12.24.20 – “Brooklyn Nonprofit Donates 115,000 Masks Across NYC, the US and Latin America”

As reported by the Brooklyn Paper:

At the outset of the pandemic Mercado Global, a Brooklyn nonprofit empowering rural Guatemalan women to become entrepreneurs, pivoted to donating masks to communities in need.

And this month, the team, based out of Sunset Park, just surpassed a monumental 115,000 masks donated around New York, the United States and Latin America — all made by 750 rural Guatemalan women artisans.

“We had a moral imperative to start making as many masks as possible,” Ruth Álvarez-DeGolia, the founder of Mercado Global, said…

The nonprofit headquartered out of Industry City designs collections that highlight indigenous weaving techniques and connects rural Guatemalan artisans with profitable international brands like Levi’s, Free People and Stitch Fix.

It also provides business education, leadership programs and equipment to its artisans, and helps women create community businesses to support themselves and their families.

“We are changing the status quo for women, communities and the industry,” the website reads.

Marta Julia Cojín Coroxon, the cutting and patternmaking coordinator and designer in Guatemala, said Mercado Global is unique in its focus on women empowerment. Her role as patternmaking coordinator is typically a male-dominated position, she said.

Read the full story here.

— Posted by JVS on 12.25.20, backdated to 12.24.20


12.16.20 – “More than two dozen Whole Foods workers in Brooklyn have gotten COVID, employees say”

As reported by the New York Daily News:

Whole Foods employees in Brooklyn are accusing the grocery giant of failing to keep them safe in the wake of a series of coronavirus cases at two locations, the Daily News has learned.

The Whole Foods in Gowanus has had 16 cases among employees since Sept. 10 — the most recent one occurring last week — said an employee there, citing notifications the company sends workers whenever there is a positive case.

At the Whole Foods warehouse in Industry City, employees have received nine such notifications since Oct. 22, according to staffers there…

Whole Foods confirmed it has had coronavirus cases at the two Brooklyn locations, but declined to share details, citing privacy concerns.

“The safety of our Team Members and customers remains our top priority, which is why we address any confirmed diagnosis in our stores with a comprehensive action plan that includes enhanced cleaning and contact tracing, as well as communicating directly with our Team Members,” spokesman Nathan Cimbala said in an email.

“We support any Team Member who is diagnosed positive or placed in quarantine so they can prioritize their health and stay home,” he added.

Whole Foods’ safety protocols include “enhanced” daily cleanings and mandatory masks and daily temperature checks for staff, along with gloves and personal face shields.

Employees at the Industry City location — where workers fill orders for customers, who are not served on premises — voiced similar concerns about the alleged lack of social distancing measures.

“There is no possible way for us to complete our delivery orders and remain socially distant from each other,” said one worker at the Industry City site, adding that aisles get clogged during shifts and an employee break room is frequently packed with people.

That person said upon voicing their concerns to supervisors, they were told to take unpaid leave if they felt uncomfortable.

“Management’s bottom line is, how fast are you filling orders?” the employee said. “The attitude is, keep working.”

Whole Foods workers get informed of positive cases among staff through impersonal text messages stating in part: “Your location has an additional confirmed case of COVID-19. Your safety and health is our top priority. We continue to follow the guidance of the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and will inform anyone who may have had close contact.”

Two such text messages about cases at the Industry City site were sent out within the span of 24 hours at the start of this week, according to an employee…

The city’s 311 line has received nine anonymous complaints of “NonCompliance with Phased Reopening” rules at the Industry City location since Oct. 23. The city closed the cases without reporting concrete action, saying either the report “will be used to inform the City’s ongoing work to ensure that New York’s phased reopening is happening in a safe manner” or that “the complaint received is out of the jurisdiction of the Office of Special Enforcement, and has been forwarded to the appropriate agency for handling.”

Read the full story here.

— Posted by JVS on 12.25.20, backdated to 12.16.20

12.13.20 – Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich alleges unsafe working conditions at Whole Foods warehouse in Industry City

On 12.13.20, The Guardian published a column by Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton, which began as follows:

As a former secretary of labor, I often receive mail from workers with job complaints, who apparently believe I still have some authority. But the email I received a few days ago from a worker at Amazon’s Whole Foods delivery warehouse in Industry City, Brooklyn, New York, was particularly distressing.

She said that six of her co-workers had tested positive for Covid-19 since 22 October, because “safe social distancing is not only being ignored but discouraged,” adding that “when we express our discomfort to management, we are yelled at about filling orders faster, or told that we can take a leave of absence without pay.”

She ended by noting “we work for a trillionaire.”

I have reached out to Industry City and Whole Foods for comment, and post any responses on this blog.

On 10.1.20, Amazon, which owns Whole Foods, published the following concerning Covid-19 cases among company workers:

We have done a thorough analysis of data on all 1,372,000 Amazon and Whole Foods Market front-line employees across the U.S. employed at any time from March 1 to September 19, 2020. We compared COVID-19 case rates to the general population, as reported by Johns Hopkins University for the same period, accounting for geography and the age composition of our employees to make the data as accurate as possible. Based on this analysis, if the rate among Amazon and Whole Foods Market employees were the same as it is for the general population rate, we estimate that we would have seen 33,952 cases among our workforce. In reality, 19,816 employees have tested positive or been presumed positive for COVID-19—42% lower than the expected number. You can see a full state-by-state chart of case rates among our front-line employees, along with additional details about our methodology and data sources, here.

On 10.29.20, CNBC reported the following concerning the impact of Amazon’s covid-related spending on the company’s earnings:

The online retailer said in its earnings report on Thursday that operating income for the last three months of the year will be between $1 billion and $4.5 billion. That incorporates roughly $4 billion of costs tied to Covid-19 for things like testing, cleaning, extending employee breaks and social distancing measures.

— Posted by JVS

12.7.20 – “55 inmates in single unit at Brooklyn jail have COVID-19, as feds struggle to separate the sick from the healthy”

As reported by the New York Daily News:

A surge in coronavirus infections in a single unit at Brooklyn’s federal jail has sickened more than 50 inmates as officials rush to separate the sick from the healthy to contain the spread, according to inmates, lawyers and new court documents filed Monday.

The situation in Unit 73 on the seventh floor of Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center is dire, with 55 inmates testing positive for the coronavirus between Tuesday and Thursday of last week, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

One sick man described a harrowing scene to his lawyer that included details of inmates vomiting blood and others laboring to breathe, all while garbage piles up in their cells…

On Monday, men housed in the unit began filing motions for release and medical treatment from the troubled jail, where two inmates died earlier this year. One suffered a fatal heart attack after correction officers hit him with pepper spray; the other hanged himself

MDC officials told Darrow the facility is in the process of separating inmates into “tiers” to keep the infection from spreading.

“Inmates who have tested positive are housed on one tier (the ‘positive tier’), while inmates who have tested negative are housed on a second tier (the ‘negative tier’),” Assistant U.S. Attorney Virginia Nguyen wrote to Darrow in response to his request to have Wilburn moved.

Read the full story here.

— Posted by JVS on 12.25.20, backdated to 12.7.20

12.4.20 – Release: “Letter to MDC Brooklyn Warden on COVID-19 and conditions Rep Velázquez with Nadler”

The below message and press release were issued by the office of Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez on 12.4.20:

+ + +

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez wrote the new warden at the Metropolitan Detention Center Brooklyn to address the deteriorating conditions for detainees and staff and spiking COVID-19 cases at the facility. She was joined by her colleague Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who again chairs the House Judiciary Committee.

The letter is below and attached.

Tweet is here: https://twitter.com/NydiaVelazquez/status/1335009723503022080

We are working to address a growing crisis and besides demanding solutions of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, flagged the situation for health agencies from CDC to State and City DOH.

December 4, 2020
Heriberto Tellez
Metropolitan Detention Center
80 29th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11232

Dear Warden Tellez:

We write to introduce ourselves as the Members of Congress representing the area of the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn and to express our concerns over the exponential increase in COVID-19 cases at the facility, which were recently reported by local media.[1] We are also concerned over the lack of communication from your office and would like to know what specific steps you are taking to address the outbreak at the facility. As the pandemic continues to spread across the United States, it is imperative to continue to have open lines of communication and to share information that can help protect the health and safety of detainees and staff and address community concerns. The recent retirement of Warden Edge and the relocation of his Executive Assistant who had been our principal source for updates and information was not shared with our staff nor did we receive notification of your assignment to MDC Brooklyn. We want to correct that.

In cases of urgency, there must be a designated staff member to communicate with our offices. This was not the case earlier this summer when a federal detainee escaped during transport to MDC, nor when a detainee, Jamel Floyd, died following an altercation with guards in June, nor when there was a Chicken Pox outbreak at the facility in August, and it is not the case today with a burgeoning number of COVID-19 cases at the facility. We were only made aware of this exponential increase in cases over the last few days by the Federal Defenders office, which learned through court filings of 55 additional positive tests at the MDC since Tuesday, and of additional units placed on quarantine status.

As the local federally elected officials, our offices are often the first to receive grievances and complaints concerning the safety and wellbeing of detainees and staff at the Federal facility, and we have a responsibility to the community we represent. We have received reports that large numbers of detainees in unit 73 of MDC were told yesterday that they tested positive. It is our understanding that the number of infected detainees was too large for the facility to isolate cases, and that a number of infected cases are simply being put together in cells on the same unit with others who tested negative. Our offices have also heard that the outbreak started a little over a week ago and by last weekend many were quite sick. Last night we received a disturbing update: some severely ill detainees were not receiving medical attention. The symptoms described to us include coughing up blood and difficulty breathing. It is also our understanding that a number of units at the facility have seen brown water in sinks and toilets, with no potable water being provided. In addition, we have received reports of moldy food, food tray waste piling up, emergency buttons in the cells not working, and staff not consistently wearing masks as they work with inmates, and then going to and from the community each day. We have no information from your office about these alleged conditions. This is simply not acceptable.

Given the egregious nature of the alleged conditions at the facility, we are requesting an update on the following:

  • The total number of staff and detainee COVID-19 cases, the rate of increase and what plan is in place to stop the spread;
  • The current number of detainee and staff hospitalizations/deaths;
  • The contingency plans for dealing with the current scale of cases;
  • The contact tracing plan both within the facility to identify other infected inmates and of staff who have been in contact with infected inmates;
  • The testing and quarantining plan for those officers who have worked with infected inmates and are now in the community;
  • How the facility is implementing strategies for reducing density and the dangers for those immunocompromised such as expanding home confinement and early release;
  • The protocol currently used by MDC Brooklyn to transfer detainees to emergency room care or other hospital facilities, and how this has been updated/modified given COVID-19;
  • How families or points of contact are notified when a detainee has a serious health problem or dies;
  • When and how long lockdown periods are and what triggers them;
  • How problems with heat, water quality, electricity, and PPE supplies have been addressed;
  • Expected timeframe to restart Community Relations Board meetings virtually;
  • Staff housing and biosecurity measures to prevent contagion; and
  • A designated direct point of contact for our offices.

Our offices remain willing to engage. Please contact Dan Wiley or Melissa del Valle Ortiz at Rep. Velazquez District Office (718) 599-3658 and Rob Gotthiem at Rep. Nadler (212) 367-7350 to follow up. We look forward to hearing back and discussing these concerns.


Nydia M. Velázquez
Member of Congress

Jerrold Nadler
Member of Congress

Cc:      Dr. Robert R. Redfield, Director Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

            Dr. Howard A. Zucker, Commissioner NYS Department of Health

            Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, Commissioner NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

Dr. Theodore G. Long, Executive Director NYC COVID-19 Test and Trace Corps at New York City Health + Hospitals

+ + +

— Posted by JVS on 12.25.20, backdated to 12.4.20

8.21.20 – Covid testing questions sent to DOH and H + H

The below Covid-19 testing questions were sent to DOH and Health + Hospitals on 8.21.20:

1) During NYC’s August 10th town hall focused on Sunset Park, DOH Commissioner Dr. Dave A. Chokshi said that 228 Covid cases had been found in Sunset Park during the past two weeks, out of 3,300 people tested. Can you provide the following related information?
a. The zip codes of the 3,300 people who were tested
b. How many people tested positive for Covid, by zip code
c. How many people tested negative for Covid, by zip code

2) Can NYC provide a breakdown of the test results during that period for individuals who received both the city’s rapid test, and the city’s standard test? (I believe this would help us understand the reliability of the rapid test.) Continue reading “8.21.20 – Covid testing questions sent to DOH and H + H”

8.19.20 – NYC releases Covid-19 antibody testing data

New York City’s Health Department has released Covid-19 antibody testing data for the entire city, broken down by zip code. The data is available here on the DOH’s Covid-19 website.

According to the data:

In the 11232 zip code:

  • 5,155 people were tested for antibodies
  • 1,620 were positive, a rate of 31.4 percent.
  • 18.2 percent of residents in the zip code have been tested for antibodies.

In the 11220 zip code:

  • 17,882 people were tested for antibodies
  • 4,619 were positive, a rate of 25.8 percent
  • 18.2 percent of residents in the zip code have been tested for antibodies.

In the 11231 zip code:

  • 9,028 people were tested for antibodies
  • 1,331 were positive, a rate of 14.7 percent
  • 24.4 percent of residents in the zip code have been tested for antibodies

Here are excerpts from a New York Times story on the data:

The hardest hit ZIP code in the city — 11368 — was the one in Corona, a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood with many construction workers and restaurant employees. Many had to work throughout the pandemic, raising their risk of infection.

About 23 percent of residents in the ZIP code have gotten an antibody test.

That part of Queens has an especially high rate of household crowding, which may also partly explain the high positive antibody rate. Experts have said transmission within households is a leading driver of the disease’s spread.

The ZIP code with the second highest rate of positive antibody tests was in the Borough Park neighborhood in South Brooklyn. There, more than 46.8 percent of antibody tests were positive.

Borough Park is home to many Hasidic Jews, a particularly hard-hit demographic. Large households are common, and the tight-knit, communal way of life was likely also a factor. Many Hasidic Jews fell sick in early March, right after Purim — a holiday of joyous celebration, full of parties and mingling…

In Brooklyn, the ZIP code with the lowest rate of positive antibody tests — 13.2 percent — includes much of Park Slope, a wealthy and predominantly white neighborhood…

Among various age groups, those 17 and under were the most likely to have antibodies, with 32.6 percent of their tests coming back positive.

But the data may not add much value to the debate about school reopenings, since children were also by far the least likely age group to be tested — about 6,500 per 100,000 people tested, compared to almost 27,500 per 100,000 people tested in the 45-64 age group…

The accuracy of antibody testing varies widely. Moreover, most antibody tests were done for people seeking them out, which means that those who got tested are a self-selecting group and not a random sample.

It also appears that New Yorkers in some neighborhoods with lower infection rates were more likely to seek antibody testing.

In some wealthy and largely white ZIP codes in Manhattan, some 30 percent of people may have gotten an antibody test. But in Corona, for instance, where the positive rate was highest, less than a quarter of people got tested.

Comments: (Please note that I’m not sure how to interpret this data, but a few thoughts came to mind.) The data provided does not state when the tests were conducted. It also doesn’t state whether those tested did or did not have Covid-19 symptoms. This seems important to me, because if people were primarily tested when they did have symptoms, it seems logical that we would see an elevated antibody positivity rate. By contrast, if the pool of people tested was random, we could get a better sense of what percentage of the overall population had contracted Covid-19 at some point. (The Times report suggests the tests were skewed toward people who did have symptoms.)

Additional note: Last Monday, the DOH hosted a town hall to discuss Covid-19 testing rates in Sunset Park.

During the conversation, Dr. Madhury Ray, the Critical Care Planning Lead for COVID-19 at NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, was asked about the city releasing antibody test results.

According to my notes, Dr. Ray said it wasn’t clear how much use the results would be in assessing Covid-19 infection levels in specific areas. She said it’s not clear how long Covid antibodies last, adding that she had personally tested both positive and negative for Covid antibodies at different times. If I understood her, Dr. Ray was suggesting that since antibodies may disappear with time – but that time period isn’t yet known – then antibody tests will only show the number of people who have been infected during some yet-to-be-determined period in the past. This means the data doesn’t reliably show what percentage of the tested group has already contracted Covid.

— Posted by JVS on 8.19.20

8.17.20 – Mayor De Blasio says “we do not see a [Covid-19] cluster situation at this point in Sunset Park”

The below text is from the transcript of Mayor Bill De Blasio’s press conference on 8.17.20:

Now, let me turn to another very important matter as we fight the coronavirus. Obviously, everything we’re doing right now is to beat back this disease so that we can start moving forward as a city, so people could get their livelihoods back, so people can have the assurance that we’re getting safer. This is about, of course, our schools, it’s about small businesses, it’s about every part of our lives. What we need to always do is if we see a problem act on it very, very quickly. I talked to you a few days ago about a concern we had about Sunset Park, Brooklyn. And since then there’s been a massive outreach effort. 7,300 doors have been knocked, 77,000 robocalls, 35,000 live calls talking to residents of Sunset Park. Over the last few weeks, we’ve done 5,200 tests, almost 800 of them through mobile vans, just in the last few days. Here’s what we know at this point. We do not see a cluster situation at this point in Sunset Park, based on the information we gleaned over the last few days from this intensive testing. We do see individual households with specific problems and those households are being engaged intensely to ensure that they quarantine, that they safely separate. And what we’re finding is actually a very, very strong response. The vast majority of households, readily working with our Test and Trace team to safely separate because they understand the extent of the challenge and they’re working with us to keep the disease contained so it doesn’t spread in the community as a whole.

Now we’ve got to continue this focus on testing in Sunset Park. So, this week at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, there will be free testing available to all members of the community, including antibody testing, and the City will provide a shuttle bus in Sunset Park to get folks to the Brooklyn Army Terminal for free testing. There will be pick-up and drop-off at 6th Avenue and 44th Street, as well as 7th Avenue and 60th Street. It will be going from 9:00 AM to 6:30 PM every day, this week. And everyone will be kept safe, obviously, with face coverings when they’re on that bus. And the important thing here is, if you live in Sunset Park and you haven’t yet been tested, or you haven’t been tested recently, please take advantage of this free testing. It will help us all. We’ll keep giving you updates. But we do know, again, that we do not have a cluster situation there at this point based on the information we have. And we do know that with our intensive outreach, to those who – families that have at least one person who’s tested positive, we’re seeing about a 90 percent compliance rate with safely separating. And again, we are doing constant follow-up with those families to make sure that continues to be the case.

Now, meanwhile, right in the same neighborhood, you know, we gave a lot of warnings in the last days of last week. I think a lot of people heard that there was a problem in Sunset Park. So, you’d think it would be the last place that anyone would choose to do an illegal gathering that would put other people’s lives in danger. But unfortunately, that’s just what some people did. A small number of people in the scheme of things, but enough people to be worried about. Several hundred gathered in indoor spaces. Exactly what we cannot have. Two illegal raves, in fact, in Sunset Park. The Sheriff’s Office stepped in quickly, broke up these raves. They are holding accountable those who organized them. It’s just unacceptable. I want to be abundantly clear. You cannot organize a large gathering that’s going to put people’s lives in danger, or you will suffer the consequences. And I want to command everyone at the Sheriff’s Office. They’ve been vigilant. They’ve really been heroes throughout this crisis. They broke up these two gatherings quickly. And I’ll say to everyone, we all understand that people are feeling cooped up and looking for things to do, but whatever you are looking to do, you have to do it the safe way. You cannot take the chance of endangering other people’s lives.

Read the full transcript here.

— Posted by JVS on 8.17.20


8.16.20 – “Two raves busted in Sunset Park where de Blasio warned of COVID-19 uptick”

As reported by the New York Post:

Two raves packing a total of more than 280 people were busted up early Sunday in Sunset Park, Brooklyn — just days after Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that the neighborhood was experiencing a troubling rise in coronavirus cases.

The New York City Sheriff’s Office got a tip there was an illicit gig at 466 47th St. — in a house in the middle of a tree-lined block — around 12:30 a.m. and found more than 180 people inside, law-enforcement sources told The Post.

The space was “polished” and appeared to be rented out for commercial use, a source said.

Multiple summonses were issued — including for social-distancing violations and serving booze without a license — and the three organizers were arrested, authorities said. The alcohol also was confiscated.

Information from that rave then led authorities to a second one in a nearby warehouse at 214 51st St. around 2 a.m., sources said.

The space had more than 100 people inside — including at least some violating social-distancing rules, sources said.

Read the full story here.

— Posted by JVS on 8.17.20, backdated to 8.16.20

8.13.20 – CB7 letter calls Covid testing in Sunset Park “woefully inadequate”

The below letter by CB7 was published by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A copy of the letter, dated 8.13.20, is available here for download.

Dear Mayor de Blasio:

Yesterday we learned from the New York Post that our district contains the City’s COVID-19 hotspot in Sunset Park. We learned that you plan to increase the availability of testing in the neighborhood, but unfortunately, we believe that even with these additional resources, the City’s efforts remain woefully inadequate in our community.

The announced locations for testing include the Brooklyn Army Terminal, which requires our residents, most of whom do not have cars, to cross beneath the Gowanus Expressway along the most dangerous pedestrian corridor in the community. This location is several blocks into our industrial community, along the southern border of our district, and is very difficult for seniors and small children. The second location, while appropriately adjacent to 8th Avenue, is in a neighboring Community Board, and therefore not near the vast majority of our residents. The third, the only one near the center of the community and a mobile site, is appropriately next to the playground at Sunset Park, but we have been informed that its capacity is fewer than 100 tests per day.

These resources are nowhere near what our community needs. We hear that everyone should be tested but, as is the history of the community, the City has failed to provide adequate resources. More must be done:

  • At the very least, the City should provide mobile and stationary testing capacity near the 36th Street, 59th Street and 8th Avenue subway stations.
  • Every school in the district should have testing capacity so that students, parents and staff can be tested before the start of the school year. Our parents and teachers are frightened of the possibilities of opening the schools, especially when our community’s infection rate is spiking. Inadequate resources exacerbate these fears.
  • The Sunset Park Recreation Center has large open spaces that would seem to provide an ideal location for additional capacity.
  • Widdi’s Catering Hall and Grand Prospect Hall, which have canceled events, might also be contacted for possible use of large, open spaces.

Our Board stands ready to discuss other possibilities, if anyone cares enough to draw on local expertise. Our Community District has been conditioned, over decades, to expect the City not to live up to its promises to our residents. Most of the time, that means additional headaches, like half-completed parks and 90-foot sinkholes, but this time out lives literally depend on it. If we want everyone to get tested, the City must provide adequate resources in convenient locations, including language-appropriate communications in our Spanish-speaking, Chinese-speaking, Arabic-speaking and English-speaking community. We should expect rapid results, which are especially important in a community with one of the City’s most overcrowded housing conditions. Facilities that accommodate the needs of seniors and those with health conditions and mobility issues, some of our most vulnerable residents, must be contracted or provided immediately, as we ask them to wait, sometimes for hours and endure the heat and humidity of mid-August. These are the minimum requirements for adequately testing for our population.

Please do not allow the City to fail us this time. OUR LIVES DEPEND ON IT!

We eagerly and urgently await your administration’s rapid allocation of adequate resources.

Sincerely and with great urgency,

Cesar Zuniga, Chairperson

Jeremy Laufer, District Manager

— Posted by JVS on 8.15.20, backdated to 8.13.20; updated on 8.26.20