COVID Update from the CEO

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Bruce Darling

With the end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, we are lifting our mask mandate. People will be able to come into our buildings without wearing masks.

Although the official Public Health Emergency has ended, people are still dying from COVID-19. Others may face significant health risks from the virus. Of course, some individuals may continue to wear a mask to protect themselves. We will always respect that decision and will never request or require that anyone remove their mask. If there is a communication barrier that needs to be addressed, please trust that our team will identify a solution that meets both the communication and safety requirements of the situation.

Some individuals may want the additional protection that they had when everyone was wearing masks. To meet their needs, anyone may request that they be served in an environment where others are wearing masks. This means that when we serve these individuals, staff working with them and others in their presence will all wear masks. Because we cannot control who comes and goes from our buildings while ensuring intermittent compliance with masking, individuals wearing masks will be offered the opportunity to wait in a private meeting space, rather than a public lobby sitting alongside unmasked individuals. If wanted, such individuals will immediately be taken – by a staff person who has put on their mask – to a designated meeting space where all staff know they must wear masks.

When meeting with people in the community, our staff will proactively ask and abide by their wishes when it comes to masking. If you want us to wear a mask, we will. Rather that require people to ask – and potentially feel stigmatized because they need to do that – we will ask every consumer if they want staff to be masked when we make an appointment with them.

Of course, our team will be following the guidelines of the facilities we enter. If masking is expected or required, we will do that.

During the pandemic we established strict cleaning protocols which were more intensive than was required by NYC Public Health when the City was the epicenter of the pandemic. Although we are no longer doing that in most of our office spaces, we will continue to maintain those cleaning standards in the designated meeting spaces in an effort to limit potential spread of the virus and help protect individuals.

Under no circumstances will we question people as to why they are wearing a mask or why they want us to mask up. Doing so would potentially force individuals to needlessly reveal protected health information or feel stigmatized. That is antithetical to who we are. And frankly, you don’t need a “reason” for your decision. It’s your choice. Like my mother would tell me… “Because I said so.”

Although the official public health emergency is “over”, we will also be monitoring community risk levels and may reestablish a full masking requirement consistent with state or federal regulations and public health determinations.

As a reminder, we put significant resources into ensuring our safety during the pandemic. We added air exchange, sanitation, filtration and humidification systems to ensure that the air in our offices is as safe as possible. These systems functions at levels comparable to the those implemented for shared hospital rooms. That said, these only work when used. Please leave them in place and on during business hours.

We will retain the plastic and plexiglass physical barriers in the offices. They protect people from far more than COVID.

Personally, I want to express my gratitude to everyone who worked through this difficult period. People selflessly ensured that Disabled members of our communities had their needs met while people were dying and life ahead was uncertain. Our team demonstrated resilience, honor, and bravery.

CDR was ahead of the curve throughout the pandemic.

  • We educated our community on ways to protect themselves in the earliest days of COVID while others were still grappling with what was happening.
  • We started making and distributing masks before others even recognized the need. Damita organized volunteers from community theatre (and around the community) to sew a unique mask design that had been developed by a doctor in China.
  • We installed plexiglass barriers to protect our front desk staff so early in the pandemic that Wegman’s grocery store had not even done it.
  • We almost continuously moved desks, computers and furniture to meet our changing needs as we learned more about the virus.
  • We were fortunate to have a nurse on staff. Kanika bolstered our medical knowledge from her own experience and gathered “intel” from people she personally knew who were researching the virus, but she also recognized and addressed people’s other needs, turning a newly vacant office bay into a warehouse filled with emergency food.
  • While other organizations scaled back their operations, we stepped up our transition work in getting people out of institutional settings where COVID was killing residents. Although NYS and Monroe County ignored our call for action, Susan, Ann, Julie and others helped Disabled and elderly people make their way to freedom and safety. Transitions had always been celebrated, but now they also came with a sense of relief.
  • We organized vaccine clinics and impressed County public health staff when they saw the diversity of people getting vaccinated at our Center. They pointed out that local public health discussions were just starting about how to ensure BIPOC individuals would be vaccinated, and it was already happening here.
  • We also had supplies to keep people safe – in no small part – because Linda Taylor has the ability and perseverance to find and secure virtually anything, even as supply chains were shutting down.

I also want to acknowledge and thank the LGBTQ+ people who shepherded me through the AIDS crisis. I wasn’t yet 20 when an unknown virus began killing people like me locally. Queer people around me recognized the danger and took the time to educate me on how I could protect myself and others. They acknowledged the limitations of government and formal systems while demonstrating that we need to be relentless in taking care of each other. I responded like any young person and may have rolled my eyes more than once, but I am alive today because Winn, Eve, David, Michael, Martha, and others had the patience and took the time to help keep me safe. When the COVID pandemic hit, I reflected on how they had responded to what would become known as AIDS. (Yes, I am that old.) Since then, I have worked to honor them and pay it forward.

We have come a long way from the height of the COVID crisis when the Center City was a ghost town and only a handful of us were on site. We now move forward having learned valuable lessons. Lessons that will inform how other people respond to future crises.

We also know that people are alive today who would not have survived the pandemic if we had not taken action. I am proud of my team in the role that they played in saving them. It is an honor to work alongside such deeply committed people.