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New COVID-19 testing, vaccine site opens at Astoria Houses

Residents of Western Queens and Astoria Houses now have a new and closer COVID-19 vaccination and testing site made out of repurposed shipping containers.

The temporary medical care unit located just steps from the Astoria Houses Community Center will be operated by NYC-based charity hospital, The Floating Hospital, and will provide free vaccines and tests. The site will be open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

NYS Gov. Hochul shakes hands with residents of the Astoria Houses

With only a single permanent vaccination site located within a half-mile of Astoria Houses, and just two permanent vaccination sites in the 11102 area code, the lack of access to vaccines has shown higher case and death rates in the area compared to other parts of Queens and New York City.

In the area code 11102, there is a case rate of 30,300 per 100,000 individuals, compared to 13,350 and 12,600 in Queens and New York City, respectively. The death rate within the same zip code is approximately 616 per 100,000, compared to 448 and 408 to the borough and city, respectively.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney was joined by NYS Governor Kathy Hochul, NYC Deputy Mayor Lorraine Grillo, and other community leaders to unveil the new 40-foot-long medical care center in the courtyard of the housing complex.

“We learned during COVID that there are great inequities in health care, there are great needs, and that we have to do a better job to support and provide health care, equally, to all people,” Maloney said.

The temporary medical care unit was designed by a research and development consortium composed of the New Jersey Institute of Technology and The Tuchman Foundation. Maloney worked with the aforementioned agencies, as well as the New York City Housing Authority, to secure the placement for the temporary healthcare unit.

Hochul praised the leadership of Maloney, as well as echoing similar sentiments about unequal access to healthcare.

“Today, we begin to right the wrongs of the past. If anything, this pandemic demonstrates that there are systemic disparities in healthcare access and therefore healthcare outcomes,” Hochul said. “Nowhere do we see that more intensely than in this neighborhood and in this community.”

Claudia Coger, the former Astoria Houses Tenants Association President, said that a high number of unvaccinated individuals live in the neighborhood. She says access is key when it comes to providing knowledge to the place she has called home for her entire life.

“Let’s get rid of some of the excuses,” Coger said.

Pol Position: Mandatory for some, but not for others

NYC Mayor Eric Adams claims that his recent decision to lift the COVID-19 vaccination mandate is an attempt to bring back the city’s illustrious “nightlife” that “the city that never sleeps“ is and has always been known for.

“We’re going to keep our nightlife industry thriving, a $35.1 billion industry. By putting our home teams on equal playing fields we increase their chances of winning and that has a real impact on our city. It’s not just fans in the stands, it’s people in the stores. Every time a championship or a game is played here it’s a boost of $11 million into our economic impact during the playoff season,” Adams said in his press conference. “Expanding this exemption, which only applies to a small number of people, is crucial.”

While the announcement comes just in time for the upcoming NBA playoffs and MLB 2022 season, many New Yorkers are in an uproar that Hizzoner is caving in to the pressure from celebrity holdouts, including Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets and Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees, who have both expressed their disinterest in taking the vaccine which many city workers have been forced to take at risk of losing their job.

NYC Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said that this sends the wrong message to the city that athletes and celebrities making millions of dollars each year are exempt while so many others have been losing their jobs.

“This exemption sends the wrong message that higher-paid workers and celebrities are being valued as more important than our devoted civil servants, which I reject. This is a step away from following sensible public health-driven policies that prioritize equity,” Speaker Adams said.

In the Mayor’s defense:

The entertainment industry was one facet of New York City living that experienced a significant blow from the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of people lost their jobs when concert venues and arenas were shut down due to the virus.

Stagehands and union employees who put in the work to ensure that these concerts and events were able to function properly have been out of work for a very long time, and are eager to go back.

Since the mandate was enforced many performances scheduled to take place in New York City have been canceled or postponed indefinitely.

According to a report made by NYS Comptroller DiNapoli last year, employment in arts, entertainment and recreation declined by 66 percent as of December 2020, representing the largest decline among one of the City’s most valued economic sectors.

While there are many who are opposed to the Mayor’s recent announcement, it’s important from the standpoint of economic recovery to bring back these institutions where so many people have traditionally been employed.

Vendors, security, and stagehands have all had to go without work, and two years later, several have had to make difficult decisions in order to make ends meet.

In defense of the mandate:

The mayor’s kowtowing to the demands of rich ballplayers who refuse to observe the mandate enforced on city employees may allow for there to be a 2022 MLB season but it could lead to rifts between the city and municipal workers that feel they were strong-armed into falling in line with the vaccine requirement.

Healthcare workers were the most impacted by this requirement. When the mandate first came into effect, many of the essential workers who helped treat the sick at the start of the pandemic suddenly found themselves in a predicament. Many felt they were made to choose, risking their jobs by holding out on taking the shots.

Earlier this week, The New York Post spoke with an unvaccinated Harlem resident who was sent home from her job as a waitress at Citi Field because she didn’t want to get the shot. According to the Citi Field employee, Elissa Embree, she hasn’t been vaccinated because she had two miscarriages and is worried that the vaccine could possibly increase her risk for another.

“I’m not as important as a Met is, because a Met will fill Citi Field, which fills the coffers of New York,” Embree said in the article. “They don’t care about little ol’ me, who pays middle-class taxes. The elusive ‘they’ don’t care that I have been out of work and that I have been at my breaking point.”

While the CDC states that there is no definitive evidence showing that the COVID-19 vaccine causes any such fertility problems, her overall frustration with the franchise echoes the remarks of numerous other NYC workers who have been pushed out of their job due to the mandate.

Presently, more than 1,400 NYC municipal workers lost their jobs for refusing to take the vaccine.

Vaccine clinic at Maspeth High School

Almost 80 percent of students fully vaccinated

By Evan Triantafilidis

[email protected]

Maspeth High School held an all-day COVID-19 clinic, offering vaccines, boosters, and both rapid and PCR tests for students and community members.

The mobile vaccine van, operated by the New York City Department of Health, was parked outside the school last Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., with students voluntarily lining up after school to receive their first, second, or booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine.

Recently released data from the health department shows that 82.5 percent of students at Maspeth High have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 78 percent are considered fully vaccinated.

The school reported only six cases of COVID-19 during the month of February, which is a 97 percent reduction in cases compared to January.

Justin Spiro, a social worker at Maspeth High, said that the vaccine clinic was an opportunity to increase accessibility to the free shots.

“It’s not just about servicing the school, but the community as well,” Spiro said.

For Jakub Sulinski, a senior at Maspeth High, nearly half of his high school experience has been during the pandemic. He says that his school has done an adequate job of providing students with resources, even when remote learning was the only option.

“A lot of people didn’t like Zoom and stuff like that, but I feel like people would have gone mad if it wasn’t for it,” Sulinski said. “The socializing keeps us sane.”

He said that the cancellation of the Regents exam in January added to the craziness of his last year of high school.

“Two years just disappeared,” Spiro said. “But we have to do what we have to do to help society as a whole.”

If it’s your choice, then face the consequences

One of the most upsetting aspects of the coronavirus pandemic (aside from the millions of deaths globally) has been the politicization of public health, especially in the United States.
Facilitated in part by the unclear and theatrical messaging of former President Donald Trump, a large number of Americans have eschewed masks since the pandemic’s start because they perceive a piece of fabric over their mouth and nose as an encroachment on their civil liberties.
Many conservative pundits have preached about the tyranny of the mask, urging their audiences to exercise their freedom of speech and conscientiously object the most basic of health precautions.
Once vaccines were produced and readily available, the story played out much the same. “Exercise free speech!” the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers chant. “Public health is a choice, not an obligation!” they cheer.
Yet if people are able to choose against protecting their health and the health of others, then they should be ready to face the consequences.
In addition to still being at risk of contracting and dying from COVID, anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers should be prepared to face additional obstacles as the rest of the country gets its act together and tries to return to some sort of normal life.
Although Mayor Bill de Blasio encourages people to wear masks even if vaccinated, he should not re-institute a mask mandate for the entire population. Instead, future messaging about masks and vaccines should be specifically targeted at those who ignore them.
“If you are not vaccinated, you must still wear a mask,” the headlines should read.
New York City is doing a good job at tackling the pandemic. If we want to cross the finish line though, we must not bend to the will of a selfish minority of the population. Instead, government officials should be prepared to play hardball with the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers.
Make it known that they are the problem and make it clear that the city can continue on its path to recovery with or without them.

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