and was quick to give advice and support. I never once saw her not smile. Her voice, which I can hear clearly right now with her deep New Yawk accent, was a source of comfort and familiarity.

Miss Ferraro, you will be missed. And at our 25th *gulp* class reunion in 2022, the Class fo 1997 will take the opportunity to honor you!

And everyone out there who has a special teacher they’re thinking about today. Find them and thank them. They are priceless.

With COVID-19: California May Have Only Delayed The Inevitable.

Journalist Joe Nocera has a problem. In his Bloomberg editorial this weekend (WARNING: paywalled), he wants to know why California, which is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases, isn’t getting the type of criticism that Florida, Texas and Arizona are getting. In the Golden State, cases are surging, positive test ratings are surging and hospitals in Los Angeles, like those in Phoenix, Houston and Miami, are approaching critical capacity.

Nocera, a conservative, blames politics. California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, is a Democrat. He had been praised in the Spring for his COVID-19 response by experts and liberals who sought to compare and contrast his response to Republican governors and Donald Trump. The other three states have Republican governors who reopened their states against medical expert advice and declared victory when there were no spikes in cases after 2-4 weeks.

In fact, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis went so far as the demand an apology from the media in late May for being “wrong” about predicting a surge in cases. The National Review’s Rich Lowrey even joined him in demanding people apologize to DeSantis for predicting a surge. In the face of the type of smugness and arrogance Republicans delivered during the reopening in May and June, versus Newsom, who had a more muted and methodological response to reopening, it is not surprising people are being harder on them than Newsom, party label aside. Newsom kept his state closed for far longer than the other governors, and didn’t spike the football when it appeared the worst had passed.

California tried, the other states didn’t, but California’s experience complicates the narrative of whether or not its possible to actually crush the curve without a big outbreak or more harsh mitigation measures. New York’s success may not be its speed and timing of reopening, but because it got hit hard in the first place.

STATECases At LockdownCases at ReopeningCases as of July 10
California1,006 (March 19)64,561 (May 7)296,499 (+495%)
New York20,875 (March 22)348,232 (May 15)400,299 (+15%)
California locked down several days earlier than New York with fewer cases, and better controlled the spread during the shutdown, but since opening, New York has only seem a 15 percent increase in cases, while California has seen a nearly 500 percent increase. California’s shutdown was only four days shorter than New York’s.

Did California reopen too early? Maybe. The state did not meet the protocols the CDC set out, specifically 14-day declines in cases, but California began reopening on May 8, when the daily case count was around 2,100 a day. New York began reopening on May 15 when the daily case count was around 2,500. So how did California screw up while New York didn’t despite the latter having more new cases?

Some have pointed to the fact that New York had a regional approach to reopening where areas like the North Country and Finger Lakes that weren’t hit very hard began reopening May 15, while New York City, where a majority of the cases were, didn’t start the reopening process until June. However, California did something similar – allowing rural counties to begin reopening earlier than Los Angeles and the Bay Area. California definitely did have more internal opposition to shutdowns and in populated areas, with conservative areas like Orange County, the Inland Empire and Central Valley opposing shutdowns in larger numbers than New York’s more rural conservative areas. California’s mask mandate came in June, while New York’s came in April, and California was doing less testing per capita than New York, so it is possible there were far more cases in California than New York at reopening that were missed. But there might be another reason for California’s inability to curb a second rise in cases.

When California reopened, though it had less daily cases than New York, the trend was very different. New York had over a month of declining cases, while California had plateaued at around 2,000-2,500 cases a day, seeing no declines. The situation basically forced Newsom’s hand. With no decline in sight, how long could California remian closed?

In May, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer made waves when she suggests the county’s “stay-at-home” order would have been in place until August. San Diego County extended its order indefinitely. The news led to some anger and frustration as to why California, which had been compared positively to New York in terms of controlling the virus by shutting down earlier, would need to stay in lockdown longer than New York. Republicans even sued Newsom, seeking to roll back his shutdown, buoyed by a decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court that effectively ended Democratic Gov. Tony Ever’s stay-at-home order and business closures in that state.

Throughout this pandemic, we’ve been told to learn the lessons of the 1918 Spanish Flu. One of the most common comparisons that is made is to the responses from the cities of Philadelphia and St. Louis in 1918. At the start of the second wave of the pandemic, Philadelphia waited too long to implement mitigation measures, and instead held a parade to raise money for soldiers fighting World War I. St. Louis, on the other hand, instituted strict mitigation measures and did so early. As a result, Philadelphia had a much high mortality rate as compared to St. Louis and hospitals in Philadelphia were overwhelmed.

But as I mention in more earlier Fact vs. Fiction piece, that doesn’t tell the full story of what happened after. As the chart below shows, Philadelphia’s peak was way higher than St. Louis’, but the outbreak was over by November 16, 1918, while St. Louis struggled to bring the cases down, eventually reaching its peak in December, long after the outbreak was over in Philadelphia.

And what about mitigation measures? (I’m hesitant to call them lockdowns because in most places, there wasn’t a total economic shutdown, just mandating masks, banning mass gatherings and some business closures). Philadelphia lifted theirs after four weeks. St. Louis, under great public pressure, lifted them after six weeks, only to reinstate them a couple of weeks later for another month and a half. (see charts below from National Geographic). Much like California vs. New York today, St. Louis was still battling the pandemic, while Philadelphia appeared to have beaten it.

So what happened? How did Philadelphia manage to quell its much worse outbreak with only four weeks of mitigation while St. Louis struggled for three months? Well, when you flatten the curve, the timeline takes longer. Messaging early in the pandemic led many to believe that the flatter the curve, the quicker we would come out on the other side. But that’s only true if you crush the curve, which California did not do. Such a thing would likely require a Wuhan-style lockdown, which was never possible (and assumes the data we got from Wuhan is reliable).

Now, this isn’t an argument FOR herd immunity, because we don’t know how COVID-19 immunity works, but its worth exploring whether or not New York has been able to reopen effectively not only because its reopening was slower, but also because a significant portion of the state and city got hit the first place and has, at least, temporary immunity that is slowing transmission. This is also not to say the pandemic is over in New York. Certainly a second wave is possible, if not likely, but New York has brought down the daily case load to levels that contact tracing and isolation can work.

Basically, California may have delayed the inevitable. Perhaps that was the goal. Even with its new outbreak, projection models don’t have California reaching New York’s death toll before November. We’ve learned more about the virus and how to treat it. Remdisivir wasn’t approved as an emergency treatment when New York was in the middle of its epidemic; many more drugs are coming in the pipeline and a vaccine may be here as early as January. In delaying the inevitable epidemic, California may have given science time to prepare and learn.

But early messaging definitely did not prepare anyone, let alone Californians, for month and months of lockdown, especially when it works. Imagine telling someone in March – “If we do this right, you’ll be home for a year, but if we don’t, it’ll be over in a few months”

What do you think the response would be?

The COVID19 Pandemic Wouldn’t Have Gone Much Better Under Hillary

She would’ve responded competently, but Federalism and partisanship in an election year would have doomed us all

Imagine it is late January, 2020; just a week or so before the Iowa Caucuses, and the GOP campaign to nominate a challenger to an unpopular incumbent President Hillary Clinton is well underway. Candidates are getting big crowds at rallies, excitement is through the roof, polls are showing the leading candidates competitive or beating the incumbent.

As president, Hillary Rodham Clinton would’ve responded early and decisively to the COVD-19 pandemic. It probably wouldn’t have mattered. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Then President Clinton gets the 3 a.m. phone call. The virus that is infecting thousands in Wuhan, China has arrived in the United States. A man in Washington State who was recently in Wuhan tested positive for COVID-19. President Clinton activates the Pandemic Response Team and tests are sent to Seattle and other entry points around the country.

Hospitals begin testing patients who arrive at the ER with flu-like symptoms, and positive cases pop up in California, New York, Chicago and Boston. Within days, it is clear there are already thousands of cases in the United States. The CDC and White House huddle together and decide to begin to suggest restrictions on mass gatherings, contact tracing and other mitigation efforts, and perhaps, if it came to it, lockdowns.

With just days until the first GOP caucuses and primaries, President Clinton goes on national television and announces new CDC guidelines that ban mass gatherings and social distancing measures.

What are the odds these measures would have been met with cooperation from her opponents? A (likely embattled) Democratic president running for reelection is curtailing the right to assemble just days and weeks before key primary elections. Hell, let’s face it, its entirely plausible that she would’ve faced a left-wing primary challenger, so not only would she be curtailing some freedoms right before GOP primaries, but Democratic ones too.

Unquestionably the Glenn Greenwalds and Cenk Uygers of the world, along with right wing pundits and her potential opponents, some of whom would be governors of states in the line of fire from COVID-19, would say it is politics: She’s afraid of how many people are showing up at rallies. She’s trying to quell uprisings against her. She’s colluding with China on a bioweapon engineered to get herself reelected.

Some liberals and Trump critics want Donald Trump to shoulder all the blame for the bad pandemic response, but sociopolitical issues and our obsolete, confusing system of government would’ve tied the hands of even a proactive president.

Under a Hillary Clinton presidency, it is almost certain the 2018 Midterm Elections would have gone differently. Republicans would still hold Congress and would hold many governorships of states that were hard hid and had Democratic governors that responded with tough measures; states such as Louisiana, Michigan, Colorado, Connecticut and perhaps Illinois, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. These Republican governors who would likely been politically pressured to oppose the guidelines and recommendations from an unpopular Democratic president up for reelection. Further, they would have seen a pandemic, with widespread death and economic destruction, just before a Democratic presidents’ reelection as manna from heaven. After 12 years of Democratic rule, they are given the key to winning the 2020 election on a silver platter, and they finally have an opportunity to do the thing they’ve been trying to do for three decades – end Hillary Clinton’s career in disgrace.

Since the start of the pandemic, progressives and Democrats, and pretty much anyone with a brain, have blamed Donald Trump for his sheer incompetence and lack of response to the pandemic. Certainly his pathetic excuse for a response, and successive screwups, are probably the greatest domestic blunder by a president since James Buchanan allowed Kansas to enter the union as a slave state, which helped trigger the Civil War.

The justified and rational desire among progressives and Democrats to lay the blame for America’s failure to curb the COVID-19 pandemic entirely at the feet of Donald Trump should not get in the way of recognizing and acknowledging how the very structure of the United States doomed it anyway. There was never going to be any nationwide consensus and cooperation on a strategy to suppress the virus and eradicate it, and there never will be.

This week, DailyKos, a well-known liberal blog, featured a front page article by writer Mark Sumner, who engaged in a bit of Harry Turtledove-esque historical fiction. In the post, he outlines what a potential response under Hillary Clinton would have looked like. In this parallel universe, the pandemic ended with just about 100,000 people infected and around 12,000 dead (verses the 3 million+ and 130,000 respectively and growing we are at now). By July, Hillary’s America is COVID-free and the economy is roaring back and she’s on a path to reelection. You can read his piece here.

But because that’s how it COULD have been is exactly why it WOULD NOT have been.

Summer’s storyline suggests that President Clinton would have tasked the Internal Revenue Service with contact tracing back in January. Does anyone really believe the conspiracy theory-ladened American public, both left and right, would cooperate with contact tracers from the IRS authorized by Hillary Clinton? A significant portion of this country believed she ran a child sex trafficking ring out of a pizzeria!

Sumner suggests that she would have “worked with Congress” to stockpile PPE and testing equipment. On what planet does anyone think a Republican Congress would cooperate with her on anything? Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy and Republican leaders have all to gain for tying her hands and letting it all go to crap. Sumner also suggests that Clinton would have called for a nationwide shutdown. Sure, but as we learned already, that’s the call of the governors. Does anyone really believe Republican governors would willing follow her call to shutdown? Further, why would Republican governors in Michigan and Louisiana (both early hotspots) follow her orders when they benefit politically from letting people in Detroit and New Orleans die? What’s a few thousand less Democratic voters? Especially in competitive Michigan.

As we saw in the early 2010s, there is no length Republicans won’t go to hurt people, even their own voters, to gain and retain power.

Put all that up against the reality that a defeated Donald Trump would not have gone away. He’d be just as much the media magnet as he had been in office. His hysterics and Tweets would still make headlines. His new television and internet network would run 24/7 with conspiracy theories and crackpot arguments that would rile 30 to 40 percent of the population against the president’s measures. You think the protests against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer were bad, wait until you see nationwide protests against President Hillary Clinton with no masks and no social distancing. Could Hillary respond with brute force?

No.

And therein lies our next problem. Lockdowns in other parts of the world were strict. In Italy and France, people couldn’t leave the house without permission. In China, apartment doors were welded shut. Peru, the Philippines and Panama had armed soldiers roaming the street threatening to shoot anyone violating curfew. Most notably, several nations, including Italy, Canada, Australia and China, cut off travel into and out of hotspots, or in some cases, completely. Canada’s provincial borders are still closed.

There was never going to be any nationwide consensus and cooperation on a strategy to suppress the virus and eradicate it, and there never will be.

American courts have ruled several times going back to 1823 that Americans have a Constitutional right to travel, meaning there was no way for the federal government to close state borders and limit domestic travel. This precedent was set by the Supreme Court as far back as 1869. They could shut down the airspace, but not land borders. We also couldn’t require people stay in their homes and enforce it legally – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as much in March. Martial law, as defined by the Posse Comitatus Act, is limited to only when law enforcement is unable to function and lawlessness and anarchy are at risk; such as when a natural disaster, riot or act of war has destroyed police precincts and jails. But martial law comes at a price – namely the suspension of habeas corpus and basic civil rights. In this situation, the virus was not preventing police from doing their jobs and any use of martial law would have had to be approved by Congress and authorized by the federal government. Would Mitch McConnell be willing to make Hillary Clinton a temporary dictator? Not a chance

As it is, Democratic Governors Tony Evers of Wisconsin and Andy Beshear of Kentucky have seen courts roll back some of their strictest mitigation regulations already, signaling that it is likely any stricter lockdown would meet judicial opposition.

And even if we could do a European- or Chinese-style lockdown here, would we really want to considering the state of law enforcement in this country? Imagine our police and military with the free range to stop and brutalize anyone they wish? Especially during a pandemic that is hitting black and brown communities the hardest. It would have been a green light for excessive force and police brutality. Look how badly police abused the curfews during the post-George Floyd protests and unrest in early June. Imagine that, but nationally and for months. Imagine how many black men and women would be arrested – or worse – just for going to the store or pharmacy and crossing a power-hungry cop in an election year? How many would contract and die of COVID-19 anyway in holding cells?

It’s worth noting that few countries anywhere in the world have handled this “well.” South Korea, Australia, Germany, Hong Kong and New Zealand get kudos, but all are playing whack-a-mole with small outbreaks. Australia has gone so far as to reinstitute local lockdown measures – including putting poor immigrants in public housing under a two-week house arrest. Iceland and Taiwan have so far avoided any resurgence, but both are islands with few points of entry and both have had to shut down their borders for a long period of time.

We are not Iceland or Taiwan. We aren’t any of the other countries either. Our confusing patchwork of federal, state and local governments, and incoherent rules over who controls what, isn’t set up to handle something like a pandemic. That requires a steady, focus, centralized response and willingness to give up individual rights and privileges that are safeguarded in our Constitution. That, melded with our inability to come to a national consensus, even on basic facts, and because the pandemic would be occurring in a presidential election year where Republicans would be trying to break their longest losing streak in 75 years, makes it impossible for me to fathom we’d summon the will, or even the sheer ability, to tackle the virus; even if Hillary Clinton, or another individual who actually did the job, was president.

Now none of this means Donald Trump is exonerated. No way. In fact, Trump would have been in a better position than Hillary to forge a national consensus because the Democrats were more interested in proactive action than Republicans, and the latter would have to do whatever he says out of party loyalty. Trump would not have faced any serious opposition to contact tracing or a national shutdown. He did neither, or really anything else at all.

There are many things about America that are great. One of them is the extent of our freedoms and the Constitution that puts it all into writing – when it is correctly and equally applied of course – but there are drawbacks to that. Among them is our ability to control a disease easily transmittable by, well, humans being free.

Embrace The Face Mask As A Cultural Symbol Of 2020

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

It has become nemesis of Karens across America during this pandemic – the face mask: a piece of cloth covering your nose and mouth that at the very least can cut down the number of respiratory droplets you expel, and in turn dramatically cut down the chance of transmission of viruses like COVID-19.

Seems like a simple, not very disruptive thing everyone can do to stop the spread? No?

Apparently not. Conspiracy minded-Americans, civil libertarians, professional contrarians, Floridians and other generally annoying people are having meltdowns over mandates to wear masks in public. They have intensified as mandates to wear masks have been popping up all over America since the second wave of infections began last month – or is the second half of the first wave? I don’t even know anymore. We’e seen them all over social media; men and women throwing literal tantrums over being asked to put on a mask in a store. One woman in Arizona even filmed herself tearing apart the facemask display at Target, before predictably saying something racist to the store’s employees.

In lieu of just forcing everyone to stay indoors until the very last COVID case is recovered, and perhaps for two weeks thereafter, there is no way to really control the virus in a sustainable way. But mask wearing helps significantly. It allows us to feel safer doing everyday things like shopping and going to the doctor, and it opens up the possibility of socializing or doing stuff that would otherwise be considered risky like visiting a museum or taking a tour. COVID-19 would still infect some, but the numbers would be much smaller and the spread would move slower, giving time for contact tracers to catch up and health professionals to find treatments or a vaccine.

But they become less helpful, though, if people won’t wear them. In order to be effective, they must really be worn primarily by people who ARE infected. The risk to those not infected goes down if an infected person without a mask is close by, but by less than it would if only the infected person is masked and much, much less than if both parties are wearing a mask. (see chart below). They must also cover both the mouth AND nose.

A common PSA flyers explaining the reduced risk of transmission of COVID-19 with mask-wearing.

So how do we get people to embrace wearing a mask? It is difficult. Opposition to wearing masks is not new. When they were mandated during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, entire groups were formed to oppose the ordinances. In San Francisco, the Anti-Mask League grew powerful enough to push the city to (prematurely) lift the mask mandate, which led to a small second wave in early 1919.

Mask wearing in New York has not been terribly controversial. Most people wear them and social pressure is immense, even in conservative parts of the city and state. In Staten Island last month, a crowd actually kicked a woman out of a supermarket for not wearing a mask. Stark difference that we’ve seen in the Sun Belt and Midwest. I think it helps a lot that we’re moving beyond just the standard blue and white disposable surgical masks into more designer and fashionable masks. Though nothing works better than the N95 type, regular face masks provided some protecting, perhaps enough to keep COVID-19 manageable while we wait for a vaccine. They also provide an opportunity to turn masks in a cultural and fashion symbol – a new accessory.

While keeping a diary during lockdown that I hope to one day show young people too young to remember this pandemic, I realized that the mask might be to them what my grandmother’s World War II ration card was to me – a tangible symbol of the era. When someone asks about the pandemic, I will pull out my masks and talk about the experience of having to wear them. What if we made face masks to 2020 what bell bottoms were to 1976? or poodle skirts were to 1958? Or snap bracelets were to 1990? And what better way to encourage people to wear them than to let them pick out one or make one that represents who they are; a favorite color, the logo of a sports team, their school, whatever.

On Tuesday, in response to commentator Chris Hayes saying on Twitter that he had a hard time coming to terms with how long the pandemic might last, someone said the potential length of it hit him or her “when I noticed places were advertising personalized face masks.” I found that odd. When this started, we were all told it would be *at least* 12-18 months. We’re in month four or six, depending on who you ask, that means we could be as little as 6 to 8 more months or as long as 14 months or more from the pandemic ending and all public health measures lifting. Why not get a face masks that represents you, even if you only have to wear it for another 6-14 more months?

I got myself a Game of Thrones themed one (what do we say to the God of Death?), another that has the NYC flag on it, and I bought myself a set of four face masks from the Taylor Jay Collection, a boutique women’s fashion company based in Oakland, Calif. Check out their line of face coverings – and other fashion options – here. Last night, I put my mask collection a Command hook in my room to display them and have them in a place where I can grab them easily.

Embracing the mask as part of the pandemic new normal was helpful for me. Should I decided to do some of my favorite summer activities this year – whale watching, ferry hoping, visiting the zoo, or taking my favorite tour cruise around Manhattan – the mask allows me to do it with a high level of peace of mind. I have less of a chance of getting COVID-19 and less of a chance of giving it to somebody else if I happened to be infected, but asymptomatic.

My masks hanging by my desk, ready for use in the coming months.

There is one concern about wearing masks that I won’t dismiss however. I know some who have trauma related to sexual abuse and their PTSD is triggered by mask-wearing. I know at least two people who have expressed this and I’m not going to pass judgement or dismiss those concerns. My good friend and Reiki healer Rev. Joanne Angel Barry Colon has an article concerning this subject at her blog and is exploring more information from experts about it. You can read her essay here.

What happens the pandemic ends and its safe to go outside maskless? Well, I keep them – for when its cold and I want to cover my mouth and nose, or when I have a cold or the flu and need to go to the doctor, or for when its flu seasons and the virus is widespread and I want to avoid catching it. Might this be part of our new normal? Perhaps. It worked for East Asia.

But most of all, I’ll keep them for when future generations search for a tangible symbol of this era, and I can put it on and tell them how I wore it to help prevent myself and others from catching COVID-19.

Let’s all embrace it as our social symbol for this era and let’s keep our masks as a reminder of what we went through and what, and who, we lost.

The COVID Testing Debacle Shows America Isn’t Great Again, It’s Flailing

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Last week, my uncle went to the hospital. He tested positive for COVID-19 after having had the virus in March and recovering. He had no symptoms and we assumed it was just a false positive or one of those “we picked up the remnants of virus” situations that we’ve been hearing about.

It was. He has since tested negative twice and has left isolation.

My uncle’s positive result, however, forced several members of my family to get tested as they had been in contact with him in the previous week. It was just a precaution because we are in New York City and we are going out of way to prevent another epidemic like we had in the spring. But a week later, they are still waiting for their results. Because of this, neither my dad nor my cousin can go back to work until they get a negative test…or two weeks have past since they were last exposed to the person who tested positive. Whichever comes first.

At this rate, the latter may happen first.

Now, we see this is happening all over the country. When I get tested in New York City on May 31, I got a result later that same day. Now, 7-10 day waiting times are the norm in the city, and in hotspots like Texas and Arizona, patients are being told it could be three weeks, or they aren’t able to get a test at all.

This is unsustainable. How can we get our economy moving again if workers have to go into quarantine every couple of weeks waiting for test results? What happens if my father goes back to work, only to have been exposed again, and now has to get a test and wait another week? We’re going to have situations where this is happening constantly and people are spending more time in quarantine than at work or school.

And we’re not alone here. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta, who recently announced she had COVID-19, said she waited eight days for the results of her test, which may have led multiple people in her household to get infected when they were negative at the time of the test. The mayor of a major city cannot sit in isolation for a week while she waits for test results. How can our government function? The Houston Astros and several other baseball teams, preparing to play a shortened season starting later this month, called off training camp because the test turnout took too long. You want sports back? Get us timely test results.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom said it took her over a week to get a positive COVID test result back.

Other countries manage to turn around results in less than 24 hours; South Korea, Germany, Australia. In Korea, some tests take as little as 15 minutes. In Iceland, two hours. They are COVID-free and open for business.

It is an absolute disgrace that six months into this pandemic, it is still taking a week to get back a test for a severely infectious disease, or that in hotspots, there are still not enough tests. It was enough of a disgrace that it happened in March, but this is July!

The tests are useless if you can’t get one and get a result in a timely manner. You may infected someone in the time since the test. Either you’ve been in total isolation since the test as a precaution, meaning you’re not even going out to buy essentials, let alone going to work, or you did go out and might have infected someone, or someone in your household. Even more concerning, what if you were negative at the time of the test and got infected SINCE and now you’re positive? At lot a good a negative test result from a week ago does in that scenario. It is inconceivable that in the United States in 2020 people have to sit in isolation because there’s a backup in test results.

This is supposed to be the greatest country in the world; the richest country in the world. We put a man on the Moon, but we can’t get people a timely test result for COVID.

In the meantime, the creature occupying the Oval Office, badly playing the role as president, joked? that he told his aids to slow down testing, right in the middle of an epidemic in several key election states. Has that contributed to the backlog of testing? Perhaps. Or perhaps his lack of urgency in controlling the epidemic lead to massive outbreaks in other states that pushed us beyond our capacity. In March, it was New York having a big outbreak with smaller ones in Detroit, Boston and New Orleans. Now, it’s the three largest states and Arizona with smaller ones in Nevada, the Carolinas, Georgia and the Bible Belt.

What is he doing?

As a New Yorker, especially one who works in real estate, we all know stories about Donald Trump and how he operates. There is one characteristic of his that keeps churning in my mind. His pettiness. Donald Trump commonly seeks to get “proactive revenge” from people he feels, or knows, will spurn him. Not just the ones who do, but also the ones that he expects will, or are told will. Trump knows he’s losing and he’s being told the election may very well be hopeless. What damage is he or will he do the country in his final six months in office to a population that’s on the verge of rejecting him in embarrassing fashion. The same kind of thing he would do to a landlord who went with another offer. Its terrifying to ponder.

I don’t know who the bigger problem is: Our federal government for being so plainly incompetent at managing a (predictable) crisis, or the American people for putting up with it?

Relax, The Black Death Isn’t Returning

OH NOES! THE BLACK DEATH IS BREAKING OUT IN CHINA! F*CK YOU 2020!

Since the mid–20th century, plague in the United States has typically occurred in the rural West. The case shown in Illinois was lab-associated. (Map courtesy of the CDC)

You’ve probably seen the screaming headlines by now, joining the ranks of “murder hornets” and “new pig flu” among the proverbial second shoes that will drop this year. An outbreak of the bubonic plague was reported in Northern China, leading to a strong government response.

Here are a list of things that you should worry about more than the plague:

  • COVID-19
  • Donald Trump
  • The security of our elections
  • The Flu
  • NeoNazis
  • Women named Karen who won’t wear masks at Target
  • Brian-Eating Amoebas in Florida
  • Pretty much anyone in the State of Florida

This isn’t 1347, and the plague isn’t going to ravage us like it did Europe in that era. The bubonic plague is a bacterial infection, not viral, and is treatable with antibiotics and though can still cause serious illness, does occur naturally already, even in the United States and cases are rare. In 2015, more than a dozen cases of the plague were reported in the US, almost entirely in the Southwest. In 2018, plague was reported in Idaho. No one has died of the plague in the United States in five years.

It can be transferred from person to person via respiratory droplets, but that is not common. It is usually transmitted through flea bites – fleas that bite a rodent with the plague bacteria, carry it and infect a human when they bite the human.

According to the Center for Disease Control:

Plague can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Once a patient is diagnosed with suspected plague they should be hospitalized and, in the case of pneumonic plague, medically isolated. Laboratory tests should be done, including blood cultures for plague bacteria and microscopic examination of lymph node, blood, and sputum samples. Antibiotic treatment should begin as soon as possible after laboratory specimens are taken. To prevent a high risk of death in patients with pneumonic plague, antibiotics should be given as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours of the first symptoms.

So don’t get too crazy with “EEK! THE PLAGUE!” headlines. COVID-19 is enough to worry about already.

Besides, social media will find another thing to freak out about in due time.

How The NYPD Manipulates The Media Into Backing Off Accountability

In 2009, I got hired to my first newspaper reporting job at the Queens Tribune. Part of my job included putting together the weekly police blotter. It was a fairly easy task. You just gather all the email releases from the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, or DCPI, the New York City Police Department’s press office, related to incidents in Queens – they would send them typically by precinct – and format them for the paper.

“On Tuesday, September 1 at such and such time, police responded to a call of a man shot at 123 Main Street. Upon arrival they found the victim dead at the scene with gunshot wounds to his torso. An investigation is ongoing.”

It didn’t require any follow up, and if the story was considered big enough, it jumped from the Blotter to a regular news story, but most of the time, it was just in the blotter. There was no need to fact check anything. Why? Were the cops going to lie about these things?

Then came the story of a teenager who ran in front of a police car, was hit and died.

The Queens Tribune police blotter, which I was in charge of from 2009 to 2012

I coped, pasted, formatted and sent it on its way to production. Seemed pretty cut and paste. The kid was caught trying to break into a home, he was chased, cops tried to box him in and he jumped out in front of the car, causing them to hit him accidentally and he died. Tragic accident. Right?

Maybe not.

A few weeks later, I received a phone call from a lawyer. He was working with the mother of the kid who had died and believed that despite what the cops said, her son’s death was no accident.

They had two witnesses, one who was on the street and one who watched from an apartment window, who both claimed the same thing. The cops had stopped the kid, who was sitting on the front stoop of the building waiting for a friend, because someone had called them to report the teenager had been “breaking into the building.” (He wasn’t). The witnesses both agreed that the kid, after explaining that he was waiting for a friend and refusing to submit to an arrest, walked away from cops, who rushed back to their car and rode down the street as he walked away. The kid got annoyed and decided the cross the street, at which time the cops turned the patrol car around and rammed the kid, causing him to fly over the windshield and then roll back onto the ground. The cops got out of the car, and stood by the kid for over 10 minutes before calling for help. An ambulance came 30 minutes later.

There having been no video or no more eye witnesses, I did the best I could to investigate what happened. I tried to get 911 tapes or transcripts and succeeded in discovering the ambulance call came at 1:55 a.m., which is at least 20 minutes earlier than both witnesses claimed, though the witnesses claimed the incident happened much earlier than the 1:35 a.m. time DCPI sent out. The medical examiner ruled the cause of death blunt trauma from being hit by the car, which hinted that the police car was going quite fast, not what you’d expect if they were slowly making a U-turn to pursue him. I followed the story for months, carrying it over to a new paper that I got hired at, until I was called into a meeting with my publisher. I was told to drop the story:

  • Our paper didn’t distribute in the area, so it was pointless to waste so much time on the story
  • We needed to stay in good standing with the NYPD, as they control our press badges and can make access a bitch
  • There was really no evidence the cops did anything wrong except circumstantial witness accounts that couldn’t be corroborated.

I even got a call directly from the commanding officer of the precinct. He asked: “please don’t pursue this any further. The situation has been dealt with. It was an accident, but the cops involved have been dealt with. We’re really trying hard to repair relations with the community, they’re strained, we know. This can’t help.”

Before long the lawyer stop taking my calls, one witness was arrested for drug possession and the other moved out of state. The mother of the victim also relocated to Georgia. The story died. Years later, I heard from a local source that the mother received a payout from the city as one of the many settlements that totaled over $1 billion.

In the wake of what happened with Philando Castile and George Floyd and all the other black men and women who were killed by cops on camera, I often wondered what really happened back in 2010 and had someone had a smartphone camera at the time and filmed it, would it have ended differently?

The NYPD issues press credentials for New York City reporters in a process that is often politicized.

After Floyd’s death, Minneapolis Police sent out a press release stating that he had died after having a “medical condition” during an arrest and cops called for help. No mention of the knee; instead it presented the cops are doing the right thing in seeking help. If not for the amateur videos, its entirely probable Minneapolis reporters would have just ran with the police account and not asked any further questions and Derek Chauvin would still be out patrolling with a badge and gun.

It was never our policy to question information we get from the police. Their word was treated as the gold standard. It’s obvious now that isn’t and hasn’t be true.

Further, our relationship with the police was a really toxic one. We often were pressured to bury unflattering stories about cops, with a mix of intimidation tactics and payoffs danged in front of us like sticks and carrots.

Whether it was the story about cops in Flushing taking bribes from “massage parlors;” or police arresting the wrong suspect TWICE while the real suspect, a cop’s brother, fled to Poland; or a police officer who grabbed a woman’s breasts; one who harassed a homeless man with his gun, threatening to shoot him and laughing about it or another who joked about sodomizing gay men at a protest if they get too close to him, we buried it. We trusted the department would deal with the problems internally and felt it was important to not use our voice to chip away at public trust of law enforcement over “minor issues” that are best handled out of the public eye. It was necessary, we were told, to have a police department with strong public support in order to keep crime low and maintain the successes in crime reduction we had seen.

And we did it. Partially out of necessity – we needed to keep our jobs – but also because we believed it. We believed that a functioning police department that had the trust of the people was necessary to keep law and order.

I was even told to spike a POSITIVE story about a cop – an officer who instead of arresting a homeless man who was panhandling on a Queens street, he helped him find a job. “What we don’t want is every homeless person in the city flooding the precincts looking for handouts,” my DCPI contact said.

In December 2013, after Bill de Blasio won his mayoral election, I was assigned to write an article about “stop and frisk,” which I had been writing about much the previous year. And earlier article of mine from the previous October, linked here, was focused on the Community Safety Act, which sought to restrict the use of stop and frisk and provide more transparency in its usage. The gist of the new article was to get the “police side of the story” and I was to sit down with then-outgoing City Councilman Peter Vallone of Astoria, a staunch supporter of “Stop and Frisk.” In an editorial meeting, the publisher and the editor both agreed “we have to do something to stop [de Blasio] from curtailing police powers,” and figure the best way to do it was to run a story favorable to the policy and critical of reform. We even coordinated the story with DCPI.

Feeling uncomfortable, I asked to be taken off the story. I said I had included this perspective in my earlier article and there was no need to do it again and an editorial would suffice. The response I got from my editor – “The last article didn’t work. He won.” The assignment was instead given to an intern. I’d like to say this is an isolated incident, but it wasn’t. I was once told to promote Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Thompson on the cover of the pre-primary edition in September 2013 to try to try to prevent a de Blasio victory. It didn’t work. Repeatedly, we were pushed to blow up crime stories, especially in black and brown neighborhoods, out of proportion to spin a pro-police agenda. They would supplement an editorial calling for more cops or more money for law enforcement. It happened several times during my time as a reporter, especially during budget negotiation season in May and June.

We believed that a functioning police department, that had the trust of the people, was necessary to keep law and order.

The NYPD also gives us our press badges, which we need to cross police lines at murder scenes or fires or protests or even mayoral press conferences. They have a strict requirement to get one. You have to go down in person to 1 Police Plaza, and go through levels of security that make Tel Aviv Airport look like a state fair. You have to present three clips of “a city sponsored event” that you covered (of course you can’t actually cover them until you get the badge, but I digress) and they have to approve them. The first time I tried to get a press badge, I was declined because one of my clips was not acceptable to them as a “city sponsored event.” (It was a press conference held by a City Councilman). Another one of my clips, a fire at a Maspeth, Queens bar where the owner let me behind police lines, was accepted, but I was scolded and threatened by the woman at DCPI for going behind police lines without a badge. “If we catch you doing that again, you could be subject to arrest.”

The NYPD used tactics of intimidation, but also flattery, to keep the press from straying from them. I had a great working relationship with the commanding officer of one of the local precincts. He would invite me to the precinct house for coffee, give me (off the record) updates on what was going on in the community. It was helpful and I got a lot of scoops from him, but it came at a cost. When his officers arrested the wrong man for a sex crime, I was asked to bury it. When a teenage girl filed a complaint against an officer at the precinct, accusing him of sexual harassment, I was asked to bury it. And because I did, I got access most reporters would only dream of. A sit down with the borough commander; an escort behind police lines at a crime scene; scoops on arrests and investigations.

And we all knew that if we didn’t play their game, someone else would. If we didn’t get the scoop, I was told once, the cops “have a [New York] Post reporter on speed dial who will get it.” We were all chasing Murdoch. And we did this, even though cops would still openly say “the media is against us.” That’s how they kept it going, by gaslighting us into thinking we STILL weren’t friendly enough to them. We needed to do more of their bidding, and more, and more.

But now, with all that has transpired, I’m left wondering; how many people suffered under the weight of brutal cops who knew the media was “taken care of,” and felt lawless with no accountability? Did any George Floyds go unnoticed because I was led to believe there was no reason to question what DCPI sent to us? Did I really do my job as a journalist? Does any NYC reporter if they don’t vet the police the same way they question politicians or other sources?

The fear, the intimidation and the access have allowed the NYPD to escape scrutiny for years. and now its all come to a head. They’ve lost the trust of the city, and so has the media who did their bidding. We may all end up the worse for it.

Facing Your Phobias in Quarantine:

I have a paralyzing fear of isolation and loneliness, this was my worst nightmare.

Back in March, on day two of our lockdown in New York City, and after several days of anxiety attacks and feelings of panicking, I wrote about how the impending lengthy (at the time, open-ended) quarantine and social isolation was forcing me to face my worst fears; fears of loneliness and social isolation. Here is a piece I wrote that night about how frightened I felt and how it was comforting to know it was an experience the entire world was sharing together at the same time:

On March 24, 2019, I was in Cartagena, Colombia. I stepped off a cruise ship and strolled around the Old City with a crowd of tourists, buying souvenirs from locals, eyeing emeralds with my relatives, sitting in a pew with natives at the cathedral. I had rarely felt less alone. 

Photo by Felipe Cespedes on Pexels.com

Exactly one year later, that city is on lockdown;

And so is Brussels, and Rome, and Honolulu, and Las Vegas. All other places I’ve been. And so was I, at home in New York. I never felt more alone. 

But that’s also the thing that is most comforting about this – it’s the first time in most of our lifetimes, we are sharing a harrowing experience together as a species. The whole world is effected. We all have the same enemy. 

This pandemic and the social distancing we have had to endure to save the lives of those at greatest risk, has unearthed a yingyang of feelings around one of my greatest fears – isolation and loneliness. It has both exacerbated it, but also relieved it. 

These past couple of weeks, I’ve been waking up each morning wondering if this was all a bad dream. If my anxiety was playing tricks on me. I am isolated – separated from the things that ease that fear – for an undetermined amount of time. I’ve been obsessively refreshing Twitter, feeling pangs of anxiety and confusion at any suggestion from officials that this situation might lead me to be forced to stay inside, disallowing me at least the right to see my partner, if nothing else, and have at least a few hours a week where I’m not crippled by loneliness. I hear stories about people in quarantine in Europe – a woman who stepped outside her house to find out what the tapping on her roof was, only to be shooed back in by police. People being fined on the street in Austria and Spain, just for walking a few blocks to see a friend. 

For a while now, I’ve managed my loneliness by going back and forth between my home to my partner’s apartment. That freedom to move is something I dearly miss, and something I’ve long feared, a fear that was considered irrational a month ago, would be taken away, because it was a huge factor in fighting my crippling fear of isolation. 

And a fear it is. 

In college, I worked at my school radio station and unlike most of my friends, I didn’t live on campus. I drove everyday from New York City to Long Island. Oftentimes, I’d hang around campus after class to wait for traffic to die down, but on Fridays the campus was different. The last class let out at 3 p.m. and the campus cleared out; the parking lots were quiet, so quiet that you could hear the clock in the quad tick. 

I would often have nightmares about being stuck at the radio station after our news program ended at 5 p.m. on Fridays – alone. I’d be stuck there for an indefinite amount of time, the only person keeping the station running, by myself in a quiet building. I’d look out the window to see if anybody was out there, anyone driving by, but no one was there. I was alone. I would often wake up covered in sweat. 

I don’t know exactly when it started. My earliest memory of being afraid of isolation, when I was ten years old, and I would dread nighttime because it meant my parents would go to sleep and I’d be alone. It was ok if I could fall asleep, and up until that point, I have no problem going to sleep at the same time as my parents, but suddenly I couldn’t fall asleep at 10:30 p.m. after the weather segment of the 10 o’clock news. Suddenly I was awake for 30 more minutes, then 45, then an hour. Before I knew it, it was 11:30 p..m., and I was staring at the ceiling in the quiet of my room. 

For a time, maybe a year or so, I slept on the couch because it was closer to my parents bedroom than my bedroom. For a time I made my mother stay up with me until I fell asleep. It created strain in my parents’ marriage. One night I ran into my parents bedroom crying because I had woken up in my bedroom alone. My dad must have carried me in there. 

The fears were irrational. My bedroom was in the back of the house, so I felt isolated from where everyone else was – where the cars drove by and people walked by. I thought my parents would abandon me while I slept – they would pack up the house and move out leaving me behind. If i slept on the couch, it meant they couldn’t get out of the house without passing me and making a noise that would waken me. That was my tortured logic. 

Eventually, I found my way back into my bedroom; puberty helped. But as I got older, the nights got longer. I would walk around the house looking for lights in neighbors’ windows, seeing who was awake. I knew some of my neighbors nightly routines. The man who lived across the street would watch TV in his front room until 1 a.m. Another neighbor would always turned the bathroom light on at 12:15 a.m., probably to brush his teeth before bed I assumed. 

I would count how many windows were illuminated, a sign someone was awake. If I saw no lights on in any windows, anxiety would set in. I was alone.

The nights were long. One o’clock meant it would be another four hours before my father would get up for work. Four hours alone! It seems so weird now that I once had panic attacks about the nighttime being too long and nowadays I often wish it were longer. 

I became obsessed with CBS News Up To The Minute, an overnight news show that aired on CBS from 3 to 6 a.m. It was the only thing on that wasn’t informercials. Sharyl Attkisson became my best friend. Her daily updates of the OJ Simpson case and the Oslo Accords helped ease my loneliness until I dozed off to sleep. 

When I was 14, my aunt took me along to a business trip to Italy. For one night, we had to sleep in separate hotel rooms, but I wouldn’t let her leave. I even called home crying that I wanted to go home. I actually thought my aunt would abandon me in a foreign country. I actually had convinced myself of that. 

Which brings us to college and the nightmares about being stuck in the radio station. I felt it even long after. When I worked for PBS on Long Island, I often let the fear of being stuck at the office past five o’clock, when everyone else would have gone home, get in the way of my work. I would have a meltdown whenever a live taping went awry because it increased the chance I’d have to “fix it in post” – TV lingo for staying after filming and editing it to make it look like the mess up didn’t happen – editing alone. 

It’s the first time in most of our lifetimes, we are sharing a harrowing experience together as a species.

People often ask why I cannot put down my phone, because I feel lonely if I do. These past few weeks, I’ve thought about how lucky we are that this pandemic and these lockdowns are happening in a time of the internet. 

But it’s also a reminder to me of how important physical presence is. It was Marilyn Monroe who allegedly said: “It’s often just enough to be with someone. I don’t need to touch them. Not even talk. A feeling passes between you both. You’re not alone.” 

FaceTime, Skype and Zoom are good in that you can see and hear someone you miss, but nothing beats the physical presence of someone, especially someone you love. Nothing can fully replicate that. I fear losing that and losing it for an extended period of time.

If you had asked me before this year my nightmare scenarios, I would list a few things; being on a plane with no landing gear is one; trapped in an elevator with no cell service is another, but certainly on that list would be “a lockdown where I can’t leave the house or see my partner or my friends for an indefinite amount of time.” I have a feeling people would have laughed at me, that such a thing isn’t possible in the Untied States.

But here we are.

And so here I am, facing my nightmare. I’m lucky though. I’m not home alone, my parents are here; my aunt and uncle are upstairs in their apartment, my neighbors are within view and I have a big backyard and a lot of food. But I’m incomplete. I’m still isolated. The human contact that keeps my fears of isolation and loneliness away have been taken from me. Worse yet, it had to be, because it might kill me. 

And yet as much as this experience is testing the limits of my phobias, in some ironic way, it helps in knowing that it isn’t an isolating experience. I was in New York on September 11th and during Hurricane Sandy, and in both occasions, I wished I was somewhere else – anywhere else. I remember wishing I was in Australia during 9/11, far, far away. Boy, the weather in California was nice during Hurricane Sandy. 

Well this is different. Colombia, Italy, Belgium, Hawaii are all experiencing it too. We can’t experience it together, in the same room, but we are all experiencing it. There is some comfort in that. 

It reminds me of Independence Day, when humanity is forced to unite to save its planet from aliens. This is similar, though obviously not as dire. All the anxiety and stress and economic and financial pain, we’re all feeling it.

Somehow one of the loneliest experiences of my life, is the one experience I have in common with everyone else. And perhaps at the end of this, when the danger passes, we can experience that together, in person. And I would have faced one of my worst fears, and won. 

Fireworks And The Full Moon On The Fourth of July

The skies over New York City were illuminated like a Christmas tree last night with fireworks celebrating the Fourth of July. Also last night, we got a sneak peak at the July Full Moon. The two phenomena embraced in a delightful dance that I captured on camera. Enjoy the slideshow!

Musings On A Muted July 4th

It’s fitting I think that we are unable to celebrate Independence Day this year in ways we would usually, and that doing so would put our lives and the lives of everyone else at risk. The universe is telling us something.

There is nothing to celebrate this year.

No matter how many of America’s Karens come out in their cheap Made In China patriotic motif shirts and wipe their mouths with the Stars and Bars while complaining about athletes “disrespecting the flag,” America is not in a place to celebrate anything at the moment.

Perhaps never in our post-Civil War history has America had less to be proud of. We are the pariahs of the world, banned from traveling overseas, our land borders with Canada and Mexico closed.

While most of the world has brought the COVID-19 pandemic under control, the United States continues to post over 50,000 new cases a day. The situation in the South and West is exploding, and here in New York, nearly everyone is concerned about, perhaps resigned to, a second wave.

Meanwhile, our president is holding rallies around the country, rejecting health experts’ suggestions on how to reduce the threat; wearing masks and social distancing; and, ripe with delusion, predicting the virus would just “go away,” like he did five months ago, when it didn’t go away.

Hospitals in Houston, Miami and Phoenix are overflowing, replicating the problems that plagued New York City just a few months ago. We still have massive unemployment and because of our ridiculous system or tying healthcare to jobs, millions have lost their healthcare coverage because they cannot, out of concern for public safety, do the very think we require them to do in order to see a doctor – work. And as states register five-digit daily increase in cases, we can’t even convince a third of this country to put on a damn mask.

Meanwhile, this summer started with another brutal reminder that the promise of our nation has yet to be fulfilled. The nation watch George Floyd die under the knee of a cop who should have been fired years ago. What followed was weeks of outrage, which featured even more examples of police abusing their powers and attacking people of color.

Perhaps never in our post-Civil War history has America had less to be proud of.

And here we are, on our nation’s 244th birthday, with a government that has abdicated its responsibility to protect Americans in order to kick off Season Four of its pathetic reality show that even Bravo! would have cancelled years ago. And our last, best hope out of this mess? A 78-year old former Vice President who has been in government since my parents were in elementary school.

And maybe Biden will lead us out of it. Maybe we’ll get a COVID vaccine within a year, pass strong criminal justice reform legislation, strengthen our healthcare system and move away from tying it to employment, and move further to being a more perfect union.

And maybe the next Fourth of July will be one we can actually feel good about celebrating.

Maybe.

In the meantime, there will be fireworks and BBQs, and many of them will just make a bad situation even worse, and for the next six months at least, we’re stuck in a deadly cycle of virus, poverty and outrage that historians will one day study as a nadir of American history.

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