5 Things That Happened While You Were Out: March 20

The first full week in the COVID-19 world is over here in the Capital Region, and truly things look a whole lot different today than did just a few short days ago.

People are staying six feet apart from one another when they do venture out, which some states – California and New York – have all but ordering us not to do.

What exactly do these new restrictions mean? The governors of two of the most populous and busy states in the country are in what Gov. Andrew Cuomo has deemed a “PAUSE” – AKA Policies Assure Uniform Safety (for) Everyone. These policies are to stay home as much as possible, practice social distancing and use hygiene and prevention methods if you are going to interact.

This means limiting your contact with people – choose one other family to have in your bubble if you are going to have visitors, pre-screen anyone who you are going to let in your home, don’t use public transportation unless absolutely you have to, but overall, try to remain indoors.

Only essential businesses are open, and 100 percent of nonessential staff have been directed by the governor to start working from home. These restrictions collectively impact some 60 million people, which is a lot.

Here are today’s top five things…

1) After this week, I was in desperate need of some positive news, and I was lucky enough to find it. In California, a teen is thinking about one of the most vulnerable and forgotten populations in the COVID-19 crisis: the homeless. Tesoro High School Honor Society member Shaivi Shah, 15, came up with the idea of assembling and dispensing low-cost sanitation kits to some of the approximately 150,000 homeless Californians after listening to the state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, talk about this issue.

As she listened, Shah realized that these people were lacking the necessities required to even attempt to avoid COVID-19 infection. So far with the help of her parents and fellow Honor Society members, they have made and handed out 150 kits to the homeless individuals in three separate shelters in Los Angeles. These kits contain antibacterial soap, hand sanitizer, lotion, and reusable masks.

This is a cause that is close to Shah’s heart. Last year, she raised money for the homeless with a dance recital. She is still assembling and handing out kits and has started a GoFundMe page to make even more of them. Check her out.

2) As California and New York stop just short of shelter-in-place orders, and other states are tightening their restrictions, the director of the National Institue of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Dr. Anthony Fauci, announced that he believes we are in for social distancing and remaining at home for the next few uweeks, at least.

Fauci also stressed that it will be several more weeks before we can even tell if what we are doing has started to decrease the spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump, when asked this week if he thought the crisis could last as long as 18 months, said he thought not, disagreeing with a report put out by his own Department of Health and Human Services. Trump doubled down, insisting that if people follow the 15-day guidelines put forth by the White House and stick to social distancing and prevention protocols, that the pandemic could be in a downward cycle by the end of summer.

When asked if he thought that the president should enact the regulations under the Defense Production Act and force factories to flip to making essential medical equipment and supplies that are in low supply, Dr. Fauci stated that we should be doing all that we can to find our way through this crisis.

Fauci again emphasized that staying “ahead of the curve” is vital to turning the corner in the fight against COVID-19.

3) There is no doubt that the COVID-19 crisis here in New York is bad and getting worse every day. Throughout the day, the state rapidly drew closer to 8,000 confirmed positive cases, and the prediction that top state government and health officials have made for weeks is starting to come true – health system and medical facilities are rapidly starting to become overwhelmed.

Already hospitals have begun reporting dwindling supplies, from masks to life-saving ventilators. In King’s County Hospital Center in Brooklyn, the staff has reported being so low on face masks that they have been reusing theirs for as long as a week, sanitizing them the best they can with hand sanitizer. In the first of what is going to be many hospitals reporting the same, the Bronx’s Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center have already reported being low on ventilators.

It’s not just a question of lack of equipment, but staff and facilities as well. Even with the USNS Comfort being deployed to help, the Army Corps. of Engineers will also be evaluating and assisting in transforming buildings into makeshift hospitals, with Manhattan’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center being eyed for just such a transformation.

State and local officials, including Demetre Daskalakis, deputy commissioner of the New York City’s Department of Health, estimated anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of city residents will be infected with the novel coronavirus at some point in time – though most people will have no symptoms to mild or moderate symptoms.

Generally, only around 20 percent of those who have COVID-19 will need hospitalization, but officials still expect they will need a total of 100,000 available hospital beds to weather the crisis. Currently there are only approximately 50,000 beds available. Upping their estimates, it now appears that the state may need as many as 25,000 ventilators.

Predictions thus far estimated the peak of COVID-19 in New York will occur in May – if not later.

4) As of this afternoon, only two Capital Region hospitals are still performing community testing for COVID-19, but even they are running low on kits. Both Amsterdam’s St. Mary’s and Columbia Memorial Health in Hudson ended public testing this morning, saving their few remaining kits for frontline workers and the highest risk patients. Glens Falls and Saratoga Hospitals are still performing community testing, but they too are running low.

Glens Falls predicts it has two, maybe three, days worth of test kits left, and Saratoga states they are monitoring the situation closely and will adjust testing policies according to those inventory results.

As of this evening, there are 141 confirmed cases of COVID-19 throughout the Capital Region, up 36 from yesterday. Albany County has 70 of those cases,  Saratoga County-26, Schenectady County is up to 21, Rensselaer County-15. Greene County has 2 cases, as does and Montgomery County (2), Columbia, Fulton, Schoharie, Warren and Washinton Counties all have 1 case.

Local officials have urgently requested more kits and supplies to handle the rapidly increasing need.

5) In lighter news, the hourly workers at Pricechopper/Market 32 stores will be getting raises according to President and CEO Scott Grimmett. All full and part-time employees will be earning an extra $1 an hour from now until April 1st. 

This is because of their hard work and dedication in this unprecedented crisis, and the fact that being deemed “essential” means that there is no option for them to stay home and try to avoid getting sick.

Groceries everywhere are doing their best to keep stores stocked, customers informed and everyone supplied. They have adjusted working regiments to get supplies out as soon as possible after being delivered. They are employing stringent cleaning procedures to ensure a hygienic environment and they have changed hours to better serve high-risk communities.

Next time you go to a grocery store during the COVID-19 crisis, be sure to say thank you to some of the employees who are working tirelessly for hourly wages to help make sure we all have what we need to make it through to the other side.

“What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle.”
― Rumi

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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