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Curfew Confusion: Some ‘Essential’ Medical Workers Can’t Cross Police Barricades

NYPD officers stand guard at the Barclays Center.
NYPD officers stand guard at the Barclays Center.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Taylor Shubert just wanted to get home.

Two different police forces told him he couldn’t, turning his typically 20-minute commute into a two-hour odyssey, five miles north of the curfew-driven traffic restrictions that went into effect south of 96th Street Monday evening.

After a late shift at Metropolitan Hospital on 97th street in East Harlem, where Shubert works as an administrative staffer, he got into his car around 12:30 a.m. He planned to drive a coworker home, across town to West 100th Street, as he does every night when their shifts end, on his way to his own apartment in Inwood.

On Tuesday night, the second night of the curfew and the first to start at 8 p.m., Shubert was told by his human resources department that as an essential worker he would be able to get home smoothly. And he did.

Wednesday was a different story.

When Shubert and his coworker ended their shift, they noticed an increased police presence — with barriers set up on every avenue along 96th Street as they drove west — but saw no protests.

Stopped by Troopers

Shubert left the Upper West Side to continue onto the Henry Hudson Parkway. When he tried to take the Dyckman Street exit for Inwood, he found it blocked by New York State Police. Five troopers were standing at the ramp, he told THE CITY.

Shubert, who coordinates donations of protective equipment, meals, water and toiletries for medical workers, said he showed them his hospital identification badge.

He said he told them he was an essential worker trying to get home to Inwood. One trooper told him the exit was closed. At this point, Shubert began recording a video on his phone.

“I’ve been told that I can get home,” Shubert said on the video to the trooper.

“I understand that,” the unidentified officer said, “you were told at one point you were allowed, but now the ramp is closed.”

And then, from a patrol car loudspeaker, another officer’s voice:

“How about you take that bumper sticker off his car, too?”

Taylor Shubert
Courtesy of Taylor Shubert

Shubert’s Jeep Wrangler has bumper stickers for two former Democratic presidential candidates, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.

Shubert was shocked and afraid.

“I was told that I would be able to get home easily if I showed my identification badge,” he told THE CITY Thursday, “and that’s not what happened.”

The bumper sticker comment unnerved him.

“I never thought that somebody would threaten to rip my bumper sticker off of my car in New York, let alone in New York City,” Shubert said, “I just have never ever once thought that that could happen to me. And I couldn’t imagine what would happen if there was somebody else in my situation, somebody who wasn’t white.”

Shubert Is Not Alone

Multiple medical workers also used social media to share stories of the confusion and difficulties of getting home during a curfew and a pandemic — despite assurances from state and local government that essential workers would have no trouble after nightfall.

One doctor on Wednesday described his difficulty in crossing the Manhattan Bridge.

Another doctor, who works in a Brooklyn emergency room, wrote on Twitter that after his shift ended at midnight on Wednesday, he was unable to get to his Manhattan home until 2 a.m. That’s because NYPD cops wouldn’t let him pass through any bridges or tunnels, despite his work identification, he tweeted.

Stephanie Schiavenato, a doula, posted on Twitter that her in-labor client was denied entry to Manhattan via the Manhattan Bridge, and the NYPD officer had no alternative route to offer her. Eventually, another officer let her pass through the Battery Tunnel.

Denied, Twice

Shubert said he was eventually told he could get home via a circuitous route: Continue over the Henry Hudson Bridge, which has a $7 toll without an E-Zpass, cross over to The Bronx, then come back to upper Manhattan via the free Broadway Bridge.

But another NYPD barricade greeted him at the Broadway Bridge.

For the second time, Shubert said, he was denied passage. And again, he took a video.

Shubert showed his hospital ID and said he was simply trying to get home. But the officer from the 34th Precinct said she couldn’t let him go through.

“You have to,” Shubert pleaded. “I’m an essential worker.”

“I don’t have to do anything — you’re gonna have to turn around,” the officer replied.

A Third Encounter

The officer gave Shubert instructions for another journey: Take the Major Deegan Expressway and go over the 207th Street Bridge.

“It was just a blockade of [NYPD] cars,” said Shubert, “and an officer rolled down his window and he said, ‘What do you want?’ “

Shubert repeated his story, pleading to be allowed to go home. Eventually, a car pulled forward, letting Shubert through. When he finally got to his apartment, it was about 2:20 a.m.

“They just decided they were going to do whatever they wanted,” Schubert said. “I don’t know how not letting a hospital worker fighting a pandemic come home from their job. How does that make New Yorkers safe?”

Beau Duffy, a spokesperson for the State Police told THE CITY that “troopers were assisting the NYPD, and closed the ramp at their direction. Further questions should be directed to the NYPD.”

The NYPD did not return requests for comment.

Breeze to Bay Ridge

Meanwhile, Alessia Giarracca, a physician’s assistant who works at NYU Langone Hospital on East 30th Street, next to the FDR Drive, had no issues driving home Wednesday night around 10:30 p.m. to her home in Bay Ridge. Her only issue was that the exit she usually takes to get off of the Brooklyn Bridge was closed.

“I thought that there would be a checkpoint,” Giarracca said of driving through downtown Brooklyn to get onto the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, “but still cops just let everybody through.”

“Though, granted, I am a small, white person driving,” she added.

Thursday night, Shubert says, he will be helping coordinate meal deliveries for doctors and nurses working during the curfew. He has no idea how — or when — he’ll get home.

His hospital supervisors told him he shouldn’t have any issues. But they told him that Wednesday, too.

“My first priority is making sure I can do my job,” he said, “and then, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Are you an essential worker who’s had difficulty traveling during the curfew? Let us know.

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