Shopping in the time of coronavirus. Did you know that there is even a run on lawn bags, CivMixers? I was trying to order some today for my wife and in-laws to go pick up and most places are out of them or running low on stock.
This is probably in no way important to you all, but it was fascinating to me. I mean, I get it – we are stuck at home and if you are not sick or in mandatory quarantine, but simply practicing social distancing, then you want to get out of the four walls that seem to get closer every day, maybe tackle some of that yard work you’ve been putting off.
I know that my loved ones aren’t alone in this feeling – because see, the lawn bags are all gone.
We are headed into yet another weekend with all non-essential businesses closed, and therefore no outside entertainment. Most of us are getting a little punchy by now, but we must stay the course to stop the spread.
If you are still unsure of what social distancing is or how to do it, don’t worry, there is a lot of confusion right now. Basically, if you don’t need to go out to get some kind of essential good or service – don’t.
This is not the time to hang out at your friend’s house with 12 other of their closest friends. Maybe take a solo walk with the dog for company. Maybe go for a run or a bike ride. Alone.
As hard as it is, we have to continue to limit our close contact with other people. At least the weather is predicted to get warmer, though it is still going to be rainy on and off for now. Saturday will be the dryer day this weekend. Hopefully, everyone can get themselves, their kids, their pets and their parents out an about for socially distanced walks or to clean up and play in the yard.
As for today’s news, there was, as usual, quite a bit.
1) The CARES Act has passed the House and been signed into law by the president. This was the third virus-related stimulus bill passed by Congress this month alone. The act passed via voice vote, allowing the House to vote without requiring anyone who had already left or was in isolation or quarantine to remain at home.
More representatives came back than would have liked due to the efforts of Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, who demanded an individual recorded vote that could have seriously delayed the passing of this much-anticipated bill. Not only did this go directly against the wishes of House leaders, including those of Massie’s own party, it also put him on the president’s radar. Trump took the congressman to task on Twitter, which, of course, caused some to rush to his defense.
Since three House members have tested positive for COVID-19, it is safe to say the push for a voice vote by House Leadership – both by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA-D) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA-R) and most members of their parties – was to ensure that not only were they protecting the health of their members, but also striving to lead by example and practice social distancing and obey by public health protocols.
This bill passed the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, by a vote of 96-0, with four senators in quarantine after exposure to the novel coronavirus or other illness. Meanwhile, as mentioned above, the House has had three members test positive for COVID-19, and over a dozen are quarantined due to exposure. If Massie’s call for a quorum and roll call vote had been successful, it would have been incredibly difficult for the much-reduced house to pass the historic $2 trillion bill.
The House looks drastically different than normal, with members present spread out per social distancing guidelines, and all were asked to enter individually through separate doors, with hand sanitizer everywhere.
C-SPAN also made history during this vote, as for the first time in its 41 years of broadcasting from the Hill, they received and agreed to a request from the House to make time available to run videos for those Representatives who were unable to return for the voice vote to get out the word on their stance on the act.
Some of the highlights from within the bill:
- $300 billion in direct payments to Americans of $1,200 or less, per person, based on income. Families may get up to $500 per child also.
- $260 billion for an aggressive expansion of unemployment insurance – lengthening coverage four months, increasing weekly payments by $600, and covering non-traditional workers, including the self-employed, freelancers and those working in the gig economy.
- Approximately $500 billion in loans and other money for major industries (ie – airlines). There are regulations attached to this part – such as banning using the funds toward stock buybacks, CEO pay boosts, etc.
- $100 billion to hospitals for medical equipment and COVID-19 treatment.
The CARES Act is the single largest relief bill to ever pass in the history of America and was a huge victory as a bipartisan effort. The President signed this into law just seconds ago as I am writing this.
2) Even as other businesses were forced to close due to the coronavirus, construction continued unabated, much to the chagrin of many workers and elected officials. Per Jeanne Stellman, a Columbia professor who works at the university’s Mailman School of Public Health and specializes in workers’ safety issues, construction sites are notorious for having poor standards for job safety – and that makes working during this time even more dangerous.
Construction is vital to keep our nation running, even during a time of shutdown. Building, infrastructure, and utilities not only have to be kept serviceable but in proper maintenance and have upgrades performed. Stellman, in accordance with other workers’ advocates, is requesting that the solutions for the issues facing the construction industry be addressed by the government. If left unchecked, the issues can lead to deeper problems not only within the industry but also lend weight to the economic issues for the country and increase the nation’s public health issues.
Though the normal risks of construction have long been ignored by many standards acts, Stellman is not just worried about a lack of equipment that can protect workers or the size and ability of the equipment on site. Right now, she and other advocates are more concerned about the lack of hygienic conditions that exist on many construction sites, from a lack of clean toilets or portapotties to non-working or non-existent sinks, soap and other means of sanitation. With the risk involved in the spread of the novel coronavirus, Stellman and others are demanding the government step in to ensure the environment is safe not only for the workers but to help stop the spread.
Stellman stresses that she is looking out for the workers and the nation – telling ABC news that “Construction workers have always stepped up to their responsibilities to provide us with the structures that we need for our lives,” she said. “They have shown to do it at great risk and we as a society have to ask that the risk they take is minimal.”
She is hoping that the government will step in to protect these hard-working, blue-collar workers that are always there for us doing the hard and back-breaking work to make our nation function.
There is also an acknowledgment within the industry that Stellman has a point. Many big companies in the industry are enacting policies such as taking workers’ temperatures when they get to a job site, and sending home symptomatic employees or asking anyone who feels sick to stay home. Union and industry leaders are also closely monitoring themselves to make sure there are no sites where workers who feel sick of uncomfortable are being forced to stay or work against their wishes.
Meanwhile, here in New York, the governor this morning ordered a shutdown of all but “essential” construction projects. “Essential” construction includes affordable housing, bridges, infrastructure, homeless shelters, and hospitals.
3) 519. That is the death toll that was reported across New York as of this morning. It is up 134 people from yesterday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that the sharp increase in the death rate is not going to stop anytime soon.
“That (death rate) is going to continue to go up, and that is the worst news that I can tell the people of the state of New York,” Cuomo said. “New York is still the most affected state both in terms of number of cases and in terms of deaths.”
The cases of confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses went up by over 7,000 cases from 37,285 to 44, 635. Top officials again pointed out that this number now includes people who may have recovered, a stat they are still figuring out how to track. People who are hospitalized with COVID-19 are at 6,481, with an additional 290 added to the number in intensive care overnight raising that number to 1,583.
In response to the steadily increasing numbers, Cuomo and the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision announced that 1,100 prisoners who are incarcerated on parole violations will be released from jail to help to reduce the risk to the inmate population. They will all be on supervised release and are all members of high-risk communities – either elderly or with underlying health conditions.
Cuomo also extended the school closings statewide for two additional weeks, until at least April 15. Officials will continue to monitor that situation, and the current requirement that requires a school year to include 180 days of instruction is being waived.
4) With schools closed for another two weeks, it was with relief that many essential workers saw the first daycares for their children open. While most school districts are still working to get the word out these three sites are up and running:
Southern Saratoga YMCA— 1 Wall Street, Clifton Park, NY 12065
Hoosick Falls Elementary – 21187 NY-22, Hoosick Falls, NY 12090
United Presbyterian Church – 25 Church Street, Amsterdam, NY 12010
7 a.m, to 6 p.m.
Rudy A. Ciccotti Family Recreation Center
30 Aviation Road, Albany 12205
March 25 – April 17
7 a.m.to 5 p.m.
Greenbush Child Caring (For Averill Park School District emergency responders, medical and police families only)
West Sand Lake Elementary
Many Early Childcare centers are also closed. One that we know is providing services to essential workers is:
Brightside Up – Ages 0-5, call 518-426-7181 (ext. 305 or 316)
For doctors, nurses and first responders, there is a group of students from Albany Medical college willing to provide you with assistance with child or pet care, or other needed chores around the house. Please visit Albanydocsitters.com for more information.
5) On a brighter note, another example of how Capital District residents are working to take care of each other during this time of isolation and panic, the Albany Police Athletic League (PAL) has been making and delivering “Bags of Cheer” to any resident of Albany who is a member of a high-risk group and unable to go out of their home for the duration of the novel coronavirus threat.
In the bags are drinks, fresh fruit, other non-perishable foods, and soups.
If you are in the need of assistance for any grocery or pharmacy needs, they will be doing those on Friday, March 27 at 10 a.m. to St. Vincent’s Apartments and on Tuesday, March 31 at 1 p.m. to St. Sophia/Holy Wisdom Apartments. PAL will be ensuring that all staff follows current public health protocols and social distancing guidelines while shopping and delivering.
A note to leave you on CivMixers. We are all still learning how to deal with this new normal, and I want to let you know that everyone is out of sorts right now. It is the first time that I feel lucky to be a natural introvert.
See for me, social interactions feel unnatural, like I have to perform acts that are out of my realm of usual functioning. Social distancing feels normal to me because it is how I generally live my life. I get that for so many more people though, that is not the case.
It is not normal for humans to be on lockdown and removed from social interaction – we are a social species. So at this time, please be sure to take care of yourself and know that this will eventually end.
“You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometime, you’ll find, you get what you need”
-“You Get What You Need” The Rolling Stones
Photo credit: George Fazio.