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Real talk on vaccines, free drawing class, weekend gallery hop

Dear Neighbor,

We didn’t set out to register 64 people to get vaccinated. It just kind of happened.

So let us know if you need help. It’s getting harder to secure appointments, but we have a decent track record and are happy to try. Email us at hello@epicenter-nyc.com.

We’ve learned a thing or two, actually 11, on this journey of registering dozens of New Yorkers. More on that below:

First, some vaccine updates: 

  • Starting on Feb. 15, New Yorkers with certain conditions and comorbidities will be eligible for the vaccine.
  • NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) licensed drivers and restaurant workers became eligible last week.
  • Indoor dining is set to resume in NYC this weekend.
  • A 24-hour mega vaccine site is opening at Citi Field tomorrow, Feb. 10. Half the vaccines will be allocated to Queens residents, while the remainder will be reserved for food workers and TLC licensees.

OK, here’s the deal on vaccines. 

1. If you make it easy for people, they will get vaccinated. This is perhaps obvious but the main reason people were not registering was not from a lack of will or belief in the vaccine’s efficacy. It’s because they didn’t know how to navigate the many sites, or don’t have jobs that allow them to be on the internet all day, or they heard on the news that things are a mess and figured they should wait. The number of well-informed folks who you might think would be first in line are not. Call them and ask if they need help. 

2. That being said, mistrust is an issue. We helped a woman who lives in eastern Queens and, pre-Covid, attended church in East Elmhurst. At first she just asked us to register her and her cousin. Once they went, saw how easy the process at Newtown High School was, how helpful the staff was and how quickly it all went, she started spreading the word to members of her church. They trust her, and, through her, contacted us to help secure appointments (seven of them!). But they needed her to go first, to reach that level of comfort. It’s worth noting she is Black, well-educated, an emigrant from Jamaica and in her 70s. 

The experience echoes the advice in the Journal of American Medicine’s profile of Dr. Ala Stanford, who launched the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium in Philadelphia. Excerpt:

JAMA: What do you think it will take for Black Americans to embrace a vaccine?

Dr. Stanford: I believe it will take trusted leaders to impart the safety, the efficacy, and the importance. It won’t be your president, your surgeon general, your secretary of health because the messages have been so mixed from the beginning.

I personally think it’s going to take me, or someone like me, receiving the vaccine live and following me…to see how I’m doing and measuring my antibody response. For some, that still won’t be enough. There are lots of folks that are like, “No, I’ll just wear a mask and stay socially isolated.” So, we have our work cut out for us.

3. Transportation is a real issue. There’s a game of hopscotch going on across the city and essential workers without cars and elderly who don’t have a lot of mobility don’t want to play. We registered an immigrant couple in their 60s from the Bronx to get the vaccine in downtown Manhattan at 5 a.m. (and felt really bad about that trek and timing, but there was no choice) — only to read last week that appointments in the Bronx were going unused. The Queens megasite at Citi Field, right off the 7 train, gives us hope we can solve accessibility for this population. When possible, offer to drive people, pay for their Uber and/or assure them they can really be in and out.

4. There’s a fear of lines. Some of this is because of the pandemic and a fear of being indoors. But the elderly also have canes, walkers and wheelchairs and the process of lugging around all that gear, waiting in the lines you see on television, possibly being alone or outside in the cold for the whole thing is terrifying. What we in the media need to show are clear steps of the process of getting vaccinated (including if there are any steps!), the social distancing enforced, the efficiency with which intake and the actual jab occurs. The process of making you safer is safe! Here’s an example:

5. Documentation is a deterrent, and race really seems to matter. Thrice, folks called us because they were being scrutinized: a Tibetan childcare worker, a Latino adjunct professor and an elderly Asian immigrant couple. We have registered at least a dozen white people but none of them seem to have encountered these issues. Of course, eligibility must be proven but the levels of checking seem inconsistent across the city. That’s really hard on undocumented or otherwise marginalized communities whose main access to information is word of mouth. Will they ask for ID? An answer like “it depends” is deterrent. See point 1: You want to make this easy. (Side note, but related: We need many more translators at vaccine sites.)

6. OK, so now about securing an actual appointment. We sadly have no secret or superpowers. Refresh refresh refresh is your best friend. We mostly use the city’s main vaccine hub, the Northwell and Affiliated Physicians sites. Sometimes it takes minutes, more often it takes hours. (Don’t worry, we do other work in between hitting refresh, like editing this newsletter.)

7. Social media has really come to the rescue. One day, a friend posted on Facebook that the city had just released a bunch of appointments and we began proactively calling people to help get them in. These groups might alert you to open appointments: 

Helping NYC Get Vaccinated (also has info on Long Island, Westchester and across NY state)

Upper Manhattan City Councilman Mark D. Levine has emerged a hero of the pandemic for the context and threads of information he provides. Follow him on Twitter.

We are also finding this Twitter bot, which alerts you in real time to vaccine appointments, helpful.

A word on New Jersey. We’ve been getting requests from Jersey and have been unable to crack this system (anyone out there wanna help our friends?) but two social feeds to track:

Facebook: New Jersey Covid Vaccine Info

Twitter: A Jersey-centric Covid feed

8. If you see an appointment, grab it. Do not think, just go. Do not check your calendar. Do not map it. Keep a list of folks at the ready who have given you their info and input their details. (Last week, when the city announced restaurant workers qualified, we reached out to our favorite spots to see if they needed help. That led to literally dozens texting us their info. How good does it feel for restaurants to call us, for a change?) Many times, the appointments are gone before you can register. It’s also much easier to change appointments or get a human once you are in the system. (Note: Some places look like they have appointments but won’t let you register unless you can schedule the second dose at the same time.)9. Megasites seem to be most effective for walk-ins. For those hoping for a dose at day’s end or the elderly or otherwise qualified but can’t get an appointment online, the bigger the site, the better their chances. That’s why we have high hopes for Citi Field. If you have an existing relationship with a hospital or clinic offering vaccines, that helps, too. (Update from one of our readers who got vaccinated last night at 125 Worth St., a 24-7 vaccine site in downtown Manhattan: People can sign up here to be put on a standby list to be called later, likely not that same day or night, if spots become available. They call a lot of people off this list. Even if on standby, you need proof of being in an eligible group, though.)

10. “Unprioritized” people are most definitely getting the vaccine. We see a lot of shaming about this and understand the frustration. Remember, though, we want people to associate the vaccine with ubiquity, access, the ease of getting the shot. There are unused doses, in some cases by the dozens, and there are desperate people all too willing to take them. Instead of finger pointing, neighbors should … refresh their browsers and help those who need it. (For what it’s worth, we know of cases where volunteering at a vaccine clinic is a pathway to snagging unused doses.)

11. Prioritize Black and Brown people. The city’s inequity on who is getting vaccines is becoming embarrassingly apparent. Remember what those protests you went to last summer were really about, and try to spread the word among our neighbors who might otherwise lack access.

DEAR READERS, please help us grow our community by hitting forward on this newsletter, spreading word about its existence in your networks and asking folks to subscribe. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram. We also seek donations to pay our vendors and freelancers. 

Stay tuned for a special Lunar New Year edition of this newsletter later in the week! 

OUT & ABOUT

photo: Marshall LaCount/Swoon Studio

The House Our Families Built: This mobile art exhibit by Caledonia Curry, whose work appears under the name Swoon, explores the beauty and burden of personal legacies. Viewers will be asked to consider how those inform the way they feel and talk about themselves. The exhibit will be in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on Feb. 13 and 14, and Union Square in Manhattan on Feb. 21. Learn more.

Barbecue, rice and whiskey: In honor of Black History Month, the Museum of Food and Drink highlights the culinary contributions of African Americans. Starting with “Black Smoke: The History of African American Barbecue” on Wednesday, Feb. 10, the online programs feature chefs, mixologists, culinary historians and conversations with the food and beverage industry’s leading experts. Learn more and purchase tickets here Calling all photographers: Amateur or professional, smartphone or DSLR, Rockefeller Center seeks photo submissions for its second annual Flag Project, a public art installation that celebrates community, art and love for New York City. Submissions should showcase the diverse life and energy of the City, and can feature faces, objects or textures. Winners, who will be chosen by the Aperture Foundation, will have their photo produced as 8-foot by 5-foot flags that will be flown across the Rockefeller Center campus from March 27 to April 25. Submit your photo here now through Feb. 26.

photo: @peppasjerk

Island hopping: Summer can’t come fast enough. In the meantime, we find inspiration in this piece penned by Shelley Worrell, founder of cariBeing. Visitors to the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn — also known as “Little Caribbean” — will be rewarded with authentic jerk chicken, oxtail pizza, spice markets, coco bread, vintage vinyl and more.

Intro to drawing: Why not pick up a new skill this winter? Queens Museum is offering a free drawing course led by Guido Garaycochea, a visual artist born in Peru who lives and works in New York. His course runs on Tuesdays from Feb. 16 through March 23 from 6 to 8 p.m. on Zoom. Email ggaraycochea@queensmuseum.org.

GIVE & GET HELP

photo: @aoc

Virtual town hall with AOC: Join Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tonight at 6:30 p.m. for a discussion about the Covid-19 vaccine and local distribution efforts. She will be taking questions from the audience. To submit a question, email aoc.townhall@mail.house.gov or call (718) 662-5970. Sign up for the town hall  here.

A Galentine’s Day pop-up pantry: Spread the word: South Queens Women’s March is celebrating female friendship with a pop-up pantry of groceries, masks, sanitizer and period supplies located at 121-13 Sutphin Blvd. in Jamaica this Saturday, Feb. 13 at 10 a.m.

photo: @littlemobk

Old clothes gotta go? Donate ‘em! Little Mo restaurant in Brooklyn (1158 Myrtle Ave.) is hosting an ongoing clothing drive daily from noon to 10 p.m. And then of course, you should also treat yourself to a piping hot bowl of Little Mo’s pho.

Solidarity Cycles Workshop: Bushwick Ayuda Mutual, South Brooklyn Mutual Aid and the Workers Justice Project are collaborating to offer free tune-up and repair services on bikes and e-bikes for delivery workers and families in Bushwick and Sunset Park. Sunset Park: Feb. 7 and 21 from 2 to 5 p.m. at 4112 4th Ave.

Bushwick: Feb. 14 and 28 from 2 to 5 p.m. at 218 Wyckoff Ave.

Check out our sister newsletter about schools, The Unmuted, for in-depth schools reporting. Have any specific questions you want our reporters to look into? Let us know!

Middle schools are reopening on Thursday, Feb. 25. Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said he expects half of the city’s 471 public middle schools to operate in-person, five days a week.

photo: @aoc

Let them play! Families rallied across the city on Sunday, calling for public high school sports to resume. Even though Gov. Cuomo lifted the statewide ban on high-risk sports last month, it’s up to local officials to give schools the go ahead. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, joined his constituents, saying that “sports don’t spread coronavirus,” and educators should be making decisions about athletics.

Liberation School’s second semester: NYC’s Coalition for Education Justice is a parent-led group providing virtual academic support, wellness and political education courses. All NYC public school parents, youth and caregivers are eligible. Some of the events this spring include yoga and bilingual storytime. Learn more and register here.

DAY-TRIPPING

Did you know you can still make a day trip out of seeing art in the city? NYC’s cutting edge art scene is at your fingertips if you know where to look and how to book. Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood boasts hundreds of galleries clustered among a few blocks ranging in size from hundreds of square feet to small-scale museums. Artists are continuing to have shows and they’ll appreciate your eyeballs.

These sites will give you a good overview of what shows are up and where, so you can assemble a hit list. Next, you need to visit the websites of those galleries to check if an appointment is required, and if so, choose a time, in 30-minute slots. This past Saturday we visited a half-dozen between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Bigger galleries with marquee names tend to fill up faster while shows by up-and-comers might be less busy.

Either way the appointment system makes for a safe indoor visit with plenty of open space around you. Our recommendations:  Morandi and Albers at David Zwirner Gallery, Irving Penn at Pace Gallery, Angela Dufresne at Yossi Milo Gallery, Shirin Neshat at Gladstone Gallery and Esteban Cabeza de Baca at Garth Greenan Gallery. For a bite, the back garden at Pepe Giallo gets straight As – ambience, affordability and authentic Italian cuisine.

— Nitin Mukul

Ayesha Raees, Don’t Put Baby in a Registry, video.  Video link.

LAST WORD

We want to see, hear, feel, support your art and response to this moment. To submit a poem, short story, artwork or any shareable experience, email us.

This week, we welcome New York City-based artist Ayesha Raees.
Raees identifies herself as a hybrid creating hybrid art through hybrid forms. Her work strongly revolves around issues of identity, class and race, while possessing a strong agency for accessibility, education and change. Raees cultivates relationships between the word and the image through theatrical performance, filmic visual imagery and documentary photography.

​Raees currently serves as an Assistant Poetry Editor at AAWW’s The Margins, and has received fellowships from Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Brooklyn Poets and Kundiman. Her work has been endorsed by Millay Colony for the Arts, University of Findlay, Bennington College, Newburgh Community Photo Project and elsewhere. ​

Raees’s first book of poetry, “Coining The Wishing Tower” won the Broken River Prize hosted by Platypus Press and judged by Kaveh Akbar, and will be forthcoming in March 2022. Akbar describes her book as:

“Everything I hope to find when I read a book of poetry—fearless reckoning with unprecedented experience spoken in a singular, deeply and importantly strange lyric voice.”

You can see and read more of Ayesha’s work on her website and follow her Instagram page.

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