photo: Nitin Mukul

Dear Neighbor,

Indoor dining has resumed in New York City. Restaurant workers are eligible for the vaccine.

So the return to “normal” is upon us, right?

Think again. Epicenter-NYC writer Jade Stepeney spoke with a server at a Manhattan restaurant. She (and her frustration) represents many of the hundreds we’ve been helping get registered for their first doses. We’ll call her M; she asked to be identified by her first initial for fear of retaliation, about getting vaccinated and returning to work.

Like millions of New Yorkers have come to realize, scheduling a vaccine appointment isn’t easy, and M felt alone in the process. “I didn’t hear anything from my job,” she said. “It was like everyone had to fend for themselves in a way, and figure out how best to get that appointment scheduled.”

So, how did she figure it out?

“I turned toward TurboVax,” she said. “It’s a robot that gives out available appointment times.”

You can follow the bot on Twitter (@turbovax) or monitor the website here. We recommend turning on Tweet notifications so you can snag an appointment without staring at the website all day, because one thing most food industry workers don’t have is time.

“It took a few days of tuning into those Tweets and being able to line up the times correctly to be able to get one of those appointments,” M said.

That time of uncertainty was filled with unease. “I had to weigh for that amount of time if it was even worth it for me to return to work,” she said. “It was tough because it feels like we’re weighing our financial lives against our health and safety.”

She eventually booked an appointment with NYC Health + Hospitals in Manhattan.

M showed up to her appointment 40 minutes early. She waited “for about 2.5 hours,” she said. “Your appointment time doesn’t matter as much as the day because you’re going to be waiting in line anyway.”

Here are some things she noticed: 

  • Most of the other people waiting were people 65+ getting their second dose
  • Ample seating
  • Not a lot of social distancing

Coincidentally, M got her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Feb. 13, the day before indoor dining started back up. She had mixed feelings about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision.

“From what I have seen and from what other service industry workers have discussed with me, it seems like there’s a lot of leeway in these guidelines that are issued to [restaurants],” she said. She experienced guests staying past curfew, no enforcement of social distancing and dismissal of capacity limits. Then, M’s greatest anxiety was realized.

“A fellow coworker tested positive for Covid,” she said. “We were not informed by the restaurant. We had to personally find out from this person and take precautions and get tested.”

No restaurants — or any workplaces — have to inform staff if an employee tests positive for Covid-19. 

“It was just a shame to see,” M said. “During such an uncertain time, it’s tough to be in a position where you’re seeing contact tracing and these extra steps taken for [guests], but the same safety guidelines and communication aren’t being used for the staff itself.”

What did she do? 

State guidelines required her to quarantine. She was eligible for partial unemployment during that time.

“My managers have been understanding in terms of when someone has to quarantine,” she said. “I know that for a lot of service industry workers, especially from our experiences in the past, it always feels a little bit stressful to have to call out of work.”

Luckily, M tested negative and was able to get her second dose.

Advice for those dining out:

“Be incredibly considerate of the position that service workers are in. It’s tough to be putting our health on the line to help give you an experience that is voluntary no matter how you want to see it.”

  • Follow mask and social distancing guidelines while inside the restaurant (keep your mask on for as long as possible!)
  • Avoid saying “you must be happy to be back!” to servers.
  • Be patient. It takes twice as long to do anything (be seated, prepare food, get drinks, etc.) because of extra precautions.
  • Be aware of how long you sit at the table past your meal.
  • Respect “last call,” (no, you can’t just have one more drink, even if you’re quick) and remember, your server isn’t the one making the rules.


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 InstagramLike the work we are doing? Consider making a donation to help us continue to serve the community.

We want to thank Squared Away for donating hours and helping create order around our vaccine efforts and GC Stationery Store in Jackson Heights for the discounted printing of flyers to spread awareness. Our work is possible thanks to these neighbors.


We’ve scheduled more than 1,000 vaccine appointments for eligible New Yorkers (and the occasional Jersey folk!), a feat that would not be possible without a growing army of dedicated volunteers. We are endlessly grateful for the time and knowledge (bots, Chrome extensions, oh my!) they contribute. As we like to say, they are the heart of Epicenter.

This week, meet volunteer Eric Garcia.

Why I volunteer
After finding appointments for my eligible family and friends in NYC, I realized that I’d acquired a very odd skill set — and one that I’d really only put to use for people I knew and loved. I was keenly aware that I had the available time, the computer know-how, and the access to grab these precious appointments, and that there are large swaths of people out there who simply cannot. So I went out looking for volunteer organizations, and I’m so glad that I found the wonderful people at Epicenter. I can’t say it’s fully altruistic, because I get an amazing feeling every time I get an appointment for a person who has otherwise been unable to get their vaccine — but I figure that’s win-win, right?

My scheduling tip/trick
I like going to the NYCH+H site in incognito mode. When you click on VIEW AVAILABLE TIMES, a little pop-up box appears. If you just leave that box in the upper corner of your computer screen, you can go on with your work day and do whatever you’re doing — and the moment that times are available, they just pop up on that screen. I see the little flash of green appointment times — and then I pounce! It’s quite fun, and allows me to get work done AND vaccine hunt at the same time!

My favorite vaccine story
They’ve all been great in their own way, but my favorite was probably my very first. The man I got a vaccine for was a gentleman in his late 70s (who told me he’d been a Broadway hairdresser back in the day) who, when I called to let him know that I’d gotten him an appointment for later that week, and just a few blocks away, started shaking and tearing up. He literally said “I’m shaking right now.” He’d been trying for weeks, unsuccessfully, and couldn’t believe I’d found something for him. If I hadn’t already wanted to do this work, that certainly hooked me fast!

Read about more of our volunteers — and their tips for scheduling vaccine appointments — here.

Join us for TWO discussions: 

Tonight (Tuesday) Epicenter will discuss “A year of lockdown” on Clubhouse at 6 pm, hosted by URL Media and Scrollstack.

Wednesday (March 10) A live discussion on “How to get a vaccine appointment: Tips and tricks from the Epicenter team” at 9 p.m. across our social channels and Zoom.



photo: Brooklyn Museum

We Dissent
The Brooklyn Museum honors Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The program will take place on Monday, March 15 — the late justice’s birthday — and will feature readings from her opinions and arguments by feminists including Kathleen Chalfant, Noma Dumezweni, Karen Finley and more. Tickets start at $50 and are fully tax-deductible. Get yours here.

Open mic night
The Astoria Music Collective hosts an open mic night, “COVID STILL SUCKS!,” outdoors at the Shillelagh Tavern this Wednesday, March 10. Sign ups start at 5:30 p.m. Performers are encouraged to bring their own microphones and space is limited because, well, Covid still sucks.

Queens drive-in
The iconic Flushing Meadows Corona Park movie theater is back in business with nightly screenings Wednesday through Sunday. This week it’s featuring “Rocky” and “Creed,” “The Shining” and “Singin’ in the Rain.” Check out the full lineup and get your tickets here.

photo: @westfieldworldtradecenter

The Land Of The Blacks
This digital exhibit featured on the giant screens at the Oculus honors the 28 land grants earned by Black people in New Netherland — what we now know as Manhattan — in the 1600s. The work by artists Adrian Franks, Kamau Ware and Pope Phoenix celebrate this recognition and extend the idea of legacy and ownership to current conversations about Black lives in 2021. Learn more.



Halal community fridge
Astoria’s first halal community fridge is launching this Sunday, March 14, at 1 p.m. For meat to be considered halal, it must be slaughtered according to certain rules.The fridge is hosted by Saba restaurant at its location at 15-75 Steinway St. in Queens. Sign up here if you would like to volunteer or make a donation through Venmo to @Little-Egypt.

photo: @southbrooklynmutualaid

The People’s Market 
This free store of clothing, toys, books and household essentials is hosted by South Brooklyn Mutual Aid every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Councilmember Carlos Menchaca’s office 4417 4th Ave. in Sunset Park. Fill out this form if you would like to make a donation.

photo: NY Blood Center

Donate blood
We’ve said it before and we will say it again: Blood banks have been running dangerously low since Covid-19 disrupted the supply chain and they are in desperate need of donors. Schedule an appointment or find a nearby mobile blood drive here.


Make sure you are subscribed to our sister newsletter covering NYC schools, The Unmuted.

High school is back in session
 The long awaited announcement on reopening NYC’s public high schools has come. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday that in-person learning will resume across the 488 schools on March 22. Almost half will maintain full-time in-person instruction for their students while the rest will follow a hybrid schedule. The catch? You have to have signed up for in-person learning last fall.

So are sports
The Department of Education has given high schools the green light to resume all sports next month. With strict safety protocols in place, strength training and competitive play will be allowed starting in May. To make up for lost time, De Blasio announced Monday that student athletics seasons will extend into the summer.

Gifted & Talented program applications are live
Parents of 2016 babies, it’s time. We’ve been prepping you on all you need to know about the new G&T application process, now put your knowledge to use! Apply online here, at a Family Welcome Center or call 718-935-2009 by April 9.



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. If your work is selected, you will receive a $100 stipend and become part of our growing network of artists.

This week we welcome Madhvi Subrahmanian.

Madhvi Subrahmanian, Forest, Installation at Gallery Chemould, Mumbai, 2017

Madhvi’s practice, primarily in clay, has been informed, defined and transformed by her migratory life and the opportunities and challenges of her constant relocations. She draws inspiration from her immediate environment and location, and is primarily influenced by space and place.  Her installations are often made up of multiples and tend to be immersive and experiential in nature.

Madhvi Subrahmanian, Walk and Chew Gum, Thomas Hunter Project Space, NYC, 2020

She has exhibited in several solo and group shows both locally and internationally. She is an elected member of the International Academy of Ceramics, a UNESCO affiliated organization in Geneva. Madhvi is also one of the founding members and curators of the Indian Ceramics Triennale. She is represented by Gallery Chemould Prescott Road in Mumbai. Her works are in institutional and private collections in Singapore, India, China, Thailand, Taiwan and the United States.

In 2020, Subrahmanian explored the city grid in clay, video, paper and photography culminating in her show “Walk and Chew Gum” at the Thomas Hunter Project Space on the Upper East Side. “It centered around my fascination with the NYC grid and the persistent gum marks on the pavements. The ubiquitous marks all over the city pavements told a story of where people congregate, connect and depart,” she says. The show was short lived with the onset of the pandemic so she decided to take her work to the deserted streets.

Madhvi Subrahmanian, Kolam inspired drawings, NYC, 2020

She used rice flour paste to make Kolam inspired drawings around the gum marks. Kolam is a ritualistic form of drawing using rice flour in South India, created at the threshold of a home to welcome the dawn of a new day or an auspicious occasion. The location of the ephemeral drawings is generally in transient spaces like the threshold or foyer of a home or temple and done at a transient hour between day and night. The ephemeral kolam drawings became her offerings of gratitude to the health care workers during this time of great distress.

For more of Madhvi’s work, you can follow her Instagram page and visit her website.


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