5 Things That Happened While You Were Out: March 17

Happy St. Patricks Day Eve, CivMixers!! In this time of social distancing and drive-thru and takeout/delivery-only, it might take a little ingenuity to celebrate this usually very social holiday.

It is indeed possible to make your own green beer. Ditto for a good old fashioned corned beef and cabbage dinner.

Or maybe a nice St. Patrick’s Day cocktail is more your speed? If you need to entertain the kiddos who are stuck home from school – and maybe driving you a little crazy? – try some fun non-alcoholic drinks.

They say we’re all a little bit Irish on this day. I think we all could use a little bit of Irish luck so that we can proceed through this tumultuous period with some jokes, smiles and only a few bumps and bruises along the way.

Onto what happened while you were out today (or you know while you were in, but doing work things and trying not to tear your hair out while dealing with tech problems, children, spouses, pets…etc.).

1) President Donald Trump proposed sending checks to individual Americans within the next two weeks in an attempt to assuage the economic free fall we’re experiencing due to COVID-19.

In appears to be a complete about-face, Trump for the first time today began to indicate just how big of an impact the novel coronavirus will have. He denied that he had changed his tune, however, stating that he believed this was a pandemic long before it was officially declared a pandemic. As of last week, he was still comparing the COVID-19 outbreak to nothing more than a serious flu epidemic.

But now the president is working on getting more coronavirus legislation out the door, and he also declared today that he would like Congress to push a major comprehensive package for struggling business, and would like to infuse $1 trillion (I triple checked – that’s indeed trillion, with a “t”) into the rapidly flagging US economy, part of which would involve cutting those aforementioned checks.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that while details remain sparse, the administration would want some kind of income limit put onto the stimulus package. It is also unclear if this is a feasible plan and if so, what actually needs to occur to make it a reality. It is something the administration is still talking about internally and with other top officials, so we will have to wait and see.

As of this afternoon, there are more than 5,700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in America, with West Virginia being the only state yet to report a case.

2) Mnuchin had some other news to announce today as well. If you have a balance due to the federal government on your 2019 taxes, you will now have an additional 90 days to pay it.

Though the filing deadline is still April 15, Mnuchin announced that in light of the COVID-19 pandemic there will be an extension available to all individuals and small businesses up to $1 million. Corporations will be able to defer payments of up to $10 million. Both of these options will be available with no penalties and without any interest accruing.

Mnuchin emphasized that refunds will still be paid, and encouraged people to get their taxes in by that April 15th deadline. All usual applications for extensions will be available for taxpayers who need to ask to extend their filing deadline.

This payment extension applies only to federal income taxes, and each state is free to set its own rules and regulations.

3) Like most states, New York is very worried about the amount of medical equipment available in the face of the rising number of COVID-19 cases – especially ventilators. As the coronavirus continues to spread rapidly across the state, the fear is that those who fall to the most severe symptoms of the illness will outnumber the number of ventilators on hand.

Back in 2015 the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law panel released a report after years of study on ventilator availability and declared that in the case of a major outbreak of severe flulike disease, we would be close to 16,000 ventilators short. They released guidelines for medical facilities to follow regarding who should receive ventilator treatment and who wouldn’t make the cut in a hypothetical event – sort of like the real one we now find ourselves in.

Also in 2015, a study that showed though we have top-notch hospitals throughout the state, our ventilator supply is slightly lower than the national average – a realization that now seems horrible to contemplate. The only numbers available on the ventilator stockpile are those released in 2015, and the state Department of Health has recently declined to provide an update.

As New Yorkers sit in a state stopped by COVID-19, we all hope that we can stop the spread of symptoms enough to not get to the point where hospitals are forced to implement the “who to ventilate” guidelines. Though there is a national inventory of ventilators to be used in national emergencies like this one, the president has made it clear that states shouldn’t be expecting any handouts when it comes to medical equipment, and there is still no update as to how or when those ventilators will be doled out.

4) As the Capital Region hunkers down, local governments warn that the restrictions could get even more severe as we get closer to 50 confirmed local COVID-19 cases

Rensselaer and Warren county both reported their first confirmed cases today, leaving few counties within the region coronavirus free. Albany County had the biggest increase, adding 10 more confirmed cases and bringing their total up to 15. One of the new cases to be confirmed is a 7-year-old boy who attends Pine Hills Elementary – the first confirmed case in a school. He is at his home in isolation.

In Albany County, 575 people are under quarantine, 125 of which are mandatory. In Schenectady County, there are 11 cases confirmed as of today, and 654 people under either mandatory or precautionary quarantine.

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy warns that there will be more cases throughout the region. He is in contact with the governor about more stringent restrictions within his county – at the very least. He has seen people ignoring many of the restrictions, including the new 8 p.m. curfew. If necessary, he said, he will talk to the governor about shelter-in-place restrictions.

Saratoga County Director of Public Health Cathi Duncan confirmed that 73 people are under mandatory quarantine with 40 more under precautionary quarantine. There are 10 confirmed cases in Saratoga. Duncan has worked with the Saratoga Sherrif Michael Zurlo and his office to establish a list of those who are of high risk and have 86 people on that list that the Sheriff’s department is checking on daily.

Localities everywhere are struggling to make staffing cuts are the economy continue to falter and also still function. Please bear with them at this time.

5) All around the Capital Region, schools are working to make sure that kids who don’t get enough to eat at home are still being fed during shutdowns.

The stark reality is that many children may not get three meals a day if they are at home. Many receive both lunch and breakfast through school programs. Often there are even backpack programs that send kids home with food for the weekend. Many schools and nonprofit organizations are working to ensure that those children are not going hungry.

As long as we continue to exercise patience, compassion, and love, we will be able to make it through this with everyone eventually being healthy again.

If you are healthy and at low risk for contracting the virus, consider making an at-home deliver of food or supplies to someone not so fortunate. And if you can spare the cash, please be sure to patronize local eateries that are hanging on by a thread due to mandatory shutdowns.

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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