Scouting for aid: Teamsters Local 817 members help identify potential COVID-19 vaccine hubs

Photo by Dean Moses

The onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic forced many New Yorkers to adapt their personal and professional lives in order to combat the spread of the deadly virus, perhaps nobody is a better example of this than Jennifer Lyne and her team.

Jennifer Lyne is a location scout for television and film and a member of Teamsters Local 817—a union which assisted during the 9/11 terror attack when their truck drivers worked on the wreckage at ground zero — was contracted by the city to use her talent in aiding the health and safety of citizens.

As location scouts, Lyne, Dan Tresca, Mimi Turner, and the team of seven scouts are often employed under tight deadlines to discover suitable filming sites to fit within the confines of period pieces or even superhero productions set in the Marvel cinematic universe. Sometimes with mere hours to find and secure locations for cameras and actors to then use for productions, these scouts’ unique talents also transitioned in the fight to save lives.

During the worst of the pandemic Lyne and Tresca offered their services to help search for additional buildings that could be used as emergency triages to aid with the number of ill patients. After their success, they were employed by the city months later to scour New York for locations that could serve as vaccine hubs from where jabs could be disseminated.

“We scouts are always saying people don’t really know what we do because it is so much more than looking around for something,” Lyne told amNewYork Metro. “Every moment we were awake we were working on it, we left it all in the field.”

Lyne utilized a map to get a bird’s eye view and better understanding of the zones they were searching. Like Lyne, Tresca is veteran scout with over 20 years of experience. He put that experience to the test. The team was given one week to find the hubs. They looked into low-income areas, Black and Brown communities, and other vicinities, which lacked access to the vaccine. With 4,000 square feet being the minimum space needed to erect a hub, the search was not an easy one.

Dan Tresca with his father-in-law who passed away from COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Dan Tresca

“People were accommodating but some buildings—old warehouses and places like that—needed a lot of work, you would need months to clean it out. But sometimes you would be surprised about what is inside somewhere that does not look exactly look like the right place. You have to go after everything you can and then weed things out and move forward,” Tresca said.

He cited Staten Island as being particularly troublesome due to long stretches that would require patients to either drive or commute via bus. Still, after the week was up, the team managed to present about 70 viable spaces they believed would serve well as vaccine sites. Above all, those involved with the project were excited to use their talents to help save lives. Mimi Turner, another scout with over two decades of experience finding locations under high-pressure time restrictions, was proud to know she would be making a difference.  

“Immediately I was like, of course. I felt like this was something we could really do to help. This is what we do, finding locations and I knew right away we can find anything,” Turner said.   

Mimi Turner, a location scout and member of Teamsters Local 817. Photo by Dean Moses

Seeing things are always shifting in the city, regardless of the need or cause, Lyne believes that New York needs people who can go out and provide raw information quickly. Whether that is a survey of the area or another specific talent catered to the vast nature of New York City, Lyne wants to have a task force going forward to help work with officials during times of need.

“Teamsters Local 817 was one of the many organizations that stepped up to help the City ensure there is a vaccination site within one mile of 99% of New Yorkers. The team helped us scout locations in neighborhoods across the five boroughs and their work helped us specifically to identify centers in Corona and Jamaica, Queens,” Jamie Torres-Springer, Commissioner New York City Department of Design and Construction told amNewYork Metro.   

Jamie Torres-Springer also shared one of the key sites the scouts found was the Queens Center Mall, which met all of the CDC requirements for a vaccination hub.  This new location was needed as a replacement site for a clinic the Health Department was running in the neighborhood due to the return of  high schools.