The Borough We Became: Queens Residents On Life During COVID-19

Oct 15 2020 22 mins 2

These are the stories from residents of New York City from the borough of Queens who are living, working, learning, and helping one another through the COVID-19 pandemic.





Episode 10: Gathering
Oct 15 2020 34 mins  
The  Queens Memory Project  brings you the 10th episode of season two of the  Queens Memory Podcast.  This season we have collected the documented experiences of Queens residents during the COVID-19 Pandemic. In our final episode of season two, we hear once again from Queens residents about their hopes and fears for the future, as well as one quarantine wedding, 20 years in the making.   On the final episode of season two of Queens Memory Podcast, we begin with a 20-year love story. Kate O’Connell and Michael Scott Robinson first met in an acting class. The pair recount their first kiss, their courtship, getting engaged in 2013, and Kate’s cancer diagnosis one month before their original wedding date in 2018. “I wasn’t going to do ‘tragic bald bride.’ Nope. That’s not me,” she said. So they postponed. Kate got better. And they set a new wedding date for 2020. Their plans were once again derailed -- this time by COVID-19. Kate, an ER nurse who has worked in a hospital throughout the pandemic, quarantined from Scott in their own house. Fear and stress and all the feelings that have struck some people throughout these trying times ultimately inspired the pair to hold a virtual wedding. “I realized that we still had this amazing celebration that we were entitled to, that we could create and share,” said Scott. Listen to Kate and Scott’s wedding vows and hear about how they created a little bit of happiness for themselves, their family, and friends. Later in the episode, we hear one more time from Queens residents about what they believe life “after COVID” will look like. From fears about students being left behind in their schooling, to hope that the traditional in-person working environment will be reimagined, even after it’s safe to come back; our Queens neighbors remain vigilant and hopeful. Many are rightfully determined that the Black Lives Matter movement, which sparked nationwide  protests  this summer, remains active and that conversations continue and work toward equal rights and equal treatment is never ceased.  Individuals whose voices can be heard in this segment are: Tunisia Morrison, Tiffany Nealy, Yvette Ramirez, Khaair Morrison, Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman, Richard Parker, Aleeia Abraham, Shante Spivey, Keshia Desmarattes, Ty Hankerson, and Franck Joseph. To close out the final episode, our whole team shared what they hope for the future after COVID, and reminisced on their favorite memories of the season.   This episode of the Queens Memory podcast was produced by Jordan Gass-Poore’, in conjunction with Anna Williams, Giulia Hjort, Syreeta Gates, Jo-Ann Wong, and Natalie Milbrodt.  Editing by Anna Williams and mixing by Briana Stodden, with music composed by Elias Ravin, the Blue Dot Sessions, Audio Network, as well as, Dale Stuckenbruck (violin) and Heawon Kim ( piano), who played "The Marriage of Figaro" during Kate O’Connell’s and Michael Scott Robinson’s Zoom wedding ceremony.  Special thanks for funding support from the New York Community Trust. Queens Memory is an ongoing community archiving program by the Queens Public Library and Queens College, CUNY.


Episode 2: Onward
Aug 10 2020 31 mins  
The Queens Memory Project brings you the second episode of season two of the Queens Memory Podcast. This season we have collected documented experiences of Queens residents during the COVID-19 Pandemic.   In this episode, we hear from two nurses who work on the front lines of the pandemic. Their testimonies in the early weeks and months provide insight to the devastation COVID-19 has reaped and the responses of New York hospitals. Also on this episode, Marah Rocco of the Rockaways shares how she has brought people together to release anxiety in a fun and primal way.   On April 17th, Governor Cuomo delivered a press briefing in which he stated the importance of decreasing the spread rate of the virus. He announced predictions that 55,000 - 100,000 hospital beds would be needed at the peak and called for the state and federal government to work together.   Patricia Tiu, a nurse in Queens, recorded herself in the first weeks of the virus and shared her experiences working in a hospital with a number of media outlets as well as with us at the Queens Memory COVID-19 Project. At the end of March, in her first recording, she notes that she had moved into her family’s basement to protect them from the virus that she battles daily. Patricia reports that nurses from other specialties within the hospital have been required to take on expedited ICU training so they can assist with COVID-19 patients. She expresses distress over what she perceives as people who don’t work on the front lines and don’t understand the magnitude and seriousness of the pandemic.    Weeks later, in another recording, Patricia has moved into emergency housing for hospital workers, a hotel, in order to protect her family and loved ones. She speaks of a ventilator shortage and the hard choices hospital staff have to make, how the hospital has transformed much of its space into an ICU to handle the number of COVID-19 patients, and the anxiety she and other nurses feel going into work every day, ready to fight.   In Cuomo’s April 2nd press briefing, the governor reports that New York City has only enough supplies to last six more days, and that healthcare workers from upstate New York and across the country are coming to New York City to assist with the drastic surge in cases.   A nurse from Florida, Joi, talks about her decision to come to New York and her experience in hospitals since arriving. She explains how COVID-19 can attack the body and instances where ventilators have caused damage to lungs.   Joi and Patricia talk about the importance of health care workers maintaining their mental health in these trying times, and encourage others to check in with health care workers they know.   Later in the episode, Rockaways resident Marah Rocco shares how she began howling with her community, a practice that reportedly started in Denver. Marah’s daughter Caitlin Cacciatore reads her poetry aloud.    If you are a health care worker, first of all, thank you, and please consider these medical professional-aimed resources to address mental health in the time of COVID-19: Mental Health America has easily accessible resources for dealing with fear of exposure, death of patients, compassion fatigue, and more. The American Medical Association has tips on caring for the mental wellbeing of yourself, your staff, and your patients. Massachusetts General Hospital provides tips and tools supported by videos to manage mental health.



Episode 4: Uprising
Aug 26 2020 19 mins  
The Queens Memory Project brings you the fourth episode of season two of the Queens Memory Podcast. This season we have collected documented experiences of Queens residents during the COVID-19 Pandemic. In this episode, we hear first-hand accounts of our Queens neighbors who have participated in the Black Lives Matter movement, their experiences at protests, and what we can do to keep the movement going.   Black Lives Matter protests have swept across the country in the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police, with many demonstrations taking place in Queens.  Krystal Padilla of Woodside talks about getting involved in protests for the first time, describing herself as a “quiet and shy person,” and how she felt particularly passionate about supporting BLM as she has faced harassment as a Latina woman. Padilla, like so many others, followed the call to action. Born and raised Queens, resident and community activist Ty Hankerson spoke at and helped organize several demonstrations this summer. Hankerson emphasizes the importance of protesting but also the necessity of doing work beyond the day of a march, including getting out to vote. Organizer Tunisia Morrison from South Jamaica talks about her efforts to get a Black Lives Matter mural in Queens. Morrison was distinct about her desire for every person who works on it to be black and to come from the local area. When she voiced this opinion to community leaders, she says it served as a “big spark” for everyone involved. Morrison was instrumental in the placement of the Black Lives Matter mural now on the street along Rufus King Park, and outside Queens Family Courthouse.  Lawyer, activist, and organizer Khaair Morrison (Tunisia’s brother) talks about his connection to the community and the work he has done, which includes holding an Instagram live session with his mentor, Congressman Gregory Meeks which drew over 100 viewers, to talk about police reform in Congress.  Queens Memory Podcast staff member Anna Williams attended a Street Riders NYC ride and included a recording of her experience. The activist group began its rides on June 6, and has drawn over 10,000 cyclists. The route Williams followed traveled from Flushing Meadows, Corona Park, across the Queensboro Bridge, and into Manhattan. Lulu White of Ridgewood used her embroidery talents to raise funds for the Pittsburgh Black Business Relief Fund. Her piece includes the James Baldwin quote: “You're talking about the people who have the power, who intend to keep the power. And all they can think of are things like swimming pools, you know, in the summertime, and sort of made up jobs to simply protect peace and the public property. But they show no sign whatsoever of understanding what the root of the problem really is, what the dangers really are.” Queens Memory Podcast producer Giulia Hjort and White discuss learning about the Black Lives Matter movement, taking part in protests, and their continued self-education on racism.  “Vigil” by Queens Memory Podcast composer Elias Ravin plays at the end of the episode, which was composed in honor of George Floyd. This season of Queens Memory was produced by Jordan Gass-Poore in conjunction with: Anna Williams, Syreeta Gates, Giulia Hjort, Theresa Gaffney, Jo-Ann Wong, and Natalie Milbrodt. Editing was done by Anna Williams with mixing by Briana Stodden and music by Elias Ravin and the Blue Dot Sessions. Special thanks for funding support from the New York Community Trust. Queens Memory is an ongoing community archiving program by the Queens Public Library and Queens College, CUNY.


Episode 9: Creating
Oct 01 2020 24 mins  
The  Queens Memory Project  brings you the ninth episode of season two of the  Queens Memory Podcast.  This season we have collected the documented experiences of Queens residents during the COVID-19 Pandemic. In this episode, we hear from artists and creatives in Queens about how they have managed to shine through the pandemic, by finding innovative and fun ways to express themselves while staying safe.   In mid-March, as the pandemic was starting to take hold in New York City, Governor Cuomo  issued   a ban on gatherings of 500 people or more -- a move that would prove to be only the beginning of great steps taken to slow the spread of COVID-19. That same day, Broadway went  dark. Restrictions grew tighter in the following weeks, and soon enough, public spaces were closed and New York became a vastly different city. Faced with new social distancing rules, members of the arts community did what they do best: They got creative.  Crockett Doob,   a writer and drummer from Queens, plays drums on a makeshift setup at 33rd Street and Astoria Boulevard so he won’t disturb his neighbors. When he lived in Sunnyside, he played on the 39th Street bridge, where he enjoyed the noise of the traffic which allowed him to play as loudly as possible. Now, playing in a more exposed location, he enjoys the anonymity wearing a mask allows him, so he can play as excitedly as he wants. Richard Parker  is a tattoo artist in Queens and the designer of the Black Lives Matter  mural  on Jamaica Avenue. Having spent his entire life weaving through the borough, from Corona to Bayside to Flushing and beyond, Parker calls himself a “Queens mutt.”  Parker sees the world coming to a standstill as an opportunity for artists, “Now is the time to do what you want to do, especially in New York City.” By designing the BLM mural and his other art projects, Parker says he has been called an “activist” by the community, a title which he says he obtained simply by expressing himself through his art. Lifelong Queens resident Sapphira Martin is a dancer, podcast producer, and writer. She and her mother are the owners of dance studio,  It’s Dance at the Brown Barre.  She is also co-host of  The Black Girl Podcast,  alongside four other proud and strong black women. She has focused during the pandemic on supporting her Queens community. She leads classes via  Instagram  for her dance students and continues to work remotely on her podcast and subscription box service,  SassBoxx,  co-curated by Martin for black women. She has leaned heavily into her creative outlets over the last few months, and the Black Lives Matter resurgence that took place this summer drove Martin further to create and show up. “Black lives have always and will always matter,” she says.   This episode of Queens Memory was produced by Jordan Gass-Poore in conjunction with Theresa Gaffney, Anna Williams, Syreeta Gates, Briana Stodden, Jo-Ann Wong, and Natalie Milbrodt. This episode was edited by Anna Williams with mixing by Briana Stodden and music composed by Elias Ravin and the Blue Dot Sessions. Special thanks for funding support from the New York Community Trust. Queens Memory is an ongoing community archiving program by the Queens Public Library and Queens College, CUNY.


Episode 1: Adjustment
Aug 04 2020 17 mins  
The Queens Memory Project brings you the premiere of season two of the Queens Memory Podcast. This season we have collected documented experiences of Queens residents during the COVID-19 Pandemic.  Episode one features testimonies of two residents who live near hospitals and the blaring realities they face, as well as others who struggle to find a sense of normalcy, who feel as though they have lost time, and those who have lost loved ones to the virus.   On March 20, 2020, at 11 am, Governor Cuomo delivered a press briefing on New York’s response to COVID-19. It was in this briefing that the governor announced an executive stay-at-home order, urging residents to isolate to flatten the curve of coronavirus infections in New York. In the following weeks and months, Queens residents still grapple with how isolation and COVID-19 have impacted their lives. Malcolm Boyd and Elizabeth O’Brien share their stories of living near hospitals in Queens, including Elmhurst Hospital, which Boyd describes as a COVID ‘hotspot.’ Queens, and Elmhurst Hospital in particular, has in fact had the highest infection rates in the city, and remains toward the top of the list for most confirmed cases and deaths in the United States. O’Brien laments over the state of health in Queens, specifically for MTA workers and essential grocery staff, noting that as of her recording on April 20th, an estimated 7,000 have died of COVID-19. At the time, testing was not administered widely, so the exact number of COVID related deaths is disputed. Further in the episode, recent high school graduate Kafilat Abdul of South Jamaica speaks of missing out on her graduation ceremony and celebrations, and Justin Kwiatowski of Queens Village, an essential worker, talks of maintaining a routine, adhering to safety procedures, and finding the positives in life. On April 2nd, Mayor de Blasio said in his daily press briefing: “This is a transformative moment for the state, for the country. I believe that. I also believe this is a moment when you see what people are made of.” Meanwhile, Queens residents continue to reel from their experiences with COVID-19. Ann Hepperman, of Jackson Heights, contracted the virus in March, and shares her experience of being in total quarantine, accessing tele-health, and what it was like to re-enter the world once she had recovered.  Hepperman speaks of suffering a panic attack at a grocery store and the psychological trauma she has faced and many others are likely to suffer from. Hendal Leiva lost a friend to COVID-19, and talks about the suddenness of his friend’s death and how it has impacted him.  Resources are available to help those struggling with stress, anxiety, and loss related to COVID-19. For helping yourself manage anxiety see Health Line’s tips, for those with children, visit Child Mind, and if you have suffered a loss, New York Presbyterian offers advice. These are just a few of the vast number of online resources available -- for immediate help, please consider calling a 24/7 helpline.  Referenced at the end of the show is a tribute to first responders by the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels, which can be seen here. It’s not too late to submit your story to the Queens Memory Project. Follow this link to submit an audio recording, text, video, or photos that you feel documents your experience of COVID-19.


Episode 8: Learning
Sep 24 2020 24 mins  
The  Queens Memory Project  brings you the eighth episode of season two of the  Queens Memory Podcast.  This season we have collected the documented experiences of Queens residents during the COVID-19 Pandemic. On this episode, we hear from educators of different backgrounds about how virtual learning has impacted their students and the way they do their jobs.    On March 15, 2020, Mayor De Blasio  announced  New York City schools would close to slow the spread of COVID-19. On March 23, 1.1 million students and 75,000 teachers in the city switched to remote learning. Less than two weeks later, De Blasio  extended  the closure to the end of the school year. As of the publishing of this podcast, NYC schools  remain closed  for most children. Tiffany Davis-Nealy, of South Ozone Park, traveled the world as an education consultant before becoming the principal of PS 165 in Flushing. Davis-Nealy was a motivated student, raised in Bed-Stuy at PS 40 and transferred to PS 121 in Queens in the fifth grade, where her mother fought for her to be placed in advanced classes. Nealy felt destined to be an educator because she wanted to be like one of the teachers who shaped her life so positively. She majored in psychology and education in college and then began her career in Harlem in the 1990s. Nealy would later work for Columbia University, PS 21, and finally, currently, at PS 165. Nealy states she has learned a lot about her students since the onset of COVID-19 and the switch to virtual learning. She has noticed a higher level of food insecurity among the families than she had previously been aware of. In fact, Flushing is what is known as a food desert -- where there are fewer than  10 retail food stores  per 10,000 residents. Nealy notes that many of her students had relied on lunches received in school as their primary food source. While  organizations  and the  city  have stepped up to help provide meals, there remains a struggle to support families and make virtual learning work for everyone. Shawn Chandler, an attendance teacher for the Department of Education, is eager to help people through the uncertain future of the pandemic. Born in Queens, Chandler has worked for the DoE for 15 years, where he tracks down young adults who have stopped attending school for various reasons and helps get them on a course to graduation. Chandler also owns  Sing 2 School Inc.,  a hip-hop educational company. Predictions have been made far and wide about what schools will  look like  when they reopen amid COVID-19, what the US can learn from  other countries  about safely reopening, and even what schools will  look like  years after the pandemic has ebbed.  Chandler has his own theories. While he acknowledges that the implementation of remote learning has  not been seamless  and that the practice itself is  not for everyone,  he predicts that hybrid-lessons and attending in-person a few days a week will be much more common in coming years. Chandler is hopeful that whatever changes are coming to the education system will be effective in keeping students in school. Remote learning has been especially difficult for students with special needs and their families. These students who require the most direct support in a classroom have suddenly had to transition to learning at home with their families. In New York City,  228,000 children  with disabilities have been affected by the closure as  services  have changed. Keisha Desmarattes is a lifelong Queens resident and a special education teacher. Formerly a social worker, Desmarates earned her MA in social work in 2014. She recalls teachers scrambling to prepare for what teaching is going to look like this fall. When the closures began, most teachers assumed it would be back to normal by September. Desmarates laments the  disadvantages  her students experience with remote learning, but she is committed to ensuring they receive all the care and support she can provide. She notes her dream of opening a women’s youth center for young girls to gain the tools to succeed. Shanté Spivey is principal at a school for special education in Queens. She has always chosen to work with children who have special needs as she holds out hope for those who people feel can not learn. Spivey has noticed many difficulties her students and their  caregivers  have faced since the switch to remote learning. She recalls one student who lives with a grandmother and has one tablet and unreliable WiFi for 11 people who live in the home.  This week, NYC  students  with advanced special needs returned for in-person instruction.  Both Spivey and Desmarates advocate for better support for special education students and commit to providing the best services they can for the community that they whole-heartedly support and see the potential in.  “If you can tap into children in the manner that you need to, this world would explode,” said Spivey.   This episode of Queens Memory was produced by Jordan Gass-Poore in conjunction with Syreeta Gates, Theresa Gaffney, Anna Williams, Jo-Ann Wong, and Natalie Milbrodt. This episode was edited by Anna Williams with mixing by Briana Stodden and music composed by Elias Ravin and the Blue Dot Sessions.  Special thanks for funding support from the New York Community Trust. Queens Memory is an ongoing community archiving program by the Queens Public Library and Queens College, CUNY.


Episode 7: Organizing
Sep 16 2020 27 mins  
The  Queens Memory Project  brings you the seventh episode of season two of the  Queens Memory Podcast.  This season we have collected the documented experiences of Queens residents during the COVID-19 Pandemic. On this episode Queens leaders talk about campaigning during a quarantine and ways they have found to continue to support their communities.    Unemployment filings skyrocketed as COVID-19 settled upon New York City and the world as businesses closed and workers were laid off. By early May, the New York Department of Labor  announced they had paid $6.8 billion in unemployment since the start of the pandemic. This number is nearly three times greater than the total unemployment payments made in 2019. While  food pantries  and other nonprofits scrambled to answer the call for help, their resources were  strained  by the sharp spike in need. On August 1st, Queens residents gathered outside the New York Hall of Science to receive food distributions. Senator Jessica Ramos hosted the event, which also offered  free COVID-19 testing.  Senator Ramos hosted regular fresh food  distribution events  in the months after the pandemic upended life and income for many Queens residents. The event on August 1st was the 14th distribution. Michael Pereira, who was born and raised in Queens, was in attendance and talked about how this time away from work  has enabled him to take better care of himself physically and mentally. He also talks about the  systemic dietary oppression  Latinx families face, as well as, the negative health impacts of  low-income, predominantly minority neighborhoods due to low housing quality.  Meanwhile, politicians and aspiring leaders try to adapt to campaigning and staying in touch with communities while social distancing.  Queens resident  Mary Jobaida  was forced to derail her campaign for the New York State Assembly District 37 when the shutdown began. Jobaida immigrated to Queens from Bangladesh in 2001 and has lived in the area ever since. She talks about watching the gentrification of neighborhoods, pricing herself and her neighbors out of options. A 2019  report  by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development found that, in Queens, the neighborhoods of Jamaica and Hollis were most at risk. This  map  shows gentrification throughout all of New York City. Jobaida decided to run for State Assembly in District 37 to help those who have been affected, against incumbent  Catherine Nolan  who was first elected in 1984. Jobaida says she originally thought about running for State Assembly in 2018. She filed the paperwork to do so in spring of 2019, using her professional name “Mary.” In April 2020, the board of elections removed her from the ballot upon learning her full name is Meherunnisa. Their stated reason being that the name in the application filing must match the candidate’s legal name. Jobaida, along with Moumita Ahmed, who was also removed for the same reason,  sued the BOE,  claiming xenophobia was behind the decision. In May, a  judge ruled  the two women will appear on the ballot. Continuing her campaign while social distancing, Jobaida was severely limited. A number of her organizers and campaigners contracted COVID-19, four of whom died.  One month before the election, unable to afford mailers, Jobaida utilized volunteers to operate phone banks. The Democratic Primary Election took place on June 23, 2020.  Jobaida lost  to incumbent Catherine Nolan by 1,153 votes. Jobaida won 5,041 votes, while Nolan won 6,554. Jobaida suspects if she had been able to campaign in person, she would have won, and vows to continue the fight.  Brent O’Leary  of Long Island City is running for City Council, District 26, which includes Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside, and part of Astoria. O’Leary  announced his campaign  in the summer of 2018 - three years before the 2021 election. Now, he’s glad his campaign launched so early, as they were able to build momentum. However, the pandemic has slowed fundraising, he said, as most funds are normally raised during in-person events. He is also reluctant to ask people for money in the midst of the pandemic. Instead, O’Leary co-founded two emergency food pantries, in  Sunnyside  and  Woodside.  Ultimately, official campaign events ceased, but remaining active in his community helped keep O’Leary in the public eye, and demonstrated his priorities, he said. The campaign is now getting back on its feet. O’Leary talks about his support of the current  Senate bill  to cancel rent for small businesses who are struggling due to COVID-19. On last week’s episode of Queens Memory Podcast, we heard from local small business owners about the impact the pandemic has had on their businesses. According to a Hospitality Alliance  survey,  only 19% of New York City businesses paid rent in June, and only 26% of landlords waived any rent. With the primary election less than a year away, O’Leary wonders what campaigning will look like in the coming months. Across the country, candidates have had to transition their campaigns to socially distanced tactics. Read about what State Congressional and Senate candidates are doing differently to campaign in the  New Yorker  and  NY1. With an uncertain future, O’Leary commits  to heed  professional advice  regarding COVID-19, praises New York City for its  effective response  to the virus, and voices support for the effective  use of masks  in preventing the spread of the disease.   This episode of Queens Memory was produced by Jordan Gass-Poore’ in conjunction with Anna Williams, Giulia Hjort, Roshni Khatri, Jo-Ann Wong, and Natalie Milbrodt.  Mixing and editing by Briana Stodden with music composed by Elias Ravin and the Blue Dot Sessions.  Special thanks for funding support from the New York Community Trust. Queens Memory is an ongoing community archiving program by the Queens Public Library and Queens College, CUNY.


Episode 6: Comeback
Sep 10 2020 23 mins  
The  Queens Memory Project  brings you the sixth episode of season two of the  Queens Memory Podcast. This season we have collected the documented experiences of Queens residents during the COVID-19 Pandemic. In this episode, Queens small business owners share what it has been like to operate in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic -- their struggles and perseverance.   On March 20th, Governor Cuomo announced  that New York City was going “on PAUSE” with an executive order, wherein all non-essential businesses were to close their doors. This included restaurants, shops, and other small businesses to reduce their workforce by 100%. Food service was hit especially hard. New York lost an estimated $1.9 billion in sales and 250,000 jobs  in March, according to a survey conducted by the New York State Restaurant Association. Local advertising company and community blog, Give Me Astoria, established a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money for the  Astoria Relief Fund. Founder of Give Me Astoria, Sonia Mylonas, along with designer Eleni Louca and Editor-in-Chief Lou Lou Chryssides, successfully raised $25,000 -- delivering over 5,000 meals to essential workers from over 100 local restaurants. The fund provided monetary compensation for restaurants to bring back their employees to prepare and deliver meals to essential workers, though the team says many restaurant owners contributed more, as they were grateful to have a reason to work again. Meanwhile, other non-essential businesses found new ways to work within the guidelines of the executive order. Local audio and video business owner Jonathan Jetter was able to operate his company, Right Angle Productions, from his office, as the only person there. Jetter recalls working long hours in the uncertain days leading up to the lockdown as he tried to finish projects in case he was forced to halt his work. However, while business has slowed, Jetter has been able to keep his company up and running. Jetter laments that no rent relief program for businesses has been instituted. (Note: Jetter was interviewed on 07/23/2020 and this episode was posted on 09/10/2020). According to a  Hospitality Alliance survey, only 19% of New York City businesses paid rent in June, and only 26% of landlords waived any rent. An estimated 64% of restaurants  in New York State may close as a result of the impact of COVID-19. Food blog Eater NY  provides an ongoing list  of local restaurants that closed their doors permanently during the pandemic. Several  bills have been proposed  by New York politicians, including a  bill to the New York City Council  that would repeal commercial rent tax for the remainder of the pandemic. However, nothing has been enacted yet. While the struggle to remain open has hit many business owners, those that have been able to remain operational have had to learn new ways of staying safe.  Demetrios Vasiadis, owner of  14th Street Laundry  in Astoria, talks about navigating the safe operation of his laundromat -- deemed an essential business -- during COVID-19. Vasiais maintains a  blog for the laundromat,  in which he describes everything from new safety measures to changes in traffic conditions. He attributes an increase in business to the security and comfort the blog provides customers.   This episode of Queens Memory was produced by Jordan Gass-Poore’ in conjunction with Anna Williams, Briana Stodden, Jo-Ann Wong, and Natalie Milbrodt. Mixing and editing by Briana Stodden with music composed by Elias Ravin and the Blue Dot Sessions.  Special thanks for funding support from the New York Community Trust. Queens Memory is an ongoing community archiving program by the Queens Public Library and Queens College, CUNY.


Episode 5: Intersection
Sep 02 2020 23 mins  
The Queens Memory Project brings you the fifth episode of season two of the Queens Memory Podcast. This season we have collected the documented experiences of Queens residents during the COVID-19 Pandemic.   In this episode, we hear from first responders of color who have been on the front lines of the pandemic from the very beginning.    Diana Wilson has been an EMT with the New York Fire Department for 17 years in Springfield Gardens. Rob Semple has been a firefighter with the FDNY in Corona for less than a year. Both Rob and Diana are first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rob, who is new to the force, remembers their 20-week training being cut short by two weeks in order to get more firefighters in the field as soon as possible to help with the pandemic. Indeed, medical 911 calls to the FDNY rose from 4,000 to 6,500 per day, including a notable spike in calls involving cardiac arrest, and a 400% increase in cardiac arrest home deaths.  Diana notes a new rule for paramedics, implemented because of the pandemic: Limit your use of CPR. This rule was put in place by the Regional Emergency Medical Services Council of New York City, in an attempt to keep COVID-19 positive people from entering hospitals and infecting others. However, following widespread objections, the New York Health Department rescinded the order. Previously, according to New York City EMS protocol, CPR should be initiated to all patients in a state of cardiac arrest, unless signs of obvious death are present or the patient has Do Not Resuscitate orders in place.  Diana and Rob discuss the emotional toll they have felt during these trying times. Diana lost her husband to an illness in April 2019, and after COVID-19 took hold in New York City, she sent her children to live somewhere outside of the epicenter. She reports feeling isolated without her family around her, especially after two of her colleagues died by suicide in the midst of the pandemic.  Similarly, Rob notes that many of their fellow firefighters find comfort in spouses and significant others, which Rob does not have. While the FDNY offers mental health support, neither Diana nor Rob have utilized it, though both encourage people to find support within their communities. Rob also reflects on the unifying effect 9/11 had on the FDNY as a result of so much shared loss, and they lament that the pandemic hasn’t brought about the same response. Fellow EMS worker Christell Cadet tested positive for COVID-19 in March and was told to come into work anyway. (In the early days of the pandemic this was not unheard of because hospitals were so overwhelmed.) Cadet has asthma, a respiratory condition which she is 20% more likely to have as a  Black American woman than a non-Hispanic white American woman. Eventually, Cadet went to the hospital, where her condition worsened and she was put in a medically induced coma and placed on a ventilator. (COVID-19 patients that require ventilators are always put into comas.) Cadet awoke from her coma a month later. All medical personnel responding to the COVID-19 pandemic work long hours, are under immense stress, and literally put their lives at risk while working. It is an incredibly dangerous job, and workers like Cadet and 100,000 others have paid a high price. For this reason, there has been a widespread call for hazard pay to be distributed to essential workers, like medical staff, who put their lives on the line for us all. Hazard Pay has been a point of contention between first responders and the government since the onset of the pandemic. “Hazard Pay” is additional pay for workers performing hazardous duties. Diana, as an EMS worker, has not received hazard pay for working on the front lines of the deadly pandemic. She reports hearing that doctors and nurses received hazard pay -- which could be because certain private hospitals and private companies have offered bonuses or increased pay for employees working in hazardous conditions. Yet no city or state funding for hazard pay has been passed in New York -- meaning no front line medical workers in city hospitals have seen any additional payment for battling COVID first-hand.  Governor Cuomo has expressed support for hazard pay. Early on he called for 50% hazard pay to come from the federal government. He has supported the passage of the Heroes Act, which would allocate $200 billion for hazard pay. While the act was passed by the House of Representatives in May, it - or any other stimulus package - has yet to be passed by the Senate. The pay gap between FDNY employees has long been a point of contention, even before COVID-19. As noted in the episode: Starting pay for FDNY EMT is $35,000 and rises to $50,000 over five years.  Starting pay for FDNY paramedics is $48,000 and rises to $65,000 over five years.   Starting pay for FDNY firefighters is $45,000 and rises to $110,000 over five years. Starting pay for NYPD officers is $42,000 and rises to $85,000, with an upwards estimate of $100,000 with overtime and other benefits. As discussed in last week's episode of Queens Memory, the Black Lives Matter movement has swept the nation. Breonna Taylor was a 26-year-old black woman who worked as an EMT in Louisville, KY. On March 13, she was shot and killed by Louisville police while asleep in her bed. Diana discusses her fears about raising children in a time and place where they will be judged by the color of their skin. Rob shares their dismay that the pandemic hasn’t slowed the murder of black, brown, and trans people. Indeed, the number of police shootings in 2020 shows no significant change from the same timeframe in 2019 and 2018. Instead, murders of transgender people in 2020 has surpassed last year’s total. Rob and Diana have noticed a lack of cultural and racial awareness among their colleagues. In Queens, where half the residents identify as POC or BIPOC, emergency response workers like EMS or firefighters must work quickly and comfortably in homes of families whose cultures may be unfamiliar to them.  FDNY EMS workers are made up of 54% racial minorities, while firefighters are only 22% racial minorities. Cultural Competency in Disaster Response is the awareness of culture, race, gender, class, age, and faith in an emergency and being able to work professionally while respecting the different factors that may play into the encounter. Training materials can be found online, but it is unclear if Cultural Competency training is provided to or required of FDNY workers.   This episode of Queens Memory was produced by Jordan Gass-Poore’ in conjunction with Sam Riddell, Anna Williams, Jo-Ann Wong, and Natalie Milbrodt. Editing by Anna Williams with mixing by Briana Stodden and music from Elias Ravin and the Blue Dot Sessions.  Special thanks for funding support from the New York Community Trust. Queens Memory is an ongoing community archiving program by the Queens Public Library and Queens College, CUNY.


Episode 3: Connecting
Aug 19 2020 20 mins  
The Queens Memory Project brings you the third episode of season two of the Queens Memory Podcast. This season we have collected documented experiences of Queens residents during the COVID-19 Pandemic. In this episode, we hear from students and a teacher in Queens who are experiencing the many impacts of virtual learning, their thoughts on the future, and how to stay positive in trying times.   Governor Cuomo delivered a press briefing on May 1st, in which he announced that New York schools would remain closed through the end of the academic year. He advised schools to begin work on plans to create safe in-person learning environments, but said it was too soon to speculate on a fall semester reopening. Anthony Gadaleta, a teacher from The Mary Louis Academy in Jamaica, Queens, shares his experience working from home in a small shared space with his wife, an adjustment that has affected millions of Americans. Here’s some advice on making shared space work at home. Gadaleta also talks about connecting with his students via virtual learning. Teaching physics, computer science, and math this way proved to be a struggle, but Gadaleta did his best, noting that certain adjustments were made to lesson plans based on what could realistically be taught virtually.  Students and faculty of The Mary Louis Academy have transitioned to virtual learning amid the pandemic, while mourning the loss of assistant principal Joe Lewinger, who died in March of COVID-19. “We lost pretty much the heart of the school. So for us, it hit immediately,” said Gadeleta. “He was already a huge impact on me and my career and my understanding of what it takes to be a good teacher.” Meanwhile, high schooler Marvin Lezama shares his concerns about the long-term effects of virtual learning, such as students being unable to re-acclimate to a traditional academic and social setting. He considers the effectiveness of the techniques used in this new medium of education and the loss of the Regents Exam.  While schools in a number of states are set to reopen this fall for in-person instruction, many will still utilize virtual learning for the safety of staff and students. Though virtual learning has been helpful in this time of crisis, there are some perceived pros and cons amongst those experiencing it. And 12-year-old Jason Tejada shares his feelings about virtual learning, sharing space and technology with his family, and how he stays positive.  As of the release of this podcast, New York City schools are set to re-open part-time on September 10th. If your child will be back in the classroom this fall, here are some tips that you can follow to keep them safe, which include taking their temperature before they leave, investing in the right mask, and having them shower when they get home.  This episode of Queens Memory was produced by Jordan Gass-Poore’, in conjunction with Anna Williams, Briana Stodden, Jo-Ann Wong, and Natalie Milbrodt.  Mixing and editing was done by Briana Stodden with music by Elias Ravin and from the Blue Dot Sessions.  Special thanks for funding support from the New York Community Trust. Queens Memory is an ongoing community archiving program by the Queens Public Library and Queens College, CUNY.





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