5 Things That Happened While You Were Out: March 30

Good evening all, welcome to Monday. I hope you had a nice weekend, though the weather didn’t make it easy. If your house is anything like mine, by this point no matter what you have tried to do to stay entertained, you are all a little stir-crazy and maybe even a little punchy.

I feel your pain.

I hope you are all finding some great things to do.

A lot of places have virtual things going on. I know that my daughter’s dance school has some videos posted online, along with live classes on Zoom. Pai’s Academy of Taekwondo is offering free virtual introductory classes to the community for all ages. You can get more information on that by emailing them.

Keeping active, especially for kids right now, is so important. Be sure to comment and let us know of any activities you would like to share.

A lot has happened over the weekend and today. A lot. So, let’s get going, shall we?

1) Battelle, a technology development company in Columbus, OH, has made a new decontamination system that represents a huge breakthrough for science and medicine in the fight against COVID-19. The systems were fast-tracked through the FDA approval process and are ready to be sent to hospitals in the most affected areas as of today.

Known as the Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System, these systems are able to clean and decontaminate up to 80,000 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) at a time. That includes vital equipment like masks, goggles, gloves, and other gear that keeps the front-line medical personnel safe from the novel coronavirus.

Also unprecedented are the shortages facing most hospitals as they battle to help people during the COVID-19 crisis. Due to the overwhelming circumstances, the FDA gave Battelle its seal of approval last night, and Battelle promptly increase production. The system features a modular design for easy shipping and can set up on a scale basis. More units in place means more equipment being cleaned. New York City, Seattle, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. all have a system en route.

Led by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and President Donald Trump, with the support of many state and federal government representatives, the FDA was pushed to give full approval after initially authorizing the systems to clean only at a portion of their capacity.

The system has taken two full weeks of non-stop, around-the-clock work, but the lead researcher and developer, Will Richter, knew that it was vital for the safety of healthcare workers across the nation. The machine works in an airlock system with the outer chamber operating as an airlock and the inner chamber as a vacuum to suck the contaminated air out of the chamber and through a back vent, after passing through multiple HEPA filters.

At the unit, four Battelle scientists will don their protective gear and go into the decontamination machine. There are metal racks on the walls of the unit, and metal rods inside. The racks are for N95 masks and other gear can hang on the rods. When the unit is full, the scientists leave the inner chamber and go to the outer airlock. Before they exit the system, they will be sprayed with ethanol to kill any contamination they may have picked up, and will then exit completely and seal it.

From there, they will start the actual process to decontaminate the PPE, which is done with vapor phase hydrogen peroxide. The whole process, including packing the PPE for return to the facilities takes about 12 hours.

2) In this time when deliveries are skyrocketing, places such as Amazon and Instacart have been threatened by workers at some of their locations that unless demands for COVID-19 protections are met, they will strike. Not only are the workers concerned, but many lawmakers have also let the companies know their concerns, going so far as to send Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos personal letters expressing their worries.

In response to this, many companies have said that demand has increased substantially, and stressed that they are in fact following increased sanitation and hygienic processes to protect workers as well as consumers. In a release, a spokesperson for Amazon stated that if employees feel uncomfortable with the cleaning process and the health protocols they are employing during the COVID-19 crisis, they are welcome to avail themselves of either paid or unpaid time off.

Amazon is currently hiring for 100,000 more positions within U.S. warehouses due to the increase in orders and shipments and has instituted an hourly wage increase worldwide. Those voicing concern, however, point to strikes in earlier hit nations – like France – due to lack of cleaning, sanitation, and health compliance issues.

Meanwhile, the Instacart Shoppers and Gig Workers collective have called for an organized a strike of the shoppers due to a lack of concern for their employees. The collective wants Instacart to provide approved PPE and also establish a payment plan for those who can’t work for reasons related to COVID-19, be it exposure or a pre-existing condition that places them in an increased risk group.

As of today, Instacart is operating as always, reporting not only increased orders but increased shoppers. Instacart announced shortly after the public call for a strike that they are working on making hand sanitizer. They also have enacted a new tipping system that defaults to the customers’ previous tip percentage. In a previous release, the company affirmed a plan for bonuses and a commitment to provide those placed in quarantine or diagnosed with COVID-19 with 14 days of sick leave.

Both companies want their customers and employees to know they are constantly watching the situation and adapting as they go.

3) With the arrival of the U.S. Comfort Navy ship hospital, there are now 1,000 floating beds in the New York harbor to help alleviate the demand on the current epicenter of the novel coronavirus. Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave another briefing from the Javits Center that has also successfully been converted to a 1,000-bed temporary hospital, and he reminded New Yorkers yet again that that the worst is yet to come.

Cuomo said we can’t be sure when we will get to the apex of cases, but we need to stop playing defense and start playing offense in our virus response. He also relayed all that officials are doing to boost the existing health care facilities and system within the state and reported that since yesterday we added 253 deaths from the virus to the state’s numbers.

Another 7,000 cases brought New York up to almost 66,500 confirmed cases statewide, with 36,221 of those concentrated in the city. Hospitalizations are up 12 percent from yesterday’s briefing, now over 9,500 with 2,352 of those in ICUs that are equipped for ventilator supports. Over 186,000 have been tested in the state in March. However, officials are stating that we still are not testing enough to pinpoint the rate of the viruses spread, despite being far ahead of any other state testing capacity.

Though much of the news was grim, including on Rikers Island, where the prisoners report using alcohol pads from barbers to sanitize phones, and diluting shampoo to clean surfaces, Cuomo did offer a glimmer of hope. The number of cases may still be going up, but the rate of speed with which the cases are coming has slowed, going from a 2-day doubling hospitalization rate earlier in the month to a 6-day rate.

4) Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the state Department of Motor Vehicles has extended all inspection deadlines for anyone whose inspection will expire tomorrow, March 31, or later until further notice.

This is the latest announcement the DMV has made to ease concerns of drivers since their offices shut down on March 23 to help stem the spread of the coronavirus. Also extended are any license, permit or other id renewals as of March 1. All traffic violation bureaus are currently closed until April 17, and any reservations scheduled at that those bureaus or at the DMVs themselves are cancelled.

Written and road tests are also suspended. The DMV reminded everyone that most transactions can still be done online, but warned New Yorkers to allow for longer than normal processing times.

5) The Albany Police Department (APD) has addressed the rumors that are circulating about a 6 p.m. curfew, insisting they are nothing but a hoax.

The latest misinformation making the social media rounds is that the APD is going to set and enforce the curfew countywide – with a fine of up to $250 assessed to those who are caught out and about after that. The information was traced back to a fake site that is made up to look like the homepage of a genuine news site, but is most certainly not real.

That’s all for today CivMixers. I will leave you with a plea that if you are being negatively affected mentally by the COVID-19 crisis, be it anxiety, depression or loneliness than call 1-844-863-9314, the state Office of Mental Health hotline to talk to a volunteer. Other OMH services are available online.

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

– Confucius

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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