Rise and Shine: March 10, 2020

Good Tuesday morning, CivMixers, and Happy Purim.

Purim, if you were not aware, is a holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, an Achaemenid Persian Empire official who was planning to kill all the Jews, as recounted in the Book of Esther and read in the scrolls of the Migillah.

It’s a pretty happy holiday, sometimes referred to in shorthand as the Jewish Halloween. Celebrating it involves dressing up as your favorite character from the Purim story, singing and parading, utilizing a noisemaker known as a “gragger,” and eating hamantaschen – a delicious trifold cookie that is supposed to depict Haman’s hat.

Purim actually started last night, and runs through this evening. I was remiss in noting the holiday yesterday because I was too busy reviewing the last COVID-19 news. (And yes, we’ll get to that, too).

COVID-19 took its toll on Purim, sadly, with some festivities – both here in New York and across the nation and even the globe – being cancelled out of fear that large public gatherings are too dangerous due tot he highly contagious nature of the virus.

And Purim festivities aren’t the only casualties of the COVID-19 outbreak.

St. Patrick’s Day isn’t technically until March 17, but communities are already starting to re-think their annual celebrations – especially parades. Boston has cancelled its iconic St. Pat’s Parade, scheduled for March 15, and Ireland has also axed a number of public celebrations that had been scheduled to be held March 13-17.

There are also various concerts and festivals and other mass gatherings, meetings, conferences, etc. around the world that are no longer taking place due to COVID-19.

Also falling victim to this fast-spreading virus: The global economy.

President Trump moved to address the economic effects of the widening coronavirus crisis by announcing that he would work with Congress on tax cuts and other measures after the worst stock market drop in more than a decade.

Trump said he planned to unveil “very dramatic” today measures to protect US businesses and workers from the coronavirus health crisis currently ravaging the economy.

Three more members of Congress, including Trump’s future chief of staff, have announced that they would self-quarantine after coming into contact with an individual who has been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference.

….One of the congressmen, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, was at Mar-a-Lago where Trump hosted a dinner for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. He also rode with Trump in the president’s armored limousine to the Orlando airport Monday and then flew back to Washington with him on Air Force One.

Thus far, the president himself has not been tested.

Italy became the first European country to announce severe nationwide limits on travel as the government struggled to stem the spread of a coronavirus outbreak that has hobbled the economy, threatened to overwhelm public health care and killed more people than anywhere outside China.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency to “contain the spread of COVID-19.”

Elderly Americans and people with underlying health conditions should stock up on food and prepare to isolate themselves at home since they are the most at risk of getting seriously ill from the coronavirus, a senior CDC official said.

Can people who recover from a bout with the new coronavirus become infected again — and again?

Here in New York, there’s a lot of confusion over what it means to be quarantined, and an apparently lack of consistency and support from the government.

…and this does not bode well at all.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new hand sanitizer developed by the state after widespread shortages caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak. The sanitizer is being developed by Corcraft, which uses low-cost labor from inmates. (It’s called – what else – New York State Clean).

…Cuomo described it a “superior product to products now on the market,” citing its higher alcohol content than what’s found in competitors like Purell. “It has a very nice floral bouquet,” Cuomo added of the scent, describing it as a mix of lilacs, hydrangea and tulips.

The Legal Aid society sent out an email condemning Cuomo for “exploiting incarcerated New Yorkers to produce cheap hand sanitizers,” adding: “This is nothing less than slave labor and it must end.”

(In New York, inmates are paid an hourly wage of 62 cents and as little as 10 cents in some instances, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, a criminal justice policy think tank).

Rick Cotton, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is one of the most prominent U.S. officials to test positive for COVID-19 thus far.

As thousands of students in New York learned that their schools would be mostly or entirely shuttered for the entire week, state officials and educators grappled with the possibility that more schools would need to close to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio raised the potential for a citywide quarantine similar to northern Italy’s lockdown amid the global coronavirus outbreak. “It’s a possibility but I think people are getting a little ahead of ourselves and we should be careful,” the mayor said on CNN.

In response to the spread of novel coronavirus, including two known cases in Saratoga County, Skidmore College announced classes have been suspended through March 22 and students should not return to campus from spring break until then.

The organization that keeps New York state’s electricity grid operating – the NYISO – has suspended all meetings with stakeholders, opting instead to hold teleconferences for an indefinite period.

Even though fears about COVID-19 spreading have gripped many people, jurors in New York can’t use it to avoid jury duty, only delay it.

The Warren County Department of Health called about 400 people who picked up prescriptions from the Main Street CVS where a pharmacist tested positive for COVID-19 – and found no one has reported having symptoms of the illness.

It’s going to be warm again today – somewhere in the low 60s, according to The Weather Channel – but it will be cloudy with periods of rain, especially in the afternoon and evening.

Country singer Carrie Underwood turns 37 today. Also celebrating birthdays: Rapper Bad Bunny (26), actor and martial artist Chuck Norris (80), singer Robin Thicke (43), actress Olivia Wilde (36), rapper and producer Timbaland (48), actor Jon Hamm (49), and actress Sharon Stone (62).

In non-virus news…

In a move intended to give Americans greater control over their medical information, the Trump administration announced broad new rules on that will allow people for the first time to use apps of their choice to retrieve data like their blood test results directly from their health providers.

The top federal prosecutor in Manhattan said that Britain’s Prince Andrew has “shut the door” on helping an investigation into allegations of sex trafficking by the financier Jeffrey Epstein and his associates.

More than two dozen people, including two trainers at Saratoga Race Course, were indicted yesterday morning as part of a federal probe into the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs in the horse racing industry.

An NCAA investigation found the Siena College’s men’s basketball team provided impermissible benefits — including payments to players — during the tenure of former coach Jimmy Patsos, the college announced.

A major restructuring initiative at HVCC, which includes consolidation of multiple departments and the installment of the new department chairpersons, is drawing criticism from the current department chairs and union representatives who say the changes were made without faculty input and may violate the terms of their collective bargaining agreement.

In an attempt to get their client a new trial, lawyers for NXIVM leader Keith Raniere, 59, contend that two women who testified against him lied under oath last year when they said they weren’t planning to sue him.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle experienced an awkward end to their royal life as they appeared to be coldly snubbed by Prince William and wife Kate Middleton at an event with Queen Elizabeth. More here.

RIP Charles J. Urstadt, a major influence in New York State housing who helped ease rent controls and laid the groundwork for the construction of Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan. He died on March 3 at his home in Bronxville at the age of 91.

RIP Max von Sydow, the Sweden-born French actor whose credits include Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” and the role of Emperor Ming in “Flash Gordon,” who has died at the age of 90.

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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