5 Things That Happened While You Were Out: March 23

Happy Snowy Monday evening, CivMixers!! Today was a gloomy, cold and snowy day here in the Capital Region.

On the plus side, the cold weather makes it easier to practice precautionary isolation and social distancing. On the not so fabulous side, it’s gloomy…cold….snowy – well, you get it.

Yes, it has reverted to winter for a few days and COVID-19continues its march across the globe, but we are here and moving forward in our socially distanced world.

March 23 has had an interesting path through history. Did you know, for example that on this day in 1806, Lewis and Clark headed out from their winter home in the Pacific Fort Clatsop on the final leg of their iconic 2.5-year expedition?

On this day in 2011, the beloved and also iconic (but for entirely different reasons) Elizabeth Taylor passed away of congestive heart failure at the age of 79.

Yes, March 23rd has seen many notable events. One of the most famous may be the speech given by the future governor of Virginia, Patrick Henry, before the second Virginia Convention. In frustration and anger over mounting restrictions on the Colonies by the British, he memorably declared: “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

This call for freedom would become a mantra for many of the Sons of Liberty and the revolution itself. This idea was carried over into the documents written by the founding fathers to declare independence from Britain and set up the governing of the country.

It’s also the day that the phrase “O.K.” was first published and entered into the vernacular. (That was all the way back in 1839, if you can believe it).

Today’s March 23 was equally historic – this whole moment in time that we are collectively living through is, in fact, historic. So let’s get on with it, shall we?

1) California, New York, and Washington remain the three hardest-hit states by the novel coronavirus and in response, President Donald Trump is sending the National Guard to help out with medical equipment shortages. Trump stated that he approved Major Disaster Declaration requests already from New York and Washington and was preparing to do so for California soon.

These declarations will make many additional federal funds, as well as personnel, available to assist the states.

The states will retain their authority over the National Guard, so the governor of each state will be in control of their deployment and actions within their territory. With the guard comes National Guard medical stations, and these will have 4,000 beds that will be distributed with 2,000 going to CA, 1,000 to NY and 1,000 to WA. The approved declarations and deployments of the guard are partly in response to repeated and more frequent requests from governors all over the United States for federal assistance.

States continue to get closer to medical equipment depletion and are running out of hospital beds, but Trump continues to assure the public that he is taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously, and his administration is taking all necessary steps to combat the microscopic enemy.

This, of course, comes as a major stimulus bill to help relieve the financial burden of the pandemic to the American people failed to pass on Capitol Hill for the second time.

2) Approximately 13,500 Americans who are currently overseas have requested assistance from the U.S. State Department to get home.

About 10 million Americans are currently overseas, but the majority live there and have no desire or need to return. The State Department says it has assisted some 5,700 people in coming back to the U.S. Currently, there are plans for 16 additional flights with approximately 1,600 people returning this week already.

3) Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered all hospitals to increase bed space as New York confirms over 20,000 positive cases of COVID-19. Cuomo made it clear that all hospitals and medical facilities are under a mandatory state order to increase their capacity by at least 50 percent.

The sobering numbers show that this is not an overreaction on the governor’s part, as top officials predict New York will need about 50,000 more beds to get to the total number of 113,000 they assume will be needed to house the severe COVID-19 cases in the state.

Intensive care units are even shorter in supply. Current estimates call for no fewer than 18,000 to be needed, with a possible number maxing out at 37,000. Currently, throughout the state, there are 3,000 available ICUs. An even bigger challenge is the strain being put upon medical staff with the influx of COVID-19 patients.

Cuomo has joined many other governors in putting out a call for retired health care professionals to return to the field and any medical or nursing student qualified to practice to do so. So far, New York has reported around 30,000 qualified responses to the governor’s plea.

Cuomo attributed the increase in COVID-19 cases to New York’s increased testing capacity. As a state, we are leadingh not only in cases but also in testing. New York can now can test over 16,000 people in a day. The governor cautioned, however, that we must still adhere to the rigid public health policies and social distance guidelines so that the rise in cases will stop going up.

Across New York, 2,635 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized — 13 percent of the state’s total cases. Of that figure, roughly a quarter of the people are in intensive care units.

“That trajectory is going up — the wave is still going up,” Cuomo said. “We have a lot of work to do to get that rate down and get the hospital capacity up.”

4) Albany County Sherriff Craig Apple announced earlier today that a nurse who was brought in by an agency to assist in the Albany County Jail has tested positive for COVID-19.

Thirty-five inmates who were in contact with the nurse in question have been put into isolation. Sheriff Apple confirmed that the department is currently backtracking to see who else might have had contact with her.

This is not the first employee associated with the County Jail to be infected. Last week a bus driver who transports prisoners to the jail tested positive. That case sent nine other employees into quarantine. Most are set to come out of mandatory isolation this week, but this new case will send an unspecified number of new employees into mandatory quarantine.

Prisoner advocates across the nation have been calling for the release of minor offenders in the light of the COVID-19 crisis, as jails pose a real threat to the population inside – both staff and incarcerated.

Cuomo stated today that he is considering full clemency for some of the elderly prisoners in the state prison system. Sheriff Apple said he is confident that the Albany County Jail is set up to withstand any exposed prisoners, with about 89 cells set aside for isolation for anyone who has to be put into mandatory or precautionary quarantine and stringent cleaning procedures are in place.

A positive case at the Capital City Rescue Mission was also confirmed today, though it was not revealed if the individual who tested positive was a resident or staffer. 

The total cases in Albany County went up seven to a total of 122 today from 115 reported Sunday evening. A total of seven people have been hospitalized in Albany County since the novel coronavirus was first detected here. County Executive Daniel McCoy and  Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen echoed Governor Cuomo’s plea to follow social distancing and all other public health guidance and protocols.

5) Though we are all affected by social distancing, and many classes, events – OK, basically everything – has been canceled or moved online, there are certain groups for which this is more challenging than others.

For people who go to support groups, especially those for addictions, missing these meetings could lead to dangerous backslides – especially in a place that has deemed liquor stores essential” businesses that are allowed to remain open.

With social distancing, and entertainment establishments closed down, the temptation could become overwhelming, and the safety net of a meeting may not seem readily available. Many in-person meetings have been canceled to comply with public health protocols.

Never fear, however, many of the organizations that provide these services have moved online to Zoom. Some of the agencies that you will be able to find resources on the site include the Inter-group Associated of A.A. of New York, Healing Springs Recovery Community and Outreach Center and Refuge Recovery. Online Intergroup: Alcoholics Anonymous will continue as normal.

If you or a loved one is in crisis during this time, please reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services online or at their hotline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Until tomorrow CivMixers, stay healthy, warm, safe and happy.

“I will be seeing you soon and things will be better.”

— Unknown

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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