Len Copicotto was a year into a survey contract in March, testing and tracing every circuit and outlet at a Queens hospital to ensure that no critical equipment would fail during planned renovations.
Assigned to an ongoing hospital project in Queens,
Local 3 journeyman Len Copicotto went from testing
circuits to wiring a morgue truck as COVID-19
swept into the city.
“There are kiosks around the hospital with masks, Purell, Kleenix,” said the Local 3 journeyman, who is carrying on the legacy of his father and grandfather. “For a year, I never saw anybody touch them.”
In the blink of an eye, everything changed. The kiosks were busy, anxiety was palpable. The hospital had gone from posting signs asking visitors to disclose if they’d been in China recently to converting wings into triage units and filling one floor after another with Covid-19 patients.
As is his habit, Copicotto dove into science journals and other peer-reviewed sources, educating himself about the disease without a media filter.
Understanding what was coming was one thing. It still felt like a gut punch the day he arrived at work to find a mobile refrigeration unit in the hospital’s parking lot.
“It was one of those wake-up calls. We could see it from the window of the break room. I said, ‘Oh my God, guys, I hope you know what’s parked right next to us right now. This is going to get bad.’”
A few days later, March 27, he and his team were assigned to electrify a mobile morgue at a sister hospital. He flashed on other crises as they worked, like rewiring a hospital in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
“We were doing something that was going to be helping a lot of people,” he said. “Now we were pulling power from a hospital to something that symbolized how devastating this situation was going to get.”
It troubled him that were still doubters, even in his own circles. He’d tried to dissuade them. But that day, armed with facts and fueled by emotion, he let loose on social media.
“I was feeling a sense of duty to each out to friends and family who at the time were still posting a lot of joke memes about Covid-19 and were parroting a lot of cable news pundit shows that were saying it was the flu, it was a hoax, it was just alarmist paranoia,” he said.
Len Copicotto was among Local 3 members who had the grim task of wiring morgue trucks as they arrived at New York City hospitals.
That day, Copicotto decided to take one of the temporary furloughs that were being offered. For weeks he’d been surrounded by the virus. Every night, he’d been throwing his work clothes in the wash and showering as soon as he got home, where he slept in a spare room to protect his wife.
He tested negative but knew that could change. He’d been on the front lines as Queens became “the center of the center of the hottest part of the outbreak.”
He quarantined at a family cottage in Connecticut while his wife sheltered at home, teaching biology classes online. He missed her, and he missed his union activities, including serving on the Local 3 election board, which met in an empty hall in March.
“I told people, ‘This will be the only time you’ll ever hear me say this in my entire career: please do not go to the union meeting,” Copicotto said. “It was surreal.”