History tells us pandemics have two endings: the social end and the medical end. New York City seems to be inching toward the former, latter be damned; Steinway Street in Astoria over the weekend resembled Bourbon Street during peak Mardi Gras. On the medical front, hospitalizations in New York City hit new lows, and breakthroughs in treatments and vaccines look promising. But cases are surging elsewhere and the virus could “boomerang.”  

These scenarios collide, mightily and messily, in the reopening of schools. How the city can safely feed, transport and educate more than 1 million children feels like an insurmountable challenge. And we realize how far away from an ending, any ending, we actually are.

We asked a teacher what he wishes our community knew. J (identified only by his first initial so he could speak without fear of retribution) has been teaching math in the Bronx for eight years. This Q&A, conducted by Danielle Hyams, is lightly edited for context and clarity.

Epicenter: How do you and your colleagues feel about the possibility of returning to in-person learning this fall? 

J: My personal opinion is that I want to see the scientific evidence. We should let science rule this decision because this is purely science. I know not a lot of people are looking forward to it. I know that a lot of teachers want to be back in the building, but not at the behest of our safety and our students’ safety.

Epicenter: What’s been most challenging about all of the uncertainty?

J: You have our mayor saying ‘Oh, we’re going to go back on a split classroom model.’ And then you have Gov. Cuomo saying ‘Well, that’s not exactly true.’ So for September, it’s going to be very hard to start planning. What they are asking us to do is plan for two situations, which puts a lot of stress on the teachers.

If we do go back, and they can do it safely and let’s say everything goes as planned, what happens in October when the cases begin to rise again? Then all of the sudden we are going to shift to a virtual model again? It just seems very confusing for our students, very disheartening for our students, and also for our teachers, too. 

Epicenter: What about the role of schools and their reopening as a measure to boost the economy?

J: If you look at other nations, teachers are far more respected than they are here in the United States. I feel like sometimes our profession is looked at as glorified babysitting. And when it comes to politics, that’s what we are. What de Blasio said prior to shutting down schools, was always about ‘Well, these parents need to get to work.’ OK, I get you, the parent needs to get to work and we need to babysit the students. That’s basically what you’re telling me, that my health and safety come last to the job market.

Epicenter: It feels an impossible situation.

J: If you keep us all home, you have some students from lower income households whose parents have to leave for work. And then they are left home alone and it creates a very stressful situation. Many older students are also responsible for taking younger siblings to school. What happens if you have siblings on alternate schedules?

And, if you have a federal government that’s threatening to withhold funds, and holding the working class hostage, if you will, it creates a very unnecessarily stressful situation for everyone.

Epicenter: What do you want parents to know? 

J: If we do go back to school … yes we are going to be stressed, we are going to be more on edge than we normally are. But I can promise that the colleagues who I know … we are not going to take it out on your kids. I’ve seen posts on Facebook and Instagram where parents are worried about teachers taking it out on the kids because of everything going on.  I want them to know we understand they are not the cause of this. The kids obviously always come first in our eyes.

Epicenter: How can parents help their children succeed in learning remotely?

J: Be on top of students’ work and be communicative with their teachers. With a lot of the virtual programs that are being used, you can add parents to the online platform for free. You can sign up and help your child practice the lessons.  

And check on your child: Stop and ask if they are socially and emotionally OK. They are going to go through something that no child has ever had to deal with in these modern times.

Thank you, J!

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Kid-friendly spaces? It’s clear that parents need a Plan B (and, probably, C and D) for schools and daycare this fall. Mayor Bill de Blasio last week announced the city will provide some child care assistance for free.
Details about the program, geared toward 100,000 children in preschool (age 3) through eighth grade, are sparse. The administration seeks to operate within community centers, libraries, schools and other venues. Reach out if you have available space.

Pampers, please: Food isn’t the only item in short supply these days. Manos Que Dan Reciben Bendiciones, based in Woodside, Queens, is in dire need of baby supplies, according to Dawn Falcone, a founder of partner organization Covid Care Neighbor Network. Specifically diapers (sizes 4, 5 and 6), baby formula and wipes. These items can be dropped off or shipped directly to Covid Care Neighbor Network c/o Nuala O’Doherty-Naranjo; 35-18 90th Street; Jackson Heights, NY 11372.

Rent relief? We told you so in the last issue about the seemingly unavoidable housing crisis in New York City. A few days later, Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched the Covid Rent Relief Program, even as housing advocates say more is needed. What you need to know:

  • The application is only open for two weeks: The deadline to submit is July 30.
  • Eligible applicant’s household income must have been below 80% of the area median prior to March 1. For example, if you are a two-person household in any of the five boroughs with an income of more than $72,800, you are not eligible. 
  • Eligible applicants must have been spending more than 30% of their gross monthly income toward rent prior to March 1.

Learn more and apply here.
Doggie do-good: Do you have extra reusable shopping bags? The Animal Care Centers of New York City desperately needs them. They can be dropped off at the Manhattan location (326 E. 110th St.) and the Brooklyn location (2336 Linden Blvd.) between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Help neighbors help neighbors: Brooklyn-based People in Need has been operating a food bank out of Jalsa Grill & Gravy restaurant on Coney Island Avenue since the pandemic hit. Next Tuesday, July 28, volunteers plan to distribute 600 food boxes from 1 to 3 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis. People in Need also offers assistance for domestic violence victims; SNAP, EBT and WIC applications; rent and eviction issues; filling out census forms; and with immigration issues. Visit its website to support efforts and learn more. 


SUP on the Hudson: Gyms are still closed and we are in the middle of a heat wave. How about stand-up paddleboarding on the Hudson? Or kayaking for those who prefer to be seated. Both activities offer great (and socially distanced) workouts against unbeatable skyline views. Manhattan Kayak offers lessons and equipment rentals. 

Caste in America: We rarely hear about caste systems in the context of our own country. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson argues there is a deeply embedded caste system in the US. In her new book, “Caste: The Origin of our Discontents,” set to be published on August 4, Wilkerson explores the ties between the American caste system and those in India and Nazi Germany.

New York Public Library plans a Zoom talk with Wilkerson on August 5 as part of its premier cultural series. Tickets are free; registration required.

Alfresco dining: With indoor dining postponed for the foreseeable future, the city has extended the Open Restaurant Program — which allows bars and restaurants to have seating on sidewalks and streets — through October. The abundance of outdoor seating reminds us of European café culture, perhaps nowhere more than in the Bronx’s newly created Piazza di Belmont on Arthur Avenue. The street is closed to vehicles Thursday through Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 9:30 pm. Participating restaurants include Zero Otto Nove, Bronx Beer Hall, Mario’s and many others.


The High Line: One of New York City’s favorites is back. Like most attractions, the park requires entry passes to be reserved in advance. And honestly, a High Line with less foot traffic sounds kind of nice. 

Governor’s Island: The park has reopened for “passive activities,” such as running, biking and birding. And eating, of course — numerous vendors offer fresh oysters, Venezuelan-style hot dogs and more. The ferry is free for New York City Housing Authority residents, nonprofit community-based organizations, youth camps and senior centers. Capacity will be limited, and tickets must be booked in advance.

The zoos: Each borough has one, and the Bronx, Central Park, Queens and Prospect Park Zoos open to the public on Friday, July 24. The Staten Island Zoo opens to the public on Monday, July 27. Tickets are required in advance and can be purchased on the zoos’ individual websites

New York Botanical Garden: The 250-acre garden reopens today, July 21 to members, Bronx neighbors and Bronx healthcare workers. Public access begins on July 28. Ticket reservations required.  

Baseball sans fans: A little relief for sports fans who have been getting their fix from last season’s games: The 2020 Major League Baseball season kicks off Thursday, July 23, (without attendees) as the New York Yankees play the Washington Nationals at 7 p.m. and the San Francisco Giants face off against the Los Angeles Dodgers at 10 p.m. View the complete 2020 season schedule


Bye Tiger King, Hello Storm King: The city entered Phase IV of its reopening plan this week, but museums remain shuttered.  For those who need an art fix — or simply want to get out of the city for a day, there’s Storm King. The 500-acre Hudson Valley sculpture park reopened its doors to the public again last week with additional safety and social distancing measures (no bike rentals, no shuttle service, and the café is closed, so plan accordingly). The art center features work by Kiki Smith, Mark di Suvero and others. Tickets must be reserved in advance.

Diversifying photography:  The Bronx Documentary Center’s third annual Latin American Foto Festival begins this Thursday, July 23, and the exhibition will be on view through August 2. It features, virtually, photo essays about rodeo life in Brazil and Afro-identity in Puerto Rico, among others. While virtual, photos will be projected onto the center’s back patio and the corner of 151st Street and Courtlandt Avenue. There will also be online workshops, tours and panel discussions. Learn more


I’ll go anywhere. We hear you. The desire to get away from it all, the city, the heat, the monotony, is intensifying. We will soon list these escapes on our website in a members-only section so when you’re looking to get away, you won’t have to hunt through emails. We’re found some good options by looking east this week. 
Bike to the beach 
This is the perfect kid-friendly ride to avoid street traffic. Park at Canarsie Pier in Brooklyn where you can pick up the Shore Parkway Greenway trail. This bike path parallels the Belt Parkway (warning: expect to bike up and down hills as you traverse a couple of bridges). When you get to Flatbush Avenue instead of crossing, turn left to get onto the Flatbush Avenue Greenway. This will take you across a narrow, separated lane over the stunning Marine Parkway Bridge. Turn around, the Manhattan skyline looms behind you. It’s a straight shot down the street to Jacob Riis Park beach from here. Pack a towel. The ocean beckons.
Sands Point Preserve; Sands Point, N.Y. 
The Guggenheim Estate and the opulent lifestyle along Long Island’s Gold Coast were inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” There are lots of trails of varying lengths, and most people this past weekend were masked (thank you!). You can find a patch of grass away from the trails, a great playground for little ones and ample picnic tables spread around the grounds. Consider dining alfresco in nearby Port Washington. For more information on the preserve’s hours and admission, click here
North Shore Horse Rescue; Baiting Hollow, N.Y.  
This is a longer drive out but don’t be a neigh-sayer. Staff at the North Shore Horse Rescue devised a creative way to share the stories of their beloved animals, without compromising your safety: an audio tour of the farm. You’ll hear the true stories of retired racehorses and backyard rescues; watch for the barn cats and dogs, too. You pay extra to feed the horses (staff are masked and gloved and keep their distance as you do so). Don’t miss Confetti, a miniature who resembles a donkey and loves all snacks and attention. Tours are Saturday and Sunday and are booking up quickly for the rest of the summer. 

Windy Acres Farm; Calverton, N.Y.  
The fruit-picking here is low drama. It requires masks and feels easy to distance among sprawling fields organized into neat rows. Berries, peaches, apples, cucumbers, string beans were plentiful this past weekend. Call ahead to check hours and availability as the ‘UPick’ supply varies day to day. 

Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center; East Hampton, N.Y. 
This place is actually worth the Hamptons traffic. Recently reopened by appointment only, the former home of artists Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner makes a great (albeit long) day trip because it combines art, culture, history, beautiful views and (inevitable) assessments of our own creativity, disruption, vices and relationships. The floor of the barn where Pollock (and later Krasner) painted is a masterpiece on its own. Only six people are allowed per tour, and we highly recommend the VR experience afterward to hear the painters explain their inspirations and processes. Wear masks; gloves, hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes and foot slippers provided. Details here


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 at hello@epicenter.com.

This week, we thank a Californian (!) for a love letter to Queens from the before times. Ruth Chon Saiki is a New York City transplant living in San Gabriel, Calif., with her husband and two children. She’s editing “The Glades Project,” a documentary about the middle gender showgirls of 1960s and 1970s Hawai’i. We posted the full text on our site, and here’s an excerpt: 

I lay in bed, the particular sounds of an urban neighborhood lulling me to sleep: a quick drizzle, tires through puddles, a few horns, not many, and the pervasive hum of window A/C units. I drifted off thinking of the plaza. Once it emptied out, those folks headed to their homes, maybe modest apartments with makeshift bedrooms added on to the living room to accommodate extended family. On the other side of those A/C units, some lie awake unable to sleep. The stress of bills, of aging parents, of their children losing touch with their culture weighing on their minds. They might pull out their phones to scroll through photo albums, always a reliable sleep aid. They come across the video of the man singing, “California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.” For 2 1/2 minutes they listen and are reminded of why they are here, of why they left everything behind to take a shot in America.

This newsletter was written by Danielle Hyams, S. Mitra Kalita, Julie Nymann and Sumathi Reddy. Photographs and design by Nitin Mukul and editing by Robin Cabana and Faye Chiu. Did you like it or find it useful? Tell a friend to sign up. Support our vendors, freelancers and efforts by making a donation to our tip jar.