New York has become an unfortunate epicenter for the coronavirus in the United States, sparking what The New York Times described as an “exodus” from New York City’s wealthy Upper East Side. But that response has meant the doormen and staffers in ritzy neighborhoods and apartment buildings are left behind to implement ever-changing safety and health guidelines to keep residents safe and at ease. “We’re not a hazmat crew but we’re doing what we can,” Jimmy Brennan, a Fifth Avenue resident manager, told the Times. “The trick here is anticipating the needs and problems before they come up.” In keeping with that goal, Brennan beat the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in taking action to close his building’s gym and other common areas to visitors.
“Our population is mostly aged 60 to 100, 85 is a pretty common number here,” Brennan told The New York Times. “History will judge whether it was better for us to be proactive than reactive. But, for now, I’d rather be effective than popular.” He, like countless other building workers, doormen, and porters often makes such decisions daily, even when facing an easily transmissible virus such as COVID-19. Protecting tenants often means leaving doormen and other workers who can’t afford a weekend vacation home to escape to vulnerable, The New York Times reported.
Frankie Echevarria, a veteran doorman whose wife has an immune disorder, said he routinely wears latex gloves and generously uses the building’s Clorox bleach supply to wipe surfaces. “At the end of the day, though, we’re here to help,” Echevarria told The New York Times. Alberto Ventura, who has worked as a doorman for 42 years, told the newspaper: “Yes, it’s a job, but we also try to keep the building as a home. With the virus, we’re trying to take it a day at a time and be as calm as we can.”
The truth of the matter is even if they wanted to, doormen aren’t allowed to turn down work if they find out about COVID-19 cases in their buildings, according to union guidelines obtained by New York Magazine. The guidelines of the Service Employees International Union’s 32BJ branch state that “your employer should provide you with enhanced personal protective equipment to use while cleaning and appropriate cleaning agents” and training on how to “use and dispose of this special equipment.” Their only other course of action if doormen have concerns is to consult their union representatives. “We’re stuck at our job, we can’t leave,” doorman James Sabater told New York Magazine. “We have to come into work. I know, I would choose to stay home. I have some money saved up. Even if I had to stay out two weeks without pay. Especially me, my wife is working from home, my kids are home.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order that went into effect Sunday and requires non-essential businesses to suspend in-office functions, but it doesn’t cover doormen, who are considered essential workers. They open doors, retrieve mail, and greet paramedics, putting themselves “on the front lines” oftentimes willingly, New York Magazine reported. Doorman Joseph Fournier told the magazine: “On 72nd there are the hospitals right here. The majority of the elderly people, for health reasons, have stayed in the building. I saw these people today and I made it known to them that if there was anything that they needed, in any capacity — if they couldn’t find bread or oatmeal, I reassured them, if that’s something I could get them, I would be willing to do it.”
Adam Soffer, a mortgage banker, told The New York Times it’s easy to overlook doormen, but if there’s ever a time to “overvalue them, it’s now.” “We’re in this moment where no one will touch anyone, and cashiers won’t take credit cards and you don’t want people breathing on you and these guys are still there on the front lines,” Soffer told the newspaper. “They don’t have the option to go the Hamptons — they have to touch. Just thinking about all that gave me a new level of appreciation and respect.”
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