5 Things That Happened While You Were Out: March 18

Wednesday is over CivMixers, and as we go into this evening I hope you are all healthy and happy…or at least adjusting to the new normal.

I hope that those of you not under quarantine were able to go out and enjoy the mild weather today. We needed a ray of sunshine or two. It was a grim day news-wise, dominated by the growing spread of COVID-19 across the state, country, and world.

With the last holdout state of West Virginia finally confirming a case last night, all of the U.S. is now affected by the novel coronavirus.

Please take care of yourselves not only physically but mentally. This is a stressful time. We are all in a state of upheaval, change, and fear. Please unplug when you can, and do not read article after article in your downtime.

Let us do that for you.

Yes, you should be informed. Yes, you need to know the latest developments in order to keep you and your family safe. But I promise, some days when it’s all too much, you can depend on your local media sites – including CivMix – to provide you with the most “need to know” information and try to weed out some of the the extraneous noise.

Some days you are going to feel particularly anxious or stressed, and that is 100 percent okay. We all do. None of us knows what is going to happen next. During those times, it’s completely appropriate to just unplug and tune out. Everything will be there when you are ready to plug back in again.

And now, today’s five things…

1) The U.S. Senate passed the latest Coronavirus Relief Bill in a 90-8 vote this afternoon. This measure allows for at least two weeks of paid sick leave to many of those affected by the crisis. It also increases Medicaid funding, provides more in the till for food stamps and expands current unemployment insurance benefits.

This bill also covers free testing for the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness it causes. The legislation is now headed to the White House for President Trump’s signature – which he is expected to give, making it law. Meanwhile, the talk on both sides of the aisle continues on a proposed stimulus package for the American economy.

Trump and U.S. Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin have both expressed their desire for a steep $1 trillion stimulus bill that provides for immediate checks to be sent out to the majority of Americans. Per their proposals, the money would account for $500 billion of the total spending package, with checks being cut depending on the size of the family and their income, according to an internal Treasury Department memo.

The White House wants these payments to start going out as soon as April 6, with a second round to be sent in early May. Mnuchin alluded to working with the IRS, which already has a system in place to pay Americans their refunds by electronic means.

Other conversations are happening quickly and fast on Capital Hill, with lawmakers struggling to figure out how to help everyone – from individuals to small businesses to big corporations. With a very real economic downturn already beginning, the focus is on not only weathering this crisis but also the extensive rebuilding of our economy and society that is expected to be necessary when and if we pull out of this.

A third package is expected to be proposed shortly, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to keep his chamber in session until all of the major issues have been addressed.

2) Whether generational, a lack of a sense of urgency or just the pure need to continue earning a living, there are still a great number of Americans ignoring local and federal guidelines and meeting in large groups.

Beginning around 10 days ago, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), who is considered to be the top expert of infectious disease in the U.S. and heads the Trump administration’s task force for combating COVID-19, started warning that social distancing is necessary to stop the virus from spreading.

Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) echoed this warning, adding guidelines that included canceling any events larger than 50 people. Monday, the Trump administration and the president himself narrowed those guidelines still further – down to 10 people.

Some localities have gone even further and banned all but necessary and emergency travel, and are also requiring that half the workforce should be working from home. In addition, there’s drive-through, takeout or delivery-only service at restaurants, shuttered entertainment establishments, closed schools…the list goes on and on. 

San Francisco, CA is currently living under a “shelter in place” order by its local government, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has hinted at the same thing coming to the five boroughs, though he and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are at odds over that.

However, all over the country, there are groups of people who are blatantly ignoring these guidelines for whatever reason.

Many of these gatherings are happening in states that are reporting relatively low numbers of confirmed cases, and the sense of urgency just hasn’t seemed to hit people there yet. In other places, people are going out because their employers have not yet made any accommodations for the coronavirus pandemic, and without work, they don’t get paid.

This is a big problem for people who are self-employed, like photographers or event planners. If their clients aren’t canceling, not only could they miss out on that paycheck, but in a business built largely on reputations and referrals, they fear the fallout of not showing up.

Some of it seems to be generational as well. The Trump administration and other top health officials have specifically requested that younger people take heed and follow social distancing guidelines, as there has been a rising number of young people becoming seriously ill.

Though this disease may be impacting certain geographic areas or at-risk portions of the population harder, the sad fact is that if we do not all practice social distancing and follow other suggested guidelines, COVID-19 will continue to spread and get worse. Even if you are young and healthy, this virus can infect you. You may be worn down, or have an unknown underlying issue that leads to a serious illness. Even if you are not affected seriously or at all, you can still pass the coronavirus onto those who will be adversely affected.

So please, keep your distance from one another. And, if at all possible, stay home.

3) In New York, Cuomo and his long-time nemesis Trump are working together in a way that was not thought possible a mere month ago. This cooperation is necessary as the state crosses the 2,000 confirmed case mark.

With New York continuing to be the largest infected area, Cuomo said that Trump is immediately sending the floating hospital ship USNS Comfort to sit in New York Harbor to help alleviate the stress on the hospital system.

Cuomo announced that Pennsylvania is joining the existing joint resolution between Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York to have a multi-border state consistent response to COVID-19. This means the Keystone State will join in shutting down establishments like cinemas, gyms, and restaurants. As of tonight, the four states are also closing amusement parks, bowling alleys. At 8 p.m. tomorrow, the indoor areas of shopping malls will close, too.

4) The effort to stay on top of all the local developments and keep you all up to date is one that I do not feel I can win, but some of the highlights from around the Capital Region today include:

Price Chopper is opening only for high-risk group senior citizens from 6 – 7 a.m. daily and will close at 10 p.m.; Ellis Hospital in Schenectady has tested over 500 people and has limited supplies left, so they are suspending testing to reserve the kits for the sickest patients; the Albany U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office is closed until April 1 after repeated pleas to do so; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be coming to meet with Cuomo on how to establish more hospital beds for the crisis; the Northern border between the U.S. and Canada will be closed until further notice; state unemployment claims have soared; Albany Med is also running low on test kits but is currently still testing and the City of Rensselaer is the latest to declare a state of emergency.

5) Though still developing, in a grim reminder that the world goes on during COVID-19, a man was sent to Albany Med after being stabbed on Madison Avenue in the 500 block area. Nothing is known about the victim other than his sex, and police have warned there will be an increased police presence in the area as the investigation continues.

Until tomorrow all. Have a good, restful and stress-free night.

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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