Mark Hallum


Cuomo Threatens To Sue Trump if COVID-19 Vaccine Not Distributed Equitably

FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

Invoking equal protection under the law, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says his administration will take the Trump administration to court if they do not revise their COVID-19 vaccine deployment plan to better serve Black and Brown communities.

Citing that black New Yorkers are twice as likely as white residents to die from COVID-19 – and two and a half times more likely to have underlying conditions – Cuomo said on Sunday that his administration would be building an “army” of lawyers to do battle with the Trump administration in court if minority communities are again left out in the cold for the vaccine amid a second wave.

“The Trump administration is designing the distribution plan and basically has private healthcare companies administer the vaccine; hospitals, drug stores, doctors offices, et cetera,” Cuomo said. “But we know that our black, brown and poorer communities have fewer healthcare institutions. They’re communities are all too often healthcare deserts. That’s why we have more underlying conditions and that’s why the COVID death toll is so high for black and brown communities… We can’t compound the racial injustice that COVID already created.”

Faith institutions, community groups and outreach teams to housing developments and low income communities are the missing piece of the vaccination puzzle, according to Cuomo, who stressed that it has taken this long in the pandemic to test 120 million people. Vaccinating 130 million, a nationwide goal determined by health officials, is something Cuomo has regarded as a monumental effort.

“New York State will mobilize an army to vaccinate all New Yorkers fairly and equitably. No state will do it better,” Cuomo said. “But we need the federal resources to do it. New York State already has a $15 billion deficit… Their own federal government CDC says it will cost $6.6 billion to do a fair distribution program. They’ve only provided $140 million.”

Again, Cuomo promised that the state of New York, and six other northeast states, will be making an independent review of the vaccine developed by Pfizer with an 90% efficacy rate, to add legitimacy to the elixir and promote public confidence in it, he said.

“Any plan that intentionally burdens communities of color to hinder access to the vaccine deprives those communities of equal protection under the law and equal protection is enshrined in the Constitution of these United States. The Supreme Court held in Plyler v. Doe, 1982, that the denial of certain rights to, and I quote, an isolated group poses an affront to one of the goals of the equal protections clause,” Cuomo continued. “The Trump administration’s proposed plan is just such an affront. I tell you today, if the Trump administration does not change this plan and does not provide an equitable vaccine process, we will enforce our legal rights and bring legal action to protect New Yorkers.”

The National Urban League under the leadership of Marc Morial, NAACP, and Hazel Dukes will be allies in Governor Cuomo’s pursuit of legal action against the White House administration in the few months it has left in power before the Biden-Harris Transition team can take over.

“The vaccine will be available to the entire general population, with the exception of places like New York State, where – for political reasons – the governor decided to say… I don’t think it’s good politically, I think it’s very bad from a health standpoint, but, he wants to take his time with the vaccine and he doesn’t trust where the vaccine is coming from,” President Donald Trump said on Saturday.

Speaking at the Riverside Church in Morningside Heights, Cuomo did not take any questions from the media.

This story first appeared on amny.com

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Gov. Extends Eviction Moratorium, Warns of Fall COVID-19 Spike

Blood sample tube positive with COVID-19 or novel coronavirus 2019 found in Wuhan, China

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is bracing the government to handle expected spikes in COVID-19 as New Yorkers get into the fall and some counties see an increase.

In preparation for the harsher months, Cuomo extended his executive order putting a pause on all residential evictions all the way through January 2021 while government staff work to contain hotspots primarily in Brooklyn, Orange, and Rockland counties.

“The point of the tests is to be able to pinpoint, identify the clusters to find where the cases are coming from. Brooklyn is a major contributor to the number of cases,” Cuomo said Monday morning. “Our officials are going to be reaching out to those Brooklyn communities, Orange and Rockland today to implement additional testing and compliance measures. It is very targeted.”

Currently, the infection rate statewide is at 1.5%, half a percentage point above the administration’s goal. Spread in some counties were traced back a church gathering as well as a public house.

According to the governor, some of this preparation comes as other countries such as France, Israel and Spain see an “alarming” uptick in infections.

A new executive order will require the state Department of Health to alert all travelers coming into the state that there is mandatory two-week quarantine for countries on a level 2 to level 3 advisory due to respective infection rates.

“That is all but 31 countries on the globe subject to that quarantine,” Cuomo added.

Judith Goldiner, attorney-in-charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society, issued a statement expressing skepticism for the governor’s moratorium claiming it does not protect renters from open hostility on the part of the landlord such as litigation.

“The devil is in the details, and we have yet to see an executive order with any specifics,” the statement said. “A true moratorium will protect all tenants regardless of circumstance and not include any exemptions that landlords could exploit to drag our clients to court on frivolous grounds. Moreover, New York will still very much be in the midst of a public health crisis come 2021, and relief for tenants must extend well beyond the end of the pandemic. We eagerly await executive order language and hope that it truly provides the comprehensive relief that our clients deserve.”

Brooklyn zip codes such as 11219 are seeing a current infection rate 17%, prompting the governor to call on local government and private schools and businesses to get rapid testing up and running as well as imposing other measures in compliance with New York state law. Cuomo releases the positivity rate by zip code as follows:

Rockland County 10977 – 30%
Rockland 10952 – 25%
Orange 10950 – 22%
Kings 11219 – 17%
Kings 11210 – 11%
Kings 11204 – 9%
Kings 11230 – 9%
Queens 11367 – 6%

This story first appeared on amNY.com

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LIRR Riders Face $50 Fines For Not Wearing Masks Starting Monday

A Car Appearance Maintainer with the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) demonstrates the disinfecting methods of a train car from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Hicksville Station on Long Island in New York, U.S., March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

First it was a matter of respect, now it is a matter of enforcement.

Those riding on Long Island Rail Road trains, subways and buses, where bare faces are currently banned as it is, will now face a $50 fine if they further refuse to wear a mask, according to transit agency officials and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

But those experiencing enforcement from this policy change will be far and few between, New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg says, as surveys show that mask compliance is high and those who do not have a mask accept one when offered.

“Transit is key to people coming back to work and coming back to the city, so even if it’s just one or two people in the system, they do not have the right to endanger the lives of anyone else and frankly they don’t have the right to scare anyone away from the system,” Feinberg said. “This is really a last resort for the very few people who refuse to wear a mask when offered and it will be enforced by the MTA police and we’ll be dependent on NYPD for enforcement as well.”

The new enforcement plan is designed to send a message to the public that mask compliance is being enforced to the highest extent of the law in order to draw ridership back to system and aid the MTA through its current financial crisis from COVID-19, according to Cuomo.

“We want to make sure people feel comfortable coming back to public transportation… The last variable is are the other riders on the trains recognizing social distancing and are they wearing masks. That’s what people want to know,” Cuomo said. “If they refuse to wear a mask they will be evicted from the system. If they are not wearing a mask we will enforce the mask wearing rule.”

Compliance surveys show that 96 percent on buses, 90 percent on subways, but lower than 90 percent on Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road, riders of which will also be subject to the same fines, according to MTA Chair Pat Foye.

“We have a very robust messaging and communication with signs on [subways, buses, LIRR and Metro-North] making the point that mask wearing on public transit is mandatory,” Foye said.

Cuomo says incorrect mask-wearing would not be an “enforceable item,” such as those who wear a mask over the chin only or not pulling the mask high enough to cover their nose. Feinberg added the fine is directed mainly at commuters who refuse to wear a face covering entirely.

During the height of New York’s wave of the COVID-19 outbreak, the MTA saw a 90 percent decline across all its systems eliminating a major revenue stream for the agency; fares and tolls which amount to about half of their cashflow.

This story first appeared on amNY.com

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Cuomo Nixes $10M PSEG-LI Bonus After Isaias

PSEG Long Island President Daniel Eichhorn.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is refining the law guiding New York State on what is required to revoke a franchise from an energy provider while taking aim at PSEG Long Island and other utilities for a sluggish response to Tropical Storm Isaias.

The state Department of Financial Services will also be conducting an investigation into the response effort, still ongoing, as well as withhold a $10 million performance bonus included in PSEG’s contract with the state. The state Department of Public Service will be issuing violations to PSEG-LI, Con Edison, and other utility providers.

“After this tropical storm, they’re not receiving that bonus,” Cuomo said. “Frankly, we’ve gone through this situation too many times, and I have personally been on-site at these emergencies… But the service we pay them for is in that precise instance. That’s what we pay them for.”

After striking the island on Aug.4, Tropical Storm Isaias left more than 420,000 homes and businesses without power on LI, some for more than a week, in what was seen as one of the company’s first major tests since taking over for the Long Island Power Authority after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. 

The new law proposed by Cuomo will not only give the state the ability to expedite the revocation process but will clarify who owns infrastructure paid for by account-holders of those companies. Cabling for example, could be wrapped up in litigation over ownership and responsibility.

“At the end of the day we represent the people of the state and they’ve been paying these bills for many years, and they’re not going to pay twice if there’s a revocation,” Cuomo added.

Attempts to reach PSEG were unsuccessful.

This story first appeared on amny.com

Related Story: PSEG-LI Head Vows Change, But Gives Few Details at Isaias Hearing

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57% of 50,000 COVID-19 Tests Positive at Northwell in March, April, Health Group Says

Blood sample tube positive with COVID-19 or novel coronavirus 2019 found in Wuhan, China

Out of 50,000 New Yorkers tested for COVID-19 at Nortwell Health’s 23 hospitals in the New York Metro area, more than 57 percent came back positive for the virus between March 4 and April 10.

Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institute for Medical Research released the data they compiled during the height of the pandemic in New York based on those who sought services from them, and not only did the majority test positive, 30 percent needed hospitalization. Over that period of time, just over a month, 8,174 people were admitted to Northwell facilities with COVID-19 alone, the institution said.

“To better understand how COVID-19 spreads, we need to know where people who got infected by the virus lived, when they got infected, and then learn as much about them as we can,” James Crawford, a lead professor at the Feinstein Institutes, said. “This information helps us better understand who is at risk of getting COVID-19 and can help inform other regions that are still on the upswing of viral spread. This study also will help us prepare for future surges of this or other viruses.”

According to Northwell, this data illustrates just how widespread the illness was at the beginning of New York’s time as the national epicenter of the global pandemic. Westchester and Suffolk counties had the lowest infection rate in the downstate area, 46.4 percent and 51.2 percent respectively, the study claims.

Where was the highest number of cases? Queens turned up with 68.5 percent positive while Brooklyn came back with 62.3 percent and the Bronx with 59.2 percent.

The positive rate for Queens may come as no surprise for residents of the second-most populous borough in the city; Elmhurst Hospital found itself struggling with a high number of deaths from COVID-19, with 13 patients expiring there in one day in late March. Elmhurst is not under the umbrella of the Northwell name.

Northwell regards these findings as not only a barometer for where and when people are exposed and predominantly suffer from the illness, but how a modern health system as well as governments can respond to future pandemics.

The study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, was also able to hash out the infection rates between men and women.

“After treating more than 50,000 COVID-19 patients, 1,500 of whom were enrolled in clinical trials, our data is a powerful weapon against the virus,” Kevin Tracey, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institutes, said. “Dr. Crawford’s research is a key part of that effort and will help us understand the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Men and women under the age of 25, Crawford’s team estimated regional case incidence by April 10 was less than 1 percent. Females age 25 and above, the estimated regional case incidence increased from 1.7 percent to 2.6 percent through age 84. It was about 4.7 percent for people ages 85 and above. Males 25 and older, estimated regional case incidence was 1.6 percent at age 25 and 4.4 percent through 84 and was 6 percent after the age of 85.

This story first appeared on amny.com

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New LIRR App Feature Helps Riders Stay Socially Distant

Commuters leave a Long Island Railroad train at Pennsylvania Station in New York July 15, 2014 (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

The Long Island Rail Road released a new feature in the TrainTime app that tells commuters where to stand on the platform if they want to avoid crowding on the train coming into their station.

Through seat tracking on the LIRR’s electric fleet, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of its trains, the app will inform folks of where the available space is as New York City makes its way through the first phase of reopening after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Jamaica Station on Tuesday, LIRR President Phil Eng explained that this technology is first of its kind in North America and will help New Yorkers return safely to work while riding the nation’s busiest commuter railroad.

“Prior to the pandemic, we were faced with record ridership and knew we had to find ways to manage crowding on our trains,” Eng said. “This is something we’ve been working on for the past year, but now as we strive to bring back New York’s economy, this information is more vital than ever.”

Some features on the train will calculate passenger count by the total weight of every car, while infrared sensors above the doors will determine how many passengers are entering and exiting the train at every stop, Chief Innovation Officer Will Fischer said.

“We know that many of our trains can become unevenly distributed throughout their journey, oftentimes cars are packed up front while cars near the back remain empty,” Fischer said. “Now customers will have this information and can make that decision for themselves where they’d like to board if they’s like a little more room.” 

Fischers says that not only does the TrainTime app offer this updated feature, but customers can track the train in real-time with accuracy with upgrades to GPS systems onboard.

According to Eng, the trains are undergoing daily cleaning much like on the subways and buses. He believes the app could ease the worries of commuting after the worst of the pandemic.

As for the subways, Eng said the MTA is working across agencies to share information about ridership but could not confirm if similar technology could be used on New York City Transit rolling stock.

Distrust of the subways became a reality early on in the COVID-19 crisis and by June, more than 130 transit workers had died from complications of coronavirus. In March the subway’s ridership plunged more than 92 percent.

This story first appeared on amny.com

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Congestion Pricing is Gaining Traction in The New York State Legislature: Here’s What You Need to Know

Congestion pricing is designed to help fund the MTA.

While the chips are yet to fall on congestion pricing, April 1 is the deadline for the New York State legislature to include the proposal in the state budget.

The proposal has been heralded as the best option for providing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority with the estimated $40 billion it needs to dramatically modernize the transit system.

Not only does the antiquated transit system need extensive, system-wide overhauls but the agency is facing a steep decline in ridership as a $1 billion deficit looms in 2022. It’s getting down to the wire for elected officials to vote to include congestion pricing in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget, here’s what you need to know about congestion pricing so far:

  1. The cost to drivers has not been decided upon by lawmakers or the MTA. An early proposal by Cuomo’s FixNYC panel release in January 2018 suggested charging passenger cars entering Manhattan up to $11 during business hours. Trucks would have to pay about $25 to conduct business between boroughs.
  2. The governor’s office has outlined a central business district in Manhattan below 60th Street as the boundary for where drivers to expect to pay to access. Traditionally free East River bridges would not be directly tolled, according to early projections, unless drivers follow routes continuing into the central business district as opposed to heading Uptown where they would be in the clear. But a clear definition of where gantries for cashless tolling would be placed has not been established.
  3. Congestion pricing has been projected to provide about $15 billion for the MTA’s next capital plan, which runs from 2020 to 2024. Those funds could go a long way for making the subways more Americans with Disabilities Act compliant within the coming years, for one. New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s Fast Forward plan will bring sweeping changes to the subways and buses over the next 15 years if it receives the proper funding which could total $40 billion.
  4. State Assembly Majority Leader Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) announced on Monday that congestion pricing had enough votes to pass and get inclusion in the 2020 executive budget, but some lawmakers are still holding onto their opposition to the toll which they believe will only isolate the outer boroughs from services and attraction in Manhattan while placing an undue financial burden on eastern Queens constituents. Some legislators have said they want a more clearly outlined pricing plan before they take a vote.
  5. Only about 1.2 to 2.8 to 5 percent of Long Island residents would be paying the toll, according to a study conducted by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign in 2018, which broke down commuter patterns by assembly districts.
  6. Congestion pricing is part of a $175 billion budget proposed by Cuomo in January and received support from Mayor Bill de Blasio in February after over a year of opposition from his administration who favored a millionaire’s tax instead, but was shot down by Cuomo and former MTA Chair Joe Lhota on the grounds that the plan lacked immediacy. The tax on the 1 percent of New Yorkers had the potential to raise $700 million in 2018 and had the support of over half of City Council members.
  7. Establishing a dedicated revenue source for the MTA, which moves over 8 million people per day across all the services it provides, is not the only reform Cuomo has ordered to be made to the agency. The MTA will also undergo a restructuring to improve accountability in financing, cut down on bureaucracy and have an board made up of members appointed by an elected official whose tenure would expire with that of the politicians themselves. The restructuring will include a variable pricing structure for the tolls into Manhattan and establish a lockbox for those funds to go into.
  8. Budget amendments would, through talks with the legislature, determine the pricing structure, “which would take into account the type of vehicle, the time and day of the week, credit for any tolls paid at other bridges and tunnels, as well as other key factors that will be determined through conversations with the Legislature.
  9. The lockbox would ensure that 100 percent of the revenue collected through congestion pricing would only be used for MTA capital projects.
  10. Congestion pricing was first proposed by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but it proved unpopular at the state level and was killed before it could even make it to a vote in the Assembly chamber in 2008.
  11. The environmental impacts of congestion pricing can improve the overall health of communities in central zones where it is implemented dramaticallyaccording to a Johns Hopkins study performed in Sweden, which showed asthma attacks in children decrease by up to 50 percent. Transform, a Los Angeles-based organization, warns that congestion pricing, however, can pass on the burden of traffic pollution onto other communities and that legislators should take caution.

The World’s Fare Returns to Citi Field in May 2019 for Second Helping of Global Eats

Photo by Corazon Aguirre

The World’s Fare is coming back to Citi Field next spring and figures to attract thousands of local foodies eager to try curated bites from across the globe.

Tickets are now available for the May 18-19 festival to be held at Citi Field. Inspired by the 1964-65 World’s Fair, the World’s Fare gives attendees access to food, drink, music and entertainment for allotted times and is curated by leading chefs, food journalists, bloggers and social media influencers.

“It was a massive success last year with over 10,000 people attending. The foundation of the event is around food and drink,” said Josh Schneps, one of the organizers of the event. “This year we are going to be adding new experiences and family-friendly activities for kids.”

Schneps is also publisher of Schneps CNG, the parent company of Long Island Press.

The World’s Fare will feature up to 100 different vendors celebrating equality and diversity in the food industry plus over 50 global craft beers and international cocktail bars as well.

“The whole intention of the event is to embrace the diversity of New York City and Queens in particular as it is most diverse of all the boroughs,” Schneps said. “Everybody has a shared love of food and drink so it’s a great way for people to come together through that.”

A taste of some of the returning vendors for this year are Empanada Papa, Arepa Lady, Dua Diva, Nacho Libre, Knot Of This World, Baba’s Pierogie, In Patella, Home Frite, D’Abruzzo, Danny Macaroons and Vaccaro’s Bakery.

Ticket prices are at their lowest point currently, but will go up as the date gets closer.

General admission tickets are on sale for $19; $49 passes will give you general admission access along with a free mug to taste 12 different kinds of beer plus one specialty cocktail.

General admission prices will jump to $29 in January, $39 in March and $45 in April. General admission including beer tastings and a specialty cocktail prices will move to $55 in January, $59 in March, and $69 in April. Children’s tickets will change from $5 to $10 in January.

VIP tickets cost $199 and offer VIP lounge access with unlimited select beer tastings, a free souvenir mug and two specialty cocktails and an additional 16 tastings from the beer garden. This price will not change, however, and tickets do not include food.

The World’s Fare will occupy the Citi Field parking lot, and is accessible by the nearby 7 train at the Mets-Willets Point station. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit worldsfare.nyc.