5 Things That Happened While You Were Out: March 19

Good evening CivMixers. I hope you had a good Thursday, despite the gloomy weather.

As mentioned in the morning’s Rise and Shinetoday is the vernal equinox. Among many other things, this means that the day and night today will be nearly equal (the myth that they are both exactly 12 hours long is untrue, but it is as close to equal today as you will ever get).

Now we will start seeing longer days until the summer solstice, which falls on June 20 this year.

As of this afternoon, all 50 states are reporting confirmed cases of COVID-19, along with the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) and three out of the USA’s five major territories – Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The CDC is showing a total of 10,442 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in 54 districts – all 50 states and its accompanying district and territories, with 292 confirmed to be contracted due to travel, 310 as contact or community spread and 9,842 cases still being investigated.

There have been a total of 150 deaths throughout the U.S. so far. These numbers do not include the 49 confirmed cases of people “repatriated” from Wuhan, China (3) and the Grand Princess Cruise Ship (46). Adding these in, the total is up to 10,491.

Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) is reporting one new country or region in Europe with a new total confirmed infected rate of 191,127 and 7,807 dead.

Currently, the WHO has a global risk assessment as still being very high. Keep in mind, these numbers were released very early today, so there may be a drastic difference in the numbers as places report for tonight. Italy has overtaken China as the world leader of deaths from COVID-19. This happened this morning as Italy reported 427 additional deaths in the last 24 hours, which skyrocketed the total deaths to 3,405.

1) As the pandemic reaches inside U.S. jails and prisons, many minor offenders are being considered for early release, according to the latest reports from multiple state law enforcement agencies.

Also being considered are any high-risk prisoners that are vulnerable due to underlying health issues. New York has joined Cleveland and LA in announcing its “vulnerable prisoner” release plan, as both Rikers and Sing-Sing have at least one prisoner and guard who have tested positive for COVID-19. Other non-violent, minor offenders are going to be considered for release as officials strive to avoid breakouts in the systems.

With approximately 22,0000 prisoners, Los Angeles County has the largest prison system in the country. Over the past two weeks, they have released approximately 600 minor offenders in the hopes of reducing the risk to the overall incarcerated population. LA County is also reporting a significant reduction in arrests, with 60 reported last weekend down from the typical average of 300 a weekend. Cleveland, Ohio is located in Cayuga County, which has also released hundreds of prisoners.

Judges, DAs and other law enforcement officials have been holding emergency hearings and meetings to push through plea deals that will lead to early release or no time served. Federally, deportations and other crimes will also be deferred or pleaded down. Between local, state and federal jails, over 2 million people are incarcerated in the U.S., more than any other country per capita.

Prisoners are often behind bars or in common areas. Prisoners are often handcuffed and don’t have access to hand sanitizer. If handcuffed, prisoners can not cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. Hygiene is not great in prisons as cells, common areas, and hallways are often overcrowded. Hand sanitizer is not even allowed as it contains a high percentage pf concentrated alcohol.

As the pandemic deepens, it is likely many other states and federal prison systems will start to follow this release plan.

2) With Wednesday’s invocation of The Defense Production Act by President Donald Trump (leaving out any xenophobic tweets, intended that way or not), a law from the Cold War Era of the 1950s, the White House now has the power to enlist production warehouses to switch over to making needed products.

In times of war this usually means weapons. Right now, though, it is all about much needed medical equipment – especially ventilators, of which there is a very short supply.

Currently, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, and GM have all shut down their production lines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Ford and GM have confirmed that they are looking into what might be needed to flip over to medical equipment production, and both companies also confirmed that they are in contact with the Trump administration.

The U.K. has also been talking to car companies about switching over to medical equipment production – including Ford. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, has also stated that he is interested in switching his production line over to medical equipment production as well, but has made it clear that the switch can not be done overnight.

3) Though I usually only do two national headlines, I wanted to take this article to make sure that all of you saw the news that the 2020 US Census should be done by paper, over the phone or online. All field operations by the Census Bureau are being suspended until April 1 (at least). All households should receive the 2020 form in the mail by tomorrow.

(Editor’s note: I already completed my form online. It’s easy and it takes about five minutes – tops. Please make sure you do this if you can).

Not only are all field operations being suspended until April, but on-site processors have also been reduced by the federal guidelines. Keep in mind that all online responses received reduces the amount of households field staff will have to visit at all, which is better for everyone involved.

4) In other news around New York, the legalization of marijuana for adult recreational use will likely not make it into the 2020 budget, despite promises to get it through this year. This is due to the COVID-19 crisis and all of the panic surrounding it, according to State Sen. Liz Krueger, (D-Manhattan), who is the lead sponsor of the bill.

Krueger recently submitted a new amended version of her bill, but it’s not looking likely that lawmakers will be able to agree by the April 1 deadline. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) stated that he can not possibly know what will be in the proposed budget right now, as it is still a fluid and constantly moving process due to COVID-19.

Governor Andrew Cuomo continues to insist he wants the budget to be as normal as possible, with controversial issues included as long as they are not new and have been thought through and debated before. For his part, this would include bail reform and changes to the new law, legalization of gestational surrogacy, legalization of recreational marijuana and other issues.

5) The Route 50 Diner located on Doubleday Ave (Route 50) between Ballston Spa and Schenectady has always said that their customers are family, and their actions pver the past few days have certainly proven this.

Like all eating establishments, they are down to takeout only service to comply with COVID-19 regulations. This has not stopped them from taking care of their customers though.

Owned by Walter Hayer, the diner serves many veterans and other older members of the community, and Hayer is there to personally greet almost everyone who comes through the door. In this uncertain financial time, Hayer and his staff are still watching out for their customers. He has gone to pay what you can, no questions asked policy. He wants to make sure that in a time when nobody is sure day to day if their paycheck will keep coming in that no one is going without food.

If you place an order for takeout and show up, whatever you can pay is what you will pay, and the diner will pick up the rest. Hayer knows this may not be able to continue forever, but for now, he is doing what he can to ensure those in need have a full belly.

Those are the highlights of the news for today CivMixers. I hope that right now everyone is doing okay, and getting through the days. If you know of any business going above and beyond to help out their communities please let me know in the comments below.

“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

– Coretta Scott King

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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