Workers serving food at NYC schools in dire need of masks, emails show
The New York City Department of Education is struggling to get face masks to some kitchen staff even as its schools now form the backbone of the Big Apple’s emergency effort to feed the coronavirus-stricken city, emails obtained by The Post show.
The documents reveal that at School District 8 — which covers the southeastern portion of The Bronx — problems getting masks delivered have extended for nearly a month after the DOE first said staff should wear the coverings.
The exchange of messages began April 16 when the Bronx Regional Director for the Big Apple’s $34 billion-a-year public school system emailed out a list of school facilities that were receiving masks from the DOE.
“These schools all receive Masks, please speak to the manager,” wrote Zelda Bryant-Ashby, the Bronx Regional Director of the DOE’s Office of Food and Nutrition Services. “[They’re] there are not going to deliver to sites that just received masks last week.”
She added in another email sent the next day: “The schools, need to look for the masks, these sites where [sic] delivered to.”
A subordinate responded that he would “reach out [to] the managers and staff to confirm.”
However, site managers shot back complaints that they weren’t getting the needed coverings.
“I don’t know what mask they’re referring [to],” wrote one. “There is no mask[,] only the 1st [pack] that was sent 3 weeks ago.”
Another wrote that “we did not get any masks last week.”
The DOE has suffered steep losses from COVID-19, which has killed 72 staffers as of Monday, stats show. That includes three food service employees.
City Hall launched the sprawling grab-and-go meal program on March 16 as schools closed down to ensure that students who typically depend on the public school system remain fed through the coronavirus pandemic.
The city’s educrats signed off on its kitchen staffers wearing facemasks a week later, March 25, emails show.
Five thousand DOE kitchen staff and other employees show up at 475 schools-turned-food hubs to prepare, package and distribute 470,000 meals every single day — for a total of 9.6 million since it launched.
The manual by DOE officials to kitchen staffers DOE kitchen staff lays out in stark terms why they need to wear face coverings.
“As advised by NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), essential workers must wear a face covering when in direct contact with customers or members of the public,” the 21-page document, dated April 28, states. “Facemasks provide barrier protection to the wearer from splashed and droplets to the area of the wearer’s nose, mouth and respiratory tract.”
It adds: “Face coverings are an added precaution to protect others in case you have contracted COVID-19 but don’t have symptoms.”
The manual also lists “facemask or face covering” as part of the required attire for employees, which also includes a “cap, apron, shirt, pants and/or skirt.”
Experts agreed with the DOE guidance and said it was crucial employees have masks to cover their faces.
“Wearing masks is extremely important,” said an executive at one local nonprofit that helps feed needy New Yorkers, who asked to remain anonymous over fear of retaliation from City Hall. “They absolutely should.”
Officials did not dispute The Post’s reporting in a statement provided late Monday.
“All Food service employees are consistently provided masks — the most recent deliveries to District 8 were made on Friday, May 1st and today,” said spokesman Nathaniel Styer. “If an employee is in need of additional masks they should tell their supervisor who will immediately order more.”
The DOE’s grab-and-go program is a critical part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ‘Feeding New York’ initiative, which is also delivering hundreds of thousands of meals a day to homebound seniors across the city.
That portion of the program has struggled to overcome a slew of mistakes early on — including a complicated ordering system that confused many elderly people and left them hungry, failing to consult with nonprofits that provide senior services and delays in offering kosher meals.
Additional reporting by Susan Edelman
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