Assessment of Food Distribution by the City School District of New Rochelle in Response to 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic

Written By: Robert Cox

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — The fundamental predicate for the entire food distribution operation by the City School District of New Rochelle in response to the Coronavirus Pandemic is that no worker or client is infectious. Best practices are not followed, no medical professionals/sanitarians are on site at any location and we assess it is highly likely that one or more sites will be lost because a worker or client at a facility tests positive and the site will be shut down.

In short, the food distribution locations are set up to be a perfect delivery system for mass infection of coronavirus within the New Rochelle community.

This assessment was initially made over the telephone to a senior school district official on Tuesday March 17, 2020 based on serious concerns which arose after we toured all six of the food distribution locations set up by the City School District of New Rochelle at three public schools and three community partner locations. Our hope was to not make the assessment public out of concern the report might scare people away from food distribution locations which we have determined to be unsafe.

Upon request for a summary in writing we prepared a preliminary draft which was delivered to all key school district officials involved in food distribution (Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration, Facilities Director, Medical Director, Food Services Director and School Board President). It was also shared with key City and County officials. We have yet to receive a response from CSDNR. As the assessment had not even been acknowledged let alone acted upon by Friday afternoon, we notified the same officials of are intent to publish by the end of the day. At 6 pm, we got our only response: the Superintendent released a statement on Food Distribution sites. The statement indicated some of our recommendations had been heeded regarding the involvement of school medical staff and informational signage (bilingual) and several new ideas were developed by the Medical Director and her staff.

We held back publication on Friday in the hope that further steps would be taken to address the concerns raised in this report. We have now learned that beyond the good steps taken to involve the school medical staff no further action is contemplated at this time.

Given the dire nature of the situation at the food distribution locations, especially the two main community partner sites, and the failure of CSDNR to act, we cannot, in good conscience, continue to withhold our assessment from the public despite the risk that needy CSDNR youngsters and the families may be deterred from availing themselves of meals provided by the District. It is hoped that public pressure might accomplish what we could not: convince CSDNR leadership to forcefully address the concerns described in our report.

ALSO READ OUR UPDATE 3/24: UPDATE Assessment of Food Distribution by the City School District of New Rochelle in Response to 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic

The primary conclusion of this assessment is CSDNR should consider limiting food distribution to schools and/or locations the schools can directly control.

Operations at New Rochelle High School, Trinity Elementary School, and Christopher Columbus Elementary School should be continued but improved.

The area around Lincoln Avenue should be served out of a larger site like Remington Boys & Girls Club or Webster School. Remington is ideal with lots of space and lots of parking which can accommodate walk-through and drive-through, and indoor and outdoor operations. Webster is smaller and parking is an issue but it is under District control.

The area around the Hollows should be served out of a larger site such as Trinity Elementary School or the recently closed Pizza Hut site around the corner which is already a food service location with plenty of space inside, multiple points of entry/exit, parking, and a kitchen area with running water.

570 Fifth is a special case, effectively a small island in need of support which should be allowed to serve students at the Annex and make door-to-door deliveries to persons over 70 or unable to take care of themselves.

Of particular concern in site selection is co-mingling children and the elderly.

China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention released clinical findings on more than 72,000 COVID-19 cases reported in mainland China. “Of the confirmed cases, 1,023 patients—all in critical condition—died from the virus, which results in a CFR of 2.3%. The CFR jumped considerably among older patients, to 14.8% in patients 80 and older, and 8.0% in patients ages 70 to 79. Among the critically ill, the CFR was 49.0%.”

A recent report in The New England Journal of Medicine (Zou, L. et al. N. Engl. J. Med. 382, 1177–1179, 2020) found some infected people “can be highly contagious when they have mild or no symptoms”.

Another study of 700 infected children in China (Dong, Y. et al. Pediatrics) found “56% had mild or no symptoms”.

Taken together, scientific researchers concluded “urgent measures were needed to curb mild and asymptomatic cases that are believed to be fueling the pandemic: closing schools, cancelling public gatherings and generally keeping people at home and out of public spaces.”

Governor Cuomo was acting upon these conclusions — articulated in CDC Guidelines for New Rochelle after a cluster of more than 100 COVID-19 cases bloomed in and around the Wykagyl area of the City — when he shut down some and then all of the public schools in New Rochelle which, in turn, necessitated the food distribution operation which is the subject of this report.

We assess that placing a large, random mix of school age children and elderly persons in close proximity is extremely high risk behavior and should be avoided at all costs. This type of mixing is common practice at the two main community partner sites.

Given the two week lag between symptoms and getting a test result (Dr. Feijóo’s positive test result announced over the weekend, for example, took 9 days from symptoms to test result), there is a significant possibility that community spread has already occurred at the food distribution locations.

The starting point for considering this assessment is to think very carefully about what one person testing positive at one food distribution location means: the site is shut down, all workers placed on a 14 day self-quarantine, all workers tested, all clients notified to the limited extent possible (no names and contact information of clients is collected by workers), possibly-exposed clients shifting to other sites and possibly spreading coronavirus to those sites.

This updated draft was overtaken by events as it was being written when Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijóo announced Saturday March 21 she had tested positive for the coronavirus, that she was self-isolating from March 12 to March 26 and this applied to a number of other people including her entire cabinet, the school board President, the Assistant Facilities Director, the Medical Director, that she visited three schools on the day she was first symptomatic (Barnard, Trinity and Isaac), that she met with a roomful of teachers, that two Isaac employees tested positive, and that one student tested positive at an unidentified school. District employees involved in the food distribution operation are among those impacted. Most significantly, the School Business Official has been self-isolating which by extension would mean the person running the food distribution operation may not have toured any of the sites since March 12 but certainly cannot do so until March 26. We have conflicting information on that question and no response to our questions about it. This would mean no one running the District is seeing the sites first hand which goes a long way towards explaining both the issues at these sites and the failure to address them as we have started to report our assessment on March 17, five days after Dr. Feijóo was symptomatic.

Key Take Aways (not a summary but rather most urgent considerations):

  • The fundamental predicate for the entire operation is that no worker or client is infectious. It should be the opposite.
  • Best practices are not followed: frequent hand washing, social distancing, limiting direct contact are absent at every location.
  • 95 Lincoln should be shut down immediately; it is not and cannot be an appropriate site in the current crisis. It is too small and is taking on a circus-like atmosphere.
  • No medical professionals/sanitarians are on site at any location, they should be at every location, all of the time, and be empowered to order workers to wash hands, change gloves, practice social distancing and even shut down locations.
  • It is highly likely that one or more sites will be lost because a worker or client at a facility tests positive and the site will be shut down
  • The distribution locations, especially 95 Lincoln, are set up to be a perfect delivery system for mass infection of coronavirus

The assessments are based on the idea that school closures in New Rochelle would not end on March 25 as originally announced — in fact the dates have been pushed back twice by the Governor — so all planning and logistics should be based on an expectation that this is a long haul operation that could last for the remainder of the school year or beyond not 2 weeks as originally announced: plan for the worst, hope for the best.

This current assessment is based on touring all three food distribution locations active on March 12 and 13 and all six sites active on March 17 and March 20 plus dozens of reports from sources at these locations over the past 11 days.

  • NRHS House IV under bridge
  • 95 Lincoln (WESTCOP)
  • 345 Main Street (NRMHA)
  • Trinity Elementary School
  • Columbus Elementary School
  • 570 Fifth Avenue

We use the term “workers” to denote volunteers, district workers, employees of outside agencies like NRMHA or WESTCOP or the New York National Guard who are distributing food to the public. We use the term “clients” to denote persons who are patronizing food distribution locations.

While clients can walk or drive to any of the 6 locations, we use the term “walk-up” location to describe Christopher Columbus Elementary School, 95 Lincoln, 345 Main and 570 Fifth and the term “drive-through” location to describe Trinity Elementary School and New Rochelle High School.

As of the morning of March 20, none of the issues raised by the assessment had been addressed and several new issues presented themselves: (1) failure to provide ADA access at Christopher Columbus Elementary School; (2) a “book fair” at 95 Lincoln where individual clients were repeatedly touching and handling books then putting them back on tables; (3) “food trucks” at 95 Lincoln; (4) workers at 95 Lincoln and New Rochelle High School preparing meals and handling food parcels without gloves, masks or hairnets.

In response to the original version of this assessment, delivered verbally on March 17 and in written form on March 19, the Superintendent announced at 6 pm on March 20 that school nurses visited the food distribution sites and made their own assessment.

As was recommended in our initial assessment, the Superintendent stated markers or cones will be set up for good social distancing and signs will indicate the need for a good social distancing. Gloves will be distributed to all sites. Informational (but not directional) signage will be installed.

In addition, the Health Services Department made their own recommendations beyond our assessment and as a result requested protective gear to test workers for fever, hand sanitizer to be used by individuals prior to accepting food at the start of any line so clients will sanitize their hands prior to accepting a bag of food, clear signs indicating that no one with any flu-type symptoms should come to the distribution center.

As a result, starting tomorrow, all CSDNR workers will be medically assessed before beginning work at food distribution locations. If cleared, the worker will report for duty, if not they will be sent home. This process will not apply to non-CSDNR workers at the community partner sites.

This is a good start to the most pressing concern: inverting the predicate from no one at a food distribution location could be contagious to everyone at a food distribution location could be contagious but it does not include all workers.

Still not addressed is directional signage (bi-lingual) to route foot and vehicle traffic and, most importantly surgical masks to protect everyone but in particular to mitigate community spread from one positive worker interacting with hundreds of clients. 570 Fifth did acquire a small supply of masks from a VA Hospital but they were not in use when we visited the site.

The Superintendent statement on March 20 states, “we will communicate some of our observations with our key partners and ensure that they are aware of these practices.”

This is not sufficient.

There are two food distribution partners: WESTCOP and NRMHA (570 Fifth appears to be the personal endeavor of one individual). If WESTCOP and/or NRMHA are unwilling to fully comply with the City School District of New Rochelle requirements on hygiene and other health and safety practices the solution is not to keep “asking nicely” but to find new, compliant partners to distribute food to eligible public school students or new CSDNR-controlled locations freeing up WESTCOP and NRMHA to join HOPE Community Kitchen in serving other parts of the community without school district involvement.

The Superintendent notes that at some of the community sites (in fact, all of the “community sites”, meaning 95 Lincoln, 345 Main and 570 Fifth) concurrent efforts are being made to serve both students and the population at large.

“We have requested that sites serving multiple end users use different volunteers at each service point. Volunteers distributing food created by the CSDNR should remain in that role only.”

UPDATE: 3/23 This statement has been upended by an email sent early this morning, described in more detail below.

While appropriate for both health/safety and legal/financial reasons, this statement does not reflect the reality of what is occurring at the “community sites”: 570 Fifth, 345 Main, and 95 Lincoln.

570 Fifth has 3 workers: 1 inside with the food, 1 outside taking orders and 1 administrator. To date, almost all of the food parcels have been provided by CSDNR. Anyone who requests food parcels is given food parcels. In addition, a door-to-door delivery service for the elderly is offered using CSDNR food parcels. The elderly are taking a double-whammy because they are stuck at home and their home healthcare aides are no longer reporting to work. The 570 Fifth location is effectively an “island” and so there is a need for the type of service offered and a to-be-expected lack of differentiation among clients; separating CSDNR food distribution to eligible students and other types of clients is unworkable under the current set up, staffing and demand.

345 Main has 2 workers: 2 inside with the food. Food parcels are primarily but not exclusively CSDNR (some Feed Westchester food parcels are also distributed). Anyone who requests food parcels is given food parcels. Even if there were interest to do so (and we believe there is not) separating CSDNR food distribution to eligible students and other types of clients is unworkable under the current set up, staffing and demand.

95 Lincoln has turned into a three-ring circus. It has become part-food distribution, part-food preparation, part-flea market, part-bookstore, part-warehouse, part-food court. No amount of positive attitude will alter the reality that 95 Lincoln was never intended to be a food distribution location for 1,000 to 2,000 food parcels a day in a pandemic. It is difficult to imagine that a competent health official at the County, State or Federal level would approve 95 Lincoln as a food distribution site under current conditions. It appears set to expand dramatically on top of an already tiny, overcrowded footprint with a $50,000 donation to WESTCOP from RXR and a $20,000 GoFundMe drive underway.

A simpler policy would be that the District require school food distribution locations must be dedicated as CSDNR food distribution locations only with no commingling of eligible CSDNR students/families and the general public. The District can take delivery of Feed Westchester parcels itself or do without. CSDNR food distribution locations should not also be food preparation sites, food parcel assembly sites, book fairs, clothing drives, mobile food courts and so on.

As it appears CSDNR is not currently prepared to make the rather obvious decision to relocate from 95 Lincoln to Remington Boys & Girls Club, at the very least, separate entrances and exits should be established. The Director of WESTCOP stated there is a back door available for this purpose but it was deemed unusable because there is a short flight of stairs leading down to the back door from inside the building. This is not a compelling argument: because everyone cannot use the back door no one should use the back door? An optimal approach would be to direct every client to the back door but make exceptions as needed. From our observations 90%+ of clients were below 70 and ambulatory so a few stairs would not likely present an obstacle for all but a relative handful who can be allowed to double back.

By comparison, Columbus has far more stairs to both enter and exit the food distribution location and no consideration about accessibility. Although there are pop-up awnings in front of the school, the entire food distribution operation is inside the cafeteria. There is a small sign with even smaller, faint handwriting that is all but invisible from the sidewalk at street level. There is no way to know the site is open for business from street level.

This issue presented itself when we left the site and encountered a woman in a wheel chair on the sidewalk at street level shouting for help. Notified of the woman asking for help, workers acknowledged the woman had the same issue previously so they knew how many food parcels to bring out to her. The client was rightfully irate and offered a very good articulation on the various failures to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. She was told there is an ADA-compliant ramp in back of the cafeteria; but there is no signage to that effect and a delivery truck was parked in front of the ramp. That the workers had previous experience with this client raises a question of why her valid concerns were not previously addressed.

Regarding the New York National Guard, the Superintendent stated:

“Many people have asked in recent days whether the CSDNR has requested that National Guard volunteers be present at our food distribution sites. Please know that we have made that request multiple times. Today, the volunteers were at 95 Lincoln Ave. We hope to see them at our other sites in coming days.”

“Hope” is not a plan. A definitive agreement between CSDNR and NYNG needs to be put in place and announced publicly so people know what to expect. Col. Richard Goldenberg, Press Officer for the New York State National Guard said “We go where we are asked. If we get a request from an elected official like the Mayor or County Executive we will be there.” NYNG was at two locations on Friday: 95 Lincoln and Hope Community Kitchen. At 95 Lincoln only a fraction of NYNG resources were directed at eligible school children, a good deal of NYNG resources went towards supporting food parcel preparation for Hope Community Kitchen or WESTCOP clients. It is not clear how much benefit the District has been getting out of the NYNG but it is a low figure.

On their deployment in the area, Col. Goldenberg said “Nothing has changed in our work tasks or mission approvals. Vetted missions from local agencies are staffed at the city, county and state level to identify the most appropriate resource.”

“Having National Guard members present at distribution sites is very different from supporting such sites. Are they (CSDNR) asking for manual assistance in packing and distributing meals? Is there insufficient people in the schools to prepare and distribute meals?”

We have prepared and boxed meals in conjunction with numerous agencies in Westchester, including Feeding Westchester, Hope Community Services, and the New Rochelle Community Center.”

Are they asking for the National Guard as security at the schools? Is there a concern with distribution that requires that sort of presence? That might be much better served by school resource officers, local police or police auxiliary.”

I would recommend that school officials go back to the City of New Rochelle and Westchester County Office of Emergency Management to clarify their request and see where it is in the staffing. “

We’ve provided a wide array of services and support across Westchester County and New Rochelle in particular. In every case, we’re complying with recommended personal protective measures alongside every other first responder, government agency or volunteer organization.”

Scientific research continues rapidly in an effort to understand the coronavirus. In the first study by scientists at a federal laboratory to test the actual virus causing the current pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, a team including scientists from the Division of Viral Diseases at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases in Atlanta reported its findings on common transmission surfaces

Aerosol and surface stability of HCoV-19 (SARS-CoV-2) compared to SARS-CoV-1

The research study report states: “COVID-19’s ability to live for a long period of time is limited on most surfaces and it is quite easy to kill with typical household cleaners, just like the normal flu. COVID-19 survived best on plastic and stainless steel.

  • Copper – 4 hours (half-life of about 0.8 hours)
  • Cardboard – 24 hours (half-life of about 3.46 hours)
  • Plastic – 72 hours (half-life of about 6.8 hours)
  • Steel – 72 hours (half-life of about 5.6 hours)
  • Fabric – 12 hours (N/A)

The tables at every location are plastic and steel, the clothing placed on tables are fabric, the boxes toted by workers are cardboard. None of this appears to be a concern at any of the food distribution locations. We recommend getting rid of the clothes and books, and disinfecting tables frequently.

As stated in the initial assessment, this report is not intended to be a criticism or derogatory towards the efforts or goodwill of anyone involved in what is a necessarily rushed set up under unprecedented circumstances aimed at rapidly meeting the unexpected needs of vulnerable children, and their families, in our community. A lot of people are working very hard, staying positive, being supportive, especially of nervous moms and their children. There is a lot of positive energy, for now, at each food distribution location and in many cases (Columbus, 95 Lincoln and Trinity) more workers on hand than actually needed.

This is actually a problem. The number of workers at a food distribution location should not be based on who wants to help but the actual logistical need. The number should NOT be based on the number of people willing to volunteer. For containment reasons, the number of workers at a location should be kept as low as possible while still meeting demand and keeping lines, and thus congregating, to a minimum.

There were far too many workers at 95 Lincoln, Trinity and Columbus. There is no way to know for certain when schools will reopen. To avoid burnout and maintain discipline volunteers should be sent home and replaced by paid school district employees, especially those who work in food service and security and their shifts staggered – along with the aforementioned schools nurses as sanitarians (not workers). To address the concerns of hourly workers, opportunities to put them to work should be considered but not the main priority.

There can be little doubt that clients include persons not acting on behalf of eligible public school students. This appears to be particularly pronounced at the non-school distribution locations (95 Lincoln, 345 Main, 570 Fifth Avenue). Even school board members are actively promoting these “community sites” as free-food-for-everyone sites, describing them as CSDNR-sponsored, characterizing CSDNR food parcels as “food donations” as part of a “food support initiative” for “the hollows” (345 Main, 361 Main). There is no indication that CSDNR food parcels are meant exclusively for public school students eligible for reduced and free lunch; that NRMHA is provided CSDNR food parcels only as a pass-through delivery service. We did not visit ourselves but sources told us of unauthorized redistribution of CSDNR food parcels to “satellite” locations such as Heritage Homes and 50 Sickles.

The amount of waste, fraud and abuse does not appear to be overwhelming the system yet, by causing excessive wait times, depleting the supply of food, growing exponentially, or involve rampant stockpiling by a small number of “jobbers” looking to resell food or other obvious abuse. Therefore, a certain amount of slippage can be tolerated, managed on the supply side (especially paying attention to unusual spikes in demand from a particular location) and through publicly repeating that food prepared by the school district is intended for eligible students only without actively, aggressively confirming eligibility: don’t ask, don’t tell. It would be helpful if partners were not promoting CSDNR food parcels as part of their free-food-for-everyone marketing (and it might address overcrowding issues as well) and it would be especially helpful if school board members were using CSDNR-prepared talking points to avoid conflating “free-food-for-everyone” promotions with CSDNR food parcels intended solely for disadvantaged public school students.

If the slippage spikes, additional controls can be added as needed (i.e., spot checking eligibility so the word goes around that “they are now checking”).

UPDATE: 3/23/20

Shortly after publication of this article, Dr. Feijóo sent a late night email which contradicted all past statements on limits on eligibility for school food distribution and contained two diametrically opposed statements on school food distribution.

On March 11, at a press conference, Board President Amy Moselhi said the District was limiting food distribution to CSDNR students eligible for free/reduced lunch. All eligible free/reduced lunch students is 4,730 students according to the last public data.

On March 13, Dr. Feijóo said, in an email to the school community, CSDNR is limited when using taxpayer dollars to serving students who are out of school as a result of the Coronavirus. All CSDNR students is 10,672 students according to the last public data.

On March 23, Dr. Feijóo said, in an email to the school community, food being made by CSDNR is available for “any person 18 years or younger”.

In a deceptive rhetorical trick known as a rowback, Feijóo wrote “‘remember food being made by CSDNR is available only for those 18 years or younger.”

Remember? She never said it before.

On March 11 only 4,730 free/reduced lunch students were eligible, by March 13 all CSDNR students were eligible so that figure more than doubled to 10,672 students in two days, then by March 23, it was anyone 18 or under or 16,587 if limited to New Rochelle residents 18 or under or even 75,877,700 U.S. residents 18 or under but now all of this became effectively infinite because anyone can claim they are collecting food parcels for persons under 18 and no one is checking on any of this.

By her March 23 email, Dr. Feijóo opened the floodgates so anyone can have as much school food as they want regardless of age, educational status or residency. Any supposed concerns about the use of school tax dollars to limit food distribution to CSDNR students has been erased.

The March 23 email is also inherently contradictory because Dr. Feijóo said “We have requested that sites serving multiple end users be done by different volunteers at each service point” noting “at some of the community sites multiple concurrent efforts are being made to serve both students and the population at large” so “volunteers distributing food created by the CSDNR should remain in that role only” having already said “food being made by CSDNR is available for anyone 18 years or younger” which includes thousands of people who are not CSDNR students and is effectively an infinite number of people because anyone can claim they are picking up food for other people who are 18 or younger.

An area to keep an eye on is fundraising and politics. There is a bit of a “gold rush” mentality emerging as people and organizations position themselves to rake in as much money as they can, while they can, and build political support by prioritizing the giving away of food and sundries over medical safety. Think politicians giving away turkeys on Thanksgiving while demanding someone else pay for the turkeys.

There are at least two GoFundMe fundraising drives underway connected to CSDNR food distribution partners which are to some extant leveraging CSDNR’s efforts to feed disadvantaged public school students for their own benefit.

NRMHA says “we are raising money to supply food and supply pantries for those in our Community who severely need it”.

WESTCOP says “We are raising money to benefit WESTCOP and NRMHA” noting “both locations are food and meal distribution sites…”

As both WESTCOP and NRMHA are receiving food and other supplies at no cost from other organizations like CSDNR and Feed Westchester and their primary human resources are either volunteers or National Guard soldiers and airman or CSDNR employees and NRMHA is funded by the federal government it is unclear why they need money to give away other organizations food. It is also unclear why or under what legal authority WESTCOP would be raising money on a GoFundMe page for NRMHA, more so since NRMHA had its own GoFundMe page. Technically, neither WESTCOP nor NRMHA is operating a GoFundMe fundraiser but rather two individuals who may or may not have authority to operate individual fundraisers in the name of the two organizations are operating them.

On top of this, RXR has now committed $1 million to support non-profits in New Rochelle with $50,000 already earmarked for WESTCOP.

While none of this is a direct concern of CSDNR, it is somewhat concerning that any organization would use the CSDNR effort to feed its free and reduced meals eligible students for its own benefit, especially considering the federal funding component of the school food program. It is an indirect but important concern if the result of all this fundraising and promotion places greater strain on these already overburdened “community” sites.

Glen Island Drive-Through Test Site
Glen Island Drive-Through Test Site

The number one issue that requires immediate attention is the predicate for the entire operation at every location that no worker or client is infectious. By contrast, the testing site at Glen Island, which we visited twice and where we observed clients getting screened and sampled, is predicated on the idea that every client is infectious. Workers should have recommended personal protective measures just like every first responder, government agency or volunteer organization in New York State and use of PPE at all times should be required and stringently enforced by sanitarians.

Friendly but unsafe at 95 Lincoln
Friendly but unsafe at 95 Lincoln

As a matter of routine, social distancing is not practiced at any of the food distribution locations among workers, among clients or between clients and workers. There is a natural desire for people to appear friendly and solicitous which includes physical contact. This needs to be addressed immediately and reinforced constantly by trained personnel to prevent or at least limit close contact.

No site is directly overseen by a medical professional such as a school nurse, doctor or paramedic. All sites should have a medical professional on site at all times the site is operational. The sites should be co-managed by a medical professional and a site manager with experience in food distribution. Medical professionals should be empowered to enforce best practices, send people home, and shut down a site and otherwise act as sanitarians. As it stands now, no one is enforcing best practices such as frequent washing of hands by workers, frequent changing of gloves by workers, no effort is made at all to enforce social distancing and groups as large as 20-40 people, workers and clients, are congregating in confined spaces as a matter of routine. Nurses doing vital checks of CSDNR workers is planned starting next week. This is not required of non-CSDNR workers at community partner sites. We estimate 60-70% of school parcels are distributed at community sites making the screening program less than a half-measure.

National Guard at 95 Lincoln on Thursday March 12th, set up is outside.
National Guard at 95 Lincoln on Thursday March 12th, set up is outside.

Col. Goldenberg stated, referring to the New Rochelle food distribution locations, “they better be careful because if they get one case of COVID-19 at a location we will shut them down.”

This is especially concerning given there is significant lag between becoming symptomatic and testing positive. It can be up to two weeks. Dr. Feijóo took 9 days. This suggests there may already be community spread from the food distribution locations that is masked by the delays in getting tested and getting the results of testing.

Given that Governor Andrew Cuomo has limited gatherings in New York to less than 10 people and closed schools, houses of worship, restaurants and bars, offices and more, the most active points of congregating larger groups is the school food distribution locations, we assess it likely that any large new COVID-19 cluster in New Rochelle will trace back to one of the six food distribution locations.

Again, the predicate for the entire operation must be that each person is infected. It appears not to even be a consideration with half-measures and amateurish, pretend mitigation.

Worker offering to squirt hand sanitizer into hands of clients
Worker offering to squirt hand sanitizer into hands of clients

At one location, 95 Lincoln, a worker with a small bottle of hand sanitizer was offering to squirt the liquid into the hands of every client, most every one of who accepted the offer, making repeated hand-to-hand contact with what likely amounts to hundreds of clients a day at the busiest location.

Trinity Drive-Through
Trinity Drive-Through

The model for good food distribution locations are Trinity Elementary School and New Rochelle High School. Both have plenty of space and offer the option of drive-throughs where clients have the option of not exiting their vehicles. At both locations, clients can drive in a loop to enter and exit without doubling back.

None of the locations has adequate signage, both directional and informational, and little to none in Spanish.

Side entrance to Columbus cafeteria (and yes, it was St. Patrick’s Day)
Side entrance to Columbus cafeteria (and yes, it was St. Patrick’s Day)

3 locations actively force clients into confined spaces with only one way in or out: Columbus, 345 Main Street and 95 Lincoln.

Hand-off, close direct contact at 95 Lincoln
Hand-off, close direct contact at 95 Lincoln

At every location, workers were handing food parcels directly to clients. This should never happen. it creates opportunities for frequent hand-to-hand contact, violates social distancing protocols and increases the likelihood that a worker could be infected by one client then infect multiple subsequent clients. Instead, 6 feet of separation should be strictly enforced by 6 feet of table space placed between workers and clients, the food parcels should be placed on the table, pushed across the table with a stick then picked up by the client. The tables should be disinfected constantly and workers should likewise replace gloves. Workers should wear masks — not for their benefit as they are deemed ineffective in protecting the wearer — to protect clients. Any worker handling food from production to distribution should be wearing a mask, and the mask replaced every 4 hours.

2 locations (345 Main and 570 Fifth) had no hand sanitizer. None of the locations were disinfecting anything.

A separate assessment of each of the food distribution locations follows, the original assessment from March 19 and subsequent updates as indicated.

95 Lincoln

UPDATE ON 3/21 to 3/19 DRAFT

95 Lincoln has taken on a carnival atmosphere with new “attractions” added daily. Carnival rides may be next after $60,000 in additional funding (with additional fundraising underway).

The latest attraction at the carnival was food trucks parked in front of the building attracting more people, further limiting access and creating more confined spaces for congregating. Ice cream and candy and hot dogs is not the sort of nutritional food typically offered to eligible school students but does attract crowds who then linger to eat their hot dogs and lick their ice cream, blocking access to the food distribution while creating additional opportunity for close contact.

A few workers wear masks but most do not, most workers wear gloves but some do not. No workers making food wear hairnets. The environment for food preparation does not appear to meet Westchester County Department of Health requirements.

Social distancing is not only not top-of-mind but flagrantly ignored with workers without masks or gloves in close quarters, making routine hand-to-hand contact and even standing shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, posing for group photos and selfies.

Clients are picking up clothing and books, handling them, sorting through them, then putting them back.

One client, a woman wearing a mask, handled 20 books, putting them all back on the table.

NYNG was no better on social distancing, hand-to-hand contact, and lack of masks than any other worker.

In a video posted on Facebook by WESTCOP depicting an assembly line to package 600 food parcels for HOPE Community Kitchen, WESTCOP staff and National Guardsmen are seen without gloves or masks. One worker, inside a delivery van, is handling every one if the 600 food parcels without gloves as he moved about on his hands and knees, struggling with the plastic bags, hovering over them, breathing on them, in an enclosed space for an extended period of time. If he were to test positive the two largest food distribution locations would be shutdown, a twofer.


95 Lincoln needs to be shutdown immediately and completely overhauled or, better, moved to another nearby location such as Remington Boys & Girls Club or some other, larger, more suitable nearby location. There are simply too many people in too small a space. It is indefensible as a food distribution location during a pandemic.

The situation at 95 Lincoln is by far the worst. It is set up in a manner to make it the perfect delivery mechanism for community spread of COVID-19. It is so bad that unless the entire process is overhauled immediately it should be shut down today. Compounding this is volume. The WESTCOP Director stated roughly 1,300 food parcels were distributed on Monday, dwarfing the volume at the other 5 locations. The impact of one contagious worker or client could be to infect hundreds if not thousands of people, entire households.

It is impossible to overstate the problems with 95 Lincoln as a food distribution location.

The distribution process is frighteningly bad. In the first two days of operation, food parcels were placed on tables under 2 pop-up awnings, clients walked up, grabbed the parcels off the table and left. This week those tables and awnings are used to offer clothing, books and other donated items. Diapers were distributed at the door along with food parcels. Clients no longer walk up, grab a food parcel and leave but instead go to the front door, state the number of parcels they want, wait at the door while a worker goes into the building grabs parcels of food, returns to the front food with the food parcels, hands them to the client. Some clients leave but some remain, lingering at the table to pick through clothing, book bins and bags containing wrapped presents or order food them eat near the food trucks. As a result, there may be 20-30 clients congregating in front of the door or standing shoulder-to-shoulder in line with another 10 workers at or near the door. On top of that, 95 Lincoln is open for business beyond food distribution so NAACP members, WESTCOP employees, members of the media and elected officials go in and out. Ironically, the only person prevented from going in and out was the author of this reporter.

Trinity Elementary School

UPDATE ON 3/21 to 3/19 DRAFT



Trinity has a good set up but the lack of signage and the failure to block off parking spots undermines the potential benefit of a drive-through food distribution point. All clients we observed drove to the site but less than half availed themselves of the drive-through with most choosing to park, walk to the tables near the front door and interact with the workers.

In one case, on March 17, a woman and a child went around the table and received food parcels while standing next to one of the workers on the worker-side of the table. The “worker” is Trinity Principal Michael Hilderbrand, building leader of one of the schools Dr. Feijóo visited on March 12, the day she became symptomatic for coronavirus.

The benefit of the drive-through was further undermined by a worker who reached deep through the passenger side window of an SUV to hand food parcels individually to each person in the vehicle including 2 children in the back seat then engaged the occupants in conversation for more than a minute.

One client brought a reusable bag from home then placed the bag on top of a dozen food parcels, lifting it up and down several times.

There were 6-8 workers which given the relatively low volume of food parcel distribution at this point and the number of workers at busier locations is excessive.

345 Main

UPDATE ON 3/21 to 3/19 DRAFT

A few workers wear masks but most do not, most workers wear gloves but some do not.

The environment for food handling does not appear to meeting Westchester County Department of Health requirements.

Social distancing is not only not top-of-mind but flagrantly ignored with workers without masks or gloves in close quarters, making routine hand-to-hand contact and even standing shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, posing for group photos and selfies.

NRMHA offered clients pizza one day, a hot dog cookout the next, so they are not only distributing food but preparing and/or serving food to be consumed on site which would appear to defy all logic during a pandemic – no masks, no hairnets.


345 Main was, last week, set up with food parcels on a table in the “patio” area on the Main Street side of the building.

This week the food parcels were on a table in a narrow hallway leading to common areas in the building. Like 95 Lincoln, 345 Main Street is open for business so persons other than workers or clients were walking back and forth past the tables. There is only a single point of entry/exit causing clients to congregate. 345 Main was staffed with 2 workers in contrast to 95 Lincoln which had 500% more workers (few of whom were actually involved in food distribution).

570 Fifth Avenue

UPDATE ON 3/21 to 3/19 DRAFT

They now have masks.


570 Fifth Avenue was the least active food distribution location but the most well-organized of the walk-up locations. Clients were required to queue in an open area, with plenty of room for social distancing and a good 75 feet from the door to the Boys & Girls Club Annex.

A worker asked the client how many parcels they wanted then walked to the Annex door, received the food parcels from a worker posted inside, walked back and handed the parcels to the client. There were 2 workers at this site, a third had just left as I arrived.

Christopher Columbus Elementary School

UPDATE ON 3/21 to 3/19 DRAFT

There are ADA compliance issues as noted above. No wheel chair access.

Signage is impossible to read from street level.


Columbus had set up two pop-up awnings in a terrace area in front of the school but food distribution was set up in the school cafeteria. There was a single point of entrance/exit and the area for clients to get food parcels (and homework assignments) was unnecessarily constrained. Tables were set up to create a rectangular area of perhaps 60 feet long and 15 feet wide. Workers by contrast stood on the other side of the tables and had the rest of the entire cafeteria space to themselves. This appeared to be the inverse of the ideal set up.

The workers should be located in a small area and the clients able to wait in line and collect food parcels in a much larger area. There were 10-12 workers, far more than needed. Reducing the number of workers and inverting the space available to workers and clients would allow for appropriate social distancing. Clients should enter in the front of the building at the main door and exit out the side door or onto the terrace (or out the back into the parking lot).

New Rochelle High School

UPDATE ON 3/21 to 3/19 DRAFT



New Rochelle High School was the best of the drive-through food distribution locations and the best location overall. The table is located outside the House IV entrance under the bridge. It is staffed by 3 people. The lack of directional and informational signage makes it hard to find the table with the food parcels for those entering the House IV area from Braemar. The open gate from the Planetarium area created confusion with vehicles coming from opposing directions to the table and no vehicles being directed down the emergency access road behind House IV. The gate should be locked and traffic forced to flow in a continuous loop.


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