SOUTH/WESTERN BROOKLYN – To help address the concerns of their neighbors amid the coronavirus, State Senator Andrew Gounardes and Council Member Justin Brannan hosted a virtual town hall for Southern Brooklyn yesterday. But neighbors said the well-intentioned event was “out of touch,” overlooking practical information that would help them now, in Bay Ridge or in Sheepshead Bay, and reiterated general information that the Mayor and the Governor have been saying, and the press has been reporting for weeks, Bay Ridge Cares being the one notable exception.
“This is definitely not an easy time for anyone, whether you have been furloughed or you lose your job, or you had to close your business so you can’t make rent, or you’re on the frontlines to combat the crisis,” Gounardes said. “We’re all going to get through this.”
The town hall was live-streamed on Facebook yesterday at 6 p.m. It took place on the Zoom app, where Gounardes was joined by Brannan; Anna Shats, the Community Coordinator in the Department of Health, Office of External Affairs; Adrienne Austin, the Department of Education Deputy Chancellor for Community Empowerment, Partnerships, and Communication; Randy Peers, the president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce; Andrew Rigie, the Executive Director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance; and Karen Tadross, the president of Bay Ridge Cares.
“I think it’s important to recognize that there’s no right or wrong way to feel right now. I think it’s perfectly ok to be worried or anxious or scared,” Brannan said at the town hall. “We’re dealing with something that frankly, we’ve only ever seen in movies. And it’s going to be a rollercoaster of emotions.”
Brannan noted that he’s been hearing from his constituents that they are worried about not being able to pay their rent next month. He said people were worried about whether or not they should get tested for the coronavirus. The one advice he had for everyone? Stay home.
“If you can work from home, if you can stay home and you don’t have to go to work, only leave your house for something very, very essential. If you gotta go to the store to pick up some groceries or walk your dog or something,” he said. “Otherwise, the way we’re going to chase this virus outta town is by staying inside. It’s really as simple as that.”
The number of people testing positive for the coronavirus is increasing every day. As of 10 a.m. today, there are 17,856 positive cases of COVID-19 and 199 fatalities. In Brooklyn, the number has gone up to 4,656. As of last night, there were at least 2,850 people hospitalized. Of those individuals, at least 660 were in the ICU, which is why Shats was encouraging people to stay at home even when they are mildly sick.
“We should act as if we’re all exposed,” Shats said. “If you’re only mildly ill, you can save the life of another New Yorker by staying at home and ensuring that all the health care resources go to those who need them the most.”
“It’s really important you act like you have the coronavirus,” Shats continued. “Be vigilant about your hygiene. Stay home. If you’re sick, stay home. If you’re not sick, stay home.”
From the education side, Austin spoke about the remote learning that began on Monday. She noted that about 175,000 electronic devices were distributed to students last week through their schools. This week, there are 300,000 iPads ready to deliver to students. They will first be going out to those in temporary housing. Austin also noted that students will not be penalized for absences. Last week, teachers were told to develop IEP learning plans. They were consulting with families and getting their feedback.
In the small business front, Peers reiterated that this was an unprecedented time for the small business community. He said his organization was documenting the impact in real-time through their digital platform, doing weekly calls with the BID and merchant associations, and by launching a small business taskforce.
He was asked that if a small business owner is worried about paying rent, what is available right now?
“We’ve been through 9/11, we’ve been through Sandy. When they were done, we started the recovery. We don’t know when this is going to be over,” he said. According to Peers, there is a business continuity loan program that gives no-interest loans up to $75,000 for business. New Yorkers are also eligible to apply for the Small Business Administration Disaster Loan, a federal loan.
According to Rigie, “This has been an absolutely devastating time for restaurants, bars, and nightclubs that are really part of the social and cultural fabric of our neighborhood where people congregate.”
“So as Randy mentioned, we have different policies were getting our elected officials to enact. One we’re trying to look at what is we can do about rent. Two, we know that Business Interruption Insurance is not covering this peril, so what can we do about that? And three, our workers. Can we get some universal temporary basic income so they can get cash in their pockets?”
For the vulnerable population (people over the age of 50, those whose immune systems are compromised), Bay Ridge Cares is asking for volunteers to help them. They put together a COVID-19 Relief Effort.
“One of the biggest concerns for most people, especially our most vulnerable, is how can I get our groceries? How can I get my food in? What if I need medication?” Tadross said. “We’re partnering our volunteers with our vulnerable and in-need neighbors. We’re delivering, food shopping, running necessary errands, delivering care packages, pet walking, and doing friendly phone calls to check-in.”
She noted that they’re running low on food items, so if anyone wants to donate non-perishable items, they can email firstname.lastname@example.org. They are also “in a desperate need of volunteers.” To volunteer, visit their Facebook page or send them an email.
While the residents and people watching the live-stream wanted to know the practical, they received the big picture reassurances. Neighbors on Facebook sent in questions asking about the tents outside Maimonides Medical Center. One asked if there were any testing sites in Bay Ridge. Another asked how they can get a mask for their grandmother.
“This town hall is a bit out of touch… in what your community and constituents need in the immediate,” a neighbor commented.
UPDATE: Since we published, Gounardes’ office reached out to reassure that all questions will be answered.