Attention Architects: US COVID-19 Deaths Will Skyrocket; You Must Build Housing for the Poor

Joel Solkoff’s Column Vol. VI, Number 3

DATELINE Wednesday, June 17, 2020. Williamsport Pennsylvania, a town of 28,000 people and a treasure trove of architecture so beautiful …….so beautiful today’s column is treating you to a look see of the Park Place Hotel completed 1865.

Today’s report on the obligation of architects to respond to the exigencies of the Corona virus comes in two parts. The first from Joel’s life threading situation in rural Middle America.

The second from e-architect’s Art Critic Sarah Schmerler who has survived in New York City where the epidemic has killed since March of this year 17,433 of her relatives, friends, and fellow residents of the largest US City.

Williamsport’s best architect Anthony H. Visco Jr. took me on a tour off the Peter Herdrc Park Hotel completed 1865.Photograph by Joel Solkoff. For additional photos on Victorian architecture in central Pennsylvania, please stay tuned.


”Some 10 employees ended up getting infected— one after using a salt shaker handed him by a colleague with the virus.”

—How Germany got the coronavirus right

by Guy Chazen, The Financial Times, June 4, 2020.

COVID-19  deaths in New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Miami, Minneapolis and nearly every urban center will be skyrocketing as a result of massive demonstrations in the wake of the police murder ( this is what Houston’s police chief calls it) of George Floyd.

New York’s Governor Andrew M Cuomo said he would be marching with the demonstrators as would I if I could walk.

When I was 14, I attended the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where I heard Dr. King preach. He spoke about a difficult passage from the Book of Mathews. “ A sin against God and the Son can be forgiven. A sin against the Holy Ghost can never be forgiven.” 

Although I am Jewish and do not believe in the divinity of Jesus, I believe Dr. King’s wisdom continues to be right on. The murdering police officer in Minneapolis can never be forgiven. President Trump will never be forgiven. The Senate Majority Leader can never be forgiven for failing to provide heath care to the poorest of our poor— part of the racism endemic to the US where last year white police officers killed 1,000 of our African-American sisters.and brothers.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s home church, The Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia founded in 1886

Black Lives Matter march across the Brooklyn Bridge.
June 4, 2020
Copyright 2020 by Ron Baron published by permission
Architectural distraction immediately below:
Wikipedia: “The Brooklyn Bridge is a hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge in New York City, spanning the East River between the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Opened on May 24, 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the first fixed crossing across the East River. It was also the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its opening, with a main span of 1,595.5 feet (486.3 m) and a deck located 127 ft (38.7 m) above mean high water. The span was originally called the New York and Brooklyn Bridge or the East River Bridgebut was officially renamed the Brooklyn Bridge in 1915.

“Proposals for a bridge connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn were first made in the early 19th century, which eventually led to the construction of the current span, designed by John A. Roebling. His son Washington Roebling oversaw the construction and contributed further design work, assisted by the latter’s wife, Emily Warren Roebling.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lives of nearly everyone who lives in the United States, Shaking hands is verboten. Masks are worn religiously. I have long telephone conversations with friends about upgrading my mask so it exposes me to less dangerous stuff.

Governor Cuomo has emerged as a leader of distinction— widely admired for how well he is providing competence at a time when national leadership from Washington DC is
demonstrably lacking.

Meanwhile, here at Liberty Lodge, we hear tales of crowded restaurants, no one wearing masks, people booking message therapists, a world around me with frisson reminding the words written on the wall:

“You have been tried in the balance and found wanting.”

”Me’ne me’ne te’kel parsin”

The demonstrations from coast to coast against the systematic racism of our country is itself a COVID-19 issue.

In a pandemic, the first thing a prudent leader does is make sure everyone has health care.

Right now, prospective patients are discouraged from receiving Corona virus tests because the cost is too high.

The cost of living as a poor African-American woman or man is too high. Blacks in the United States do not live as long as whites. COVID-19 has already killed far more blacks than whites.

What can you architects do about helping the rest of us dealing with the pandemic?

Architects: You must use your talents to help the most vulnerable residents of the United States. We need housing that is universally accessible. We need housing that is affordable to families whose income is based on the minimus wage. Here in Pennsylvania, the minimum wage is less than $7.00 an hour.

The solution is public housing. The federal government spends $47.5 billion a year on public housing. I want you architects to earn some of this money.

Today’s column is part of a new ongoing COVID 19 series. WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO DIE SALUTE YOU

The pronoun “ we “ is used here to include the most COVID-19 vulnerable children, adults and seniors most likely to spread the disease and die from it. They include the homeless, migrant agricultural workers, workers in the construction industry ( many of whom do not have legal documentation) senior citizens and the disabled. We do not have the housing we need.

This series focuses entirely ( the rest is merely commentary) on how to prepare you in obtaining public housing commissions.

Coming in this series will be an overview of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, a breakdown of the programs and offices and a list of whom to know and follow. For the time being note:

The person to follow is Rep. Katie Porter, a California Democrat from Orang County in the south of the state:

In Williamsport, up on Fourth Street—well past Millionaires Row is the housing women and men who earn less than $7.00 an hour live.Those earning only the Commonwealth’s minimum wage live with others like themselves.They tend to live in large houses with family members of multiple generations.Residents have little or no privacy When the Corona virus hits town with a vengeance ,these are the children, women, and men who will die.

You architects have the talent and power to design housing that is safe—as safe as you can design it for Corona virus protection. Yes, the limitations I,posed by keeping costs low can pose a problem.I.M. Pei, the Chinese born architect who designed the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. also designed public housing. One one public housing project, Pei made arrangements with Picasso about placing one of his very large pieces of sculpture at the entrance to the apartment building.

Now would be a good time to be creative.

Screenshot by me US Center for Disease Control website

Heart’s Island, Potters field for New York City, screenshot by Joel Solkoff

George Floyd murdered by a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer. See video below.

The murder of George Floyd has led to Senator Corey Booker Democrat of New Jersey to publish and implement his too long neglected plan to reshape how police forces should be organized.

Wikipedia: “On May 25, 2020, Floyd was arrested on a charge of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a grocery store in the Powderhorn Parkneighborhood of Minneapolis. According to the store clerk, the bill was an obvious fake and Floyd had refused to return the purchased cigarettes when challenged.

“He died after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes during the arrest. Floyd was handcuffed face down in the street, while two other officers further restrained Floyd and a fourth prevented onlookers from intervening.] For the last three of those minutes Floyd was motionless and had no pulse, but officers made no attempt to revive him.[44]:6:46 Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck as arriving emergency medical technicians attempted to treat him.

Video by The New York Times Copyright 2020 published by permission

Bucolic is the word that comes to mind as I look on the following photograph (published by permission UPI/Newscom) from May

By comparison, fast moving time has presented us with this present:

recovery from the police murder of a black man; fires burning in Miami, Atlanta, Southern California, Minneapolis, Seattle….and in Washington DC in view of President Trump in his residence in the White House, the damage to Saint John’s Episcopal Church which caused me to weep out of control— weeping in this time death arrives daily and without notice.

I cannot fly to New York City because the Williamsport Regional,Airport does not currently provide commercial airline service anywhere. When I moved here to Williamsport, American Airlines provided service to Philadelphia. Period.

Presumably, out of Corona virus concern, American Airlines stopped its poorly run service from Williamsport. Now, American Airlines announced it filed for bankruptcy protection.

There is no passenger train service here.

River Valley Transit, Williamsport’s excellent wheel chair friendly federally funded service will not take me out of Lycoming County.

Screenshot by me of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Health website

Meanwhile, almost everywhere in this, my country—the United States—the spirit of The French Revolution portends great change for the US. On over a dozen occasions,—a requirement for my work for President Jimmy Carter, for Congress and for the Securities and Exchange Commission ( placing one hand over my heart and raising the other) I swore an oath (under pain of perjury to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States and defend it against all enemies foreign and domestic.”

Never in my country’s history have the key policy makers in the Executive Branch making key policy decisions of who shall live and die from the Corona virus have consistently violated their oath. George Floyd’s murder has justifiably unleashed protests and an examination of how my country has failed to treat African Americans and other minorities of the protection they need to keep them from dying from the Corona virus. In Detroit, black deaths were found to be disproportionally higher than the white population.

Photo by Joel Solkoff

Last month, I had to travel to State College in Centre County, an hour and a half drive.

Let us return to my home county Lycoming County and whether being here will result in my death

Screenshot by me from the Commonwealth ofF Pennsylvania’s Department of Health website


Sarah Schmerler, e-architect’s Art Critic in York City, reports on renting a car in NYC’s Borough of Brooklyn.. Sarah has survived the pandemic that this year killed 17,433 residents of the largest US City

Freedom = mobililty = state of mind

Nothing fancy, nothing exciting — by most standards — but having a car for a day in Brooklyn allowed me to go shopping and get a lot of groceries. Stuff that’s too heavy to carry like seltzer and gallons of milk and oat milk.

Parking it on the street, I realized how small my world in this Big Apple has been. And also, how the act of renting it upped my contact with others — and my risk — exponentially. The friend who, while wearing a mask, drove me to the car place; the two attendants at the car place, one of whom was wearing a mask on his chin. The latter was most helpful. I turned on the ignition, and it seems had inadvertently squeezed a “panic button” on the key fob. All the lights went off, the garage was filled with honks, and I was so startled.

I didn’t have my mask on my face while I was in the car, alone, and suddenly this lovely young man was over my shoulder, concerned, helping me and showing me what I had done wrong. 

I know, because I remember seeing the kind smile on his face. “No worries,” he said of my panic and mistake, but yeah, worries, because this world is full of nice people who are in contact with other nice people like me. 

So I got in my new car, and, totally aware of how sudden movements are not a friend to me in this new normal, I kept to the local roads, and was conservative in my freedom.

Can we control this epidemic? There are indeed some sudden movements in my daily life: joggers who whiz by me before I can skirt them (no mask on, or only partial mask wearers); guys in the grocery aisle pushing huge carts with zero clearance on either side (and I have to move around them); and more and more people just standing on the street, not paying attention, now that we are in Phase 1. 

What is freedom, anyway? The ability to move around all the other people who need to feel free? Or the willingness to take risks? I feel I have neither right now.

Sarah Schmerler self-portrait screen shot by me

As NYC is emerging from its status as the epicenter of the pandemic, Schmerler reports on dangerously permissive social practices in Brooklyn, Schmerler writes:

This report should read a ‘A-LIVE,’ as it is good to be walking and talking and all those other things we can’t take for granted any more here in our fine City. As she photographs Brooklyn neighborhood trendy spot, she writes, “Less than 1/3 of the shop open to foot traffic. The rest, cordoned off with a table filled with various coffee sundries.”

“Then, just a few paces away, at the corner of Smith and Bergen Sts, there was a homeless woman, asleep on a stone bench.”

“Workmen were standing paces away, most of them not wearing face masks, or wearing them inadequately.“


Not dying is critical back in the Rust Belt of Pennsylvania

Photograph by Joel Solkoff of a salt shaker that can spread the deadly COVID-19 virus.


I had a COVID-19 test last week.

Results are negative.

Not that it matters.

My 32 year old physician Dr. Kayla Richardson has not not been tested

. Nor have any of her colleagues at River Valley Health and Dental. Nor have any of the physicians at UPM C’s main hospital in town.

My primary care physician Kayla Richardson, MD minutes after giving me a COVID-19 test

Fewer than 20 patients in the County have died, Most have died in nursing homes where health aides are not tested. Meanwhile, the Governor has lifted restrictions allowing barbers and masseuses to practice, Williamsport is a town of 28,000–largely low income black. 

In New York State by comparison physicians are tested daily. Nursing home workers twice weekly.

Here in Lycoming County, we will not have to wait for the second wave.

The deaths here are likely to be massive.

Consider the weakness of the health infrastructure: In January ( when I was treated for skin cancer ) the system did a poor job at best misplacing my pathology reports thus delaying for months timely treatment.

As a 72 year old paraplegic, the odds of my contracting COVID-19 and dying from it are high. This is especially the case because I have a COPD diagnosis and I do not have a spleen which protects the body from infection.


The President’s threat to use federal troops to control peaceful demonstration is a patent violation of federal law— specifically, the posse comitatus act.

Screenshot by Joel Solkoff

The President has brought widespread condemnation from the defense community, Trump’s own Secretary of Defense denounced Trump’s behavior. Only last week the President’s marched across the street from the White House accompanied by uniformed members of the military to stand in front of Saint Hohn’s Episcopal Church’. There the President paused briefly to take a photograph of him holding a Bible ( he does not read) in front of the Church sign.This action provoked a denunciation from Washington’s Episcopal  Bishop. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff later apologized to the public for having participated in Trump’s stunt which resulted in violence against peaceful demonstrators.

The demonstrations have been peaceful. Taking advantage have been looters, rioters, who have let in their path now the familiar graphetti: 

“Save a life. Kill a cop.”

This provoked me to write:

I taught my daughter Amelia, now a white police officer in the South to revere the memory of Martin Luther Kiing

My daughter Amelia Altalena is a police officer in the South who risks her like daily. Because she is my daughter, Amelia Altalena reveres the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior.

Officer Amelia Altalena photograph by Joel Solkoff

Black lives matter. The life of a black man or woman matters as much as my life, my daughters’ lives and my granddaughters’ lives. The putz in the White House just signed last month a good piece of legislation that would provide federal funds for Holocaust education. Eli Wiesel, who coined the term Holocaust, asserted that the remembrance of Auschwitz not be confined to what happened to the Jews way back when. 

Holocaust education is meaningless if it is not applied directly to the domestic genocide President Trump and his sycophants are engaged in. Instead of inserting our black citizens into gas chambers, President Trump et alia are working to further reducing Medicaid coverage; I.e. health insurance for the poor during the pandemic. President Trump is responsible for over 100,000 deaths of our people—a disproportionally large proportion of black deaths. Proof positive that here in the land of the free and home of the brave if you are white and you have money in your pocket… 

George Floyd’s death, for which riots are understandable, represents only the tip of the iceberg. Last week, Martin Luther King III wrote, “ As my father explained during his lifetime, riot is the language of the unheard. “ 

What the rioters want is what we all need. Safety from harm. Food for survival. A roof over our head, Education for our children. Hope for the future; viz.: reason to live. 

The President’s excuse for a response for hundreds of years of legitimate grievances ( when during his Administration public housing is desperately short of 3.5 million wheel chair accessible units) is an appeal to guns and bullets and the creation of a dangerous fictional organization who work arm-in-arm with the non-existent rapists who sneak in from the South of the Border despoiling our virgin wives and their daughters.


My editors beckon: “All right, stop writing, Joel.”

Isabelle Lomholt and Adrian Welch, Editors at e-architect

“Good night and good luck,” as Greensboro, North Carolina born Edward R. Morrow, my hero, used to say.


Selfie, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania US

[email protected]

2019: East Third Street
Williamsport, PA, US

Please feel free to phone me at US 570-772-4909

Copyright © 2020 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

Avenue by Kathy Forer sculptor. From her Architecture collection. Copyright 2008 by Kathy Forer, published by permission.