I tested positive for COVID last week and have been isolating at home. Thanks to the protection of the vaccine and booster, my symptoms have been very mild, and I expect to be back in the office soon. In the meantime, I have benefited from the care of my family, who leave meal trays at the bedroom door, join me for dinner via Facetime, and otherwise offer cheerful, physically-distant support.
Unfortunately, while it’s easy to be lighthearted about my own no-big-deal personal circumstances, the same cannot be said for our city and country. Omicron is tearing through whole communities like wildfire, with caseloads here and elsewhere that are several times higher than the prior peak of the pandemic. Those protected by vaccines and boosters are likely to be fine, but many others will land in the hospital or worse, and even if those needing medical care amount to only a tiny fraction of the overall population, the stress on our already overburdened health systems will be immense.
The silver lining to our dark winter is that this feels like it could finally be the virus’s end game. Omicron is so widespread and contagious that it may simply burn itself out by infecting every available host. This is not anyone’s idea of a positive way to conclude our two-year ordeal, especially considering the staggering and still escalating loss of life, but there is reason to hope that the worst will be over in a few weeks, and that spring will be much better.
In the meantime, New Rochelle will continue to advocate for increased regional testing capacity, distribute whatever testing supplies become available, urge those eligible to get vaccinated and boosted, and encourage all of us to stay safe.
Warmest wishes from our family. May 2022 bring peace, love, health, and joy.
This is a New Rochelle story, but it’s necessary to begin with some broader context. Bear with me.
As America’s painful COVID experience nears its one-year anniversary, our thoughts and actions increasingly focus on the vaccine. How quickly can it be manufactured? How will it be distributed? How can we address and overcome doubts about its safety and efficacy? When will this nightmare finally be over?
The issue of sequencing — who gets the vaccine first, second, third, and fourth — is especially complicated, logistically and morally, given the present mismatch between demand and supply. So it’s no wonder that vaccine distribution protocols, which fall under state jurisdiction, have been intensely debated. It’s also no wonder that vaccination rates among different hospitals have been carefully scrutinized, with urgency to get the vaccine into people’s arms as quickly as possible.
Up to now, New York has limited vaccine distribution mainly to health care workers in what the State calls Phase 1a. This week, New York will expand to Phase 1b, including teachers, first responders, and people over 75 years of age. There’s more here.
I don’t feel qualified to have a personal opinion about the right vaccination policy, but I do believe that uniformity and consistency are vital to avoid a free-for-fall. Therefore, I see it as my responsibility to explain, uphold, and implement State directives, in partnership with local and regional health providers.
That’s the backdrop for this past week’s events in New Rochelle.
On Wednesday around midday, I received a call from Montefiore New Rochelle hospital with important news: the hospital had just been directed by State health authorities to expand vaccine distribution to the entire municipal and school district workforce. Knowing that Montefiore’s prior vaccine delivery numbers had been low, and that the State was eager to get the vaccine out the door, the hospital’s invitation seemed entirely plausible, and I did not think to confirm it with State colleagues. In retrospect, that was a mistake.
I immediately informed the City Manager, so that our employees across all departments could be mobilized in an orderly fashion, and I contacted the School District leadership, so that they could coordinate with the hospital on a parallel track.
The City administration established a vaccination schedule, and municipal employees began lining up for their vaccines by Wednesday late afternoon, with the goal of completing the City workforce over the next 48 hours or so. The School District established its own schedule.
Next day, the wheels came off.
On Thursday evening, I received upsetting word from both hospital and State officials. Montefiore’s invitation had been an error; the hospital had misinterpreted the State’s guidance and was not yet authorized to issue phase 1b vaccines, let alone to vaccinate the whole municipal workforce, which includes categories of employees outside 1b. The vaccination process needed to be halted right away. This was especially traumatic for the School District, which has a larger workforce than the City, including hundreds of teachers who would now be disappointed. A mess.
For me, this difficult week also has a dimension of personal regret involving my own vaccine. Although Montefiore’s invitation encompassed elected officials, I had originally intended to decline my own vaccination and wait for a future phase. Around midday Thursday, however, the City Manager informed me, with surprise and distress, that many municipal employees were refusing to take the vaccine. Here in our own City family was the vaccine hesitancy that experts fear could imperil efforts to achieve herd immunity. A serious problem.
I was persuaded that receiving my own vaccine would demonstrate confidence in the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, and set a good example for colleagues. So I agreed to get my injection Thursday mid-afternoon, and then returned to City Hall, where the City Manager and I sent an email to the entire workforce, affirming the vaccine’s importance and urging colleagues to do the right thing and follow our lead. In the moment, I was trying to act responsibly, but now I certainly regret my participation and can’t shake a feeling of shame that I received a vaccination to which I was not properly entitled.
I am satisfied that everyone in this whole episode was operating in good faith and sincerely trying to do the right thing under great pressure. But, as someone with a visceral aversion to “cutting the line” (in fact, while I was waiting for my vaccine at Montefiore, a friendly nurse literally invited me to cut the line, I declined), I find this chain of mistakes professionally frustrating and personally embarrassing. And I suppose this blog post is my attempt to fully disclose what happened, learn from the experience, and move on.
Seeing the challenges firsthand will only reinforce my determination to ensure that our community is provided with information and access to the vaccine as quickly as supplies and State authorization permit, especially with imminent entry into phase 1b, which is really the beginning of mass vaccinations. As we look ahead to recovery from this incredibly difficult year, there is no more important responsibility. Onward.
Catie, Jeremy, Owen and I extend best wishes to you and yours for a happy holiday season. May 2021 be a year of hope, peace, joy, and health.
Domenic Procopio, the Chair of New Rochelle’s Civil Service Commission and the long-time President of the Calabria Mutual Aid Society, passed away last night. His death marks the end of an era.
Big-hearted, warm, and generous beyond measure, Domenic loved our city unreservedly and was loved by countless friends in return. Beyond his direct contributions to public life, which were considerable and which earned him innumerable accolades, awards, and honors, Domenic also embodied the multi-generational experience of Italian-Americans in New Rochelle – the hard work, pride in heritage, and fierce determination through which so many immigrants and their descendants rose into positions of meaningful service, leadership, and success.
On a personal level, I will miss Domenic greatly. I will miss his unannounced visits to my office – voice booming out “hello Ms. Taylor, hello Mayor” – always a cheerful highlight of the day. I will miss his shrewd observations about the various characters and personalities who populate and orbit the City government. I will miss his deep knowledge of New Rochelle’s history, grounded often in his close relationships with the people who made that history. I will miss his kindness, decency, and unshakeable loyalty. To understand Domenic fully, a listener was sometimes required to battle through his thick accent, but such attentiveness was well worth it and invariably rewarded with pearls of wisdom.
Were it not for COVID, Domenic’s memorial service would surely bring together hundreds of New Rochelle and Westchester residents in remembrance and tribute. That we cannot gather in person is an especially painful blow in an already painful year. Yet, even from afar, we are gathered in spirit, taking pride in Domenic’s accomplishments, drawing inspiration from his humanity, and expressing gratitude for the community he did so much to shape and strengthen.
May Domenic Procopio rest in peace.
Our family wishes you and yours the very best for the holiday season. May 2020 be a year of peace, love, and joy.