‘We are seeing the best and the worst’: Acting Queens Borough President in an unexpected battle

Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee at a recent meeting. (Photo by Photo: Max Parrott/QNS)

Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee has stepped into the role after Melinda Katz won election to District Attorney. Lee, who previously served as Communications Director and was appointed Deputy Borough President  November 17, 2018 before stepping into her current role – but her position will now last beyond the intended date as the Mach 23rd election has been postponed for the time being because of the COVID-19 crisis.

She’s in a battle she could never have foreseen.

“We’ve been working around the clock, trying to get some relief to the most vulnerable areas of the borough, not just hospitals, but nursing homes, dialysis center and community health facilities,” Lee said. “It is more important now that borough hall is still serving constituents, especially in this time of crisis it is more imperative than ever, government continues to run as reliable that it can be.”

Lee has been evaluating the data coming from the Health Department, giving Queens the dubious distinction of having the highest rates of COVID-19, its main hospital in Elmhurst being the center of attention as doctors and nurses struggle to treat the sick while finding enough PPE to protect themselves.

But she also realizes that a lot of people are not being tested, and she wondered whether the lack of testing was skewing results for areas of the Bronx where she said death rates are at 4 percent and rising rapidly.

“We are hearing that it takes at least a week before people are getting results of tests, and we hear heart-wrenching stories of people dying before the results arrive,” Lee said.

She said Queens infections have been more difficult to contain because “sometimes people are doubling and tripling up in their homes and it is impossible for a lot of folks to isolate themselves when they have one bathroom for five people.”

People wait in line to be tested for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while wearing protective gear outside Elmhurst Hospital Center on March 25, 2020. (REUTERS/Stefan Jeremiah)

She continued, “Then whole families are getting sick or infected. Some people go to the hospital and are discharged, but then the worst thing for them to do is to go home.”

Lee is pushing for city, state and federal funding to get hotel rooms for people to isolate when they are unable to do so at home. The city has been grabbing up hotel rooms, that Lee said are mostly empty because there are no tourists.

While her office has been seeking more PPE’s for medical centers and facilities, she said it was heartwarming to see Queens College was able to obtain dozens of boxes of PPE’s that the Office Of Emergency Management picked up to be used in hospitals. She also said many acts of kindness have been occurring including having hundreds of boxes of groceries being donated by Fresh Direct to serve “vulnerable populations at 30 locations across the boro. People rely on these food pantries and this will stave off a deepening crisis.”

On the economic front, she is working with the economic development corp to fight health and economic crisis to come. 

“We are in an economic crisis and we are in a recession and we are trying to stave off a depression,” Lee said. “Unemployment is at historic highs and our small businesses are deeply hurt.”

So her office is coordinating home-cooked meals, individually wrapped to be dropped at nine hospitals. She says many businesses and individuals want to donate coffee, donuts, so they are coordinating pick-ups and deliveries while “being careful not to be getting in the way.”

“We are seeing the best and worst – but there is some good and my office is doing its best in a dire situation. Once we flatten the curse and get past the apex, the economic crisis may take longer to get over and businesses and cultural institutions may not make it. We try to offer stability, continuity and predictability where we can.”

Here is the Queens Borough president webpage: www.queensbp.org

This is the first in a series of five exclusive amNewYork Metro interviews with New York City’s borough presidents on their handling of the coronavirus outbreak.


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