5 Things That Happened While You Were Out: March 25

Ah, good old hump day! Am I the only person who still envisions a camel walking around when hearing that statement?

Anyway. Another workweek half in the books, albeit a different one for most of us. Being a society that is mainly working from home right now is presenting its own interesting set of challenges. For people who have never done it, even if you are in your home alone or have a quiet, distraction-free area you have probably begun to learn there is no real thing as distraction-free while working from home.

There is always something – a room that needs dusting, a non-work project you finally finish, anything that seems better than working at that exact moment.

If you work from home regularly, you may be finding that your internet is slow or intermittent due to an unusual amount of traffic. There are more people on sites you use, or on the grid in general, and a task that usually takes you a couple of minutes turns into half an hour or more of your time.

Perhaps you have an entire family at home, two parents working from home, kids with distance learning – and then there is no distraction-free setting. Just try to remember we are all figuring this out, and frustrating as it may be, we are all in this together.

Let’s turn to the five things that happened today.

1) U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that after an extended period of heavy negotiations, the chamber will vote to pass a historic $2 trillion bill to assist individuals and businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis in the U.S. Both sides of the aisle have finally agreed on the proposed terms to send cash payments of varying amounts to small businesses and individuals, while also providing additional assistance to hospitals, states, and local governments.

Though some conservatives and liberals have voiced concerns over some of the bill’s fine points, McConnell insisted it will pass. “This isn’t even a stimulus package. It is emergency relief. That’s what this is.” McConnell said in a press conference.

Echoing shades of the president’s military comparisons, McConnell said that this isn’t a fight we looked for or wanted, but it came to our shores and now we must fight and win. While touting bipartisan talks, he still swiped at the Democrats for what he deemed unnecessary delays and unmerited changes to the initial proposal. McConnell nevertheless pledged to work with New York’s senior senator, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, to get the bill to a procedural vote today.

Parts of the proposed legislation have still not been released, but this will be the most extensive economic rescue package in the history of America. Included are bold expansions to unemployment, increased assistance to health care, aid in the billions for business large and small and direct cash payment to individual citizens.

This will be the third bipartisan bill passed in mere weeks to combat the already far-reaching effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Along with all of the stimulus are certain oversights the Democrats insisted on, such as no business that is in control of the president, VP or any other official – appointed or elected – can benefit, nor can any of their relatives. There is also a creation of a special pandemic recovery inspector in the Department of the Treasury, as well as a committee to manage and regulate the business loans.

Both the Senate and the House have agreed to attempt to pass the bill with unanimous consent, though no one can guarantee that will be possible.

2) In response to calls for more medical equipment, the fashion industry has responded.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been vocal about the need mainly for masks as reports emerged of health care professionals reusing masks they were drenching in hand sanitizer between uses. Taking his call to Twitter, Cuomo declared that creative solutions were needed for getting supplies we needed.

Quick to respond was Project Runway alum, designer Christian Siriano. Siriano said he has a factory and sewing machines sitting idle, and if the state needed masks, he was going to make them. Days later he shared a video of mask production, thanking his workers and donors.

Elsewhere in the country, from New York to California, other designers and brands have stepped up to redirect their resources to producing much-needed gowns as well – including Prabal Gurung, designer to people such as Lady Gaga and former First Lady Michelle Obama. Many other famous brands and designers have offered their facilities, as have companies like Hedley & Bennett who usually produce culinary clothing.

The question now comes down to effectiveness. These companies do not necessarily have the material to make masks equivalent to the recommended N95 masks, the production and approval of which are regulated by three separate agencies – the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

While some of the industry has acknowledged that what they’re producing is unlikely to be approved as equivalent, they hope that the masks will still be used and helpful, as something is better than nothing. Others, like Siriano, are hopeful that their masks will be approved by these agencies.

3) As this country’s epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York is figuring out how to advance day by day in a world that seems to have stopped in mid-step. Everything non-essential is on PAUSE, including any non-essential court filings – and this includes filings in the Child Victims Act one-year-long “look-back window.”

(Recall that last August, a year-long window opened to allow survivors of all ages to file suit against their alleged abusers in what had been time-barred cases).

There has been a lot of difficulty in finding representation for survivors, so legislators were already talking to lobbyists and activists about extending that time – and with Sunday’s decree that all non-essential court filings, which includes almost all civil cases, are suspended, the call for an extension has become more insistent. Many officials support the idea in theory, but the goal is to have it included in the budget package, and the deadline of April 1 is fast approaching.

Under this extension, as of the last numbers, 1,800 cases had been filed. Even before Sunday’s suspension, however, the numbers had stopped being updated due to the reduction in force to comply with non-essential staffing numbers.

Advocates and survivors’ attorneys now are struggling with keeping their clients’ spirits up. The path to coming to terms with abuse suffered is different for everyone, and many of these people have spent decades getting to the point where they could file suit. To now be told that their cases are “non-essential” is adding more stress and anxiety to a society that is already working through unprecedented health issues – both physically and mentally.

All that is left now is for activists and hopeful survivors to wait and see what the decision on the extension will be.

4) In Schenectady County, many non-profits have joined together to provide meals and groceries to those in high-risk communities during the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. This emergency response coalition consists of a donation fund and a hotline to call if you can’t get out for essentials. The program is operating out of the Boys & Girls Club in Schenectady’s Mont Pleasant.

Those considered high risk include senior citizens, people with compromised immune systems and anyone who is in quarantine or isolation. When you call in, someone will work with you to see what you require and will take certain dietary information such as sensitivities or allergies. Also, there will be county staff there from the Department of Social Services to help out with anyone in need of Medicaid, shelter or other assistance or temporary assistance programs.

As well as providing much-needed assistance to the high-risk members of the community, there is a hope that this line will reduce the number of these calls that are currently going into Schenectady County’s Health Department COVID-19 hotline.

In addition to space provided by the Boys and Girls Club is donating, the Schenectady Foundation has committed to donating an initial amount of $100,000 to pay for the supplies needed and will also match the donations made up to the first $25,000. If interested, you can donate here.

If you need any of these services, please call  (518) 621-3536.

5) An alert has been put out by the Albany County Health Department to anyone who may have been at the Victory Bible Church on Sunday, March 15th from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. The church is located at 21 Hackett Blvd. in Albany.

If you were there the Albany County DOH would like you to abide by a precautionary quarantine until March 29. They have stressed that this is a preventative measure to “uphold the health and safety of residents.”

If you were at the church during those times and start to show symptoms, please contact the Albany County DOH (518) 447-4580 as well as your Primary Care Physician.

Precautionary quarantine guidelines:

• Individuals should remain separate from their family or other housemates with a bathroom to themselves. If sharing a bathroom, clean after each use.
• No face-to-face contact with family members closer than six feet for 14 days.
• Staff from the County Department of Health will be reaching out daily to check on the progress of individuals and to ensure they are abiding by the quarantine measures and have all necessary food and supplies.

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

– Coretta Scott King

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Photo credit: George Fazio.

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