Rise and Shine: March 16, 2020

Good Monday morning, CivMixers.

We awake to a world that is very different than the one we inhabited just a week ago. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has altered our lives significantly, and it is clear now that it will be some time before we get back to “normal” – whatever that looks like when and if this is over.

So much happened over the weekend that it’s nearly impossible to touch on it all. This situation is developing very quickly. The numbers of infected Americans – and people across the world – is ramping up quickly as the virus spreads and (in the case of the U.S.) more tests are conducted.

I’m not going to lie here, the situation is scary.

And officials are preparing us for seeing things deteriorate still further for at least the next several weeks. It’s possible that the warmer weather won’t, as some initially believed, bring us the reprieve we had been hoping for. (We just don’t know at this point, because this virus is too new).

One thing you can do to ease the mounting anxiety you might be experiencing – I know I am – is get outside. Vitamin D is good for you! And there have been some studies that show it improves respiratory immunity, too, which is a VERY nice bonus.

At this time, state parks are open and welcoming visitors during regular operating hours though some events and programs may be postponed or canceled, so check online before you venture out. And remember to try to keep some distance between yourself and others – there’s plenty of room out there to do so.

It’s going to be mostly sunny today with temperatures in the high 40s, according to The Weather Channel. You still get a lunch break if you’re working from home. So step out and breathe deeply. And send the kids outside for “recess” if you can.

In the headlines…

The CDC has recommended that no gatherings with 50 people or more take place for the next eight weeks to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. This includes conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings and other types of assemblies.

The National Security Council tried to dispel rumors of a national quarantine amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials took some of their most aggressive steps yet to try to halt its progress, including ordering bars and restaurants closed in New York City and elsewhere, shutting down more school systems, and recommending a limit on gatherings of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks.

“For a while, life is not going to be the way it used to be in the United States,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN. “We have to just accept that if we want to do what’s best for the American public.”

There’s no more in-store seating in Starbucks.

Dire economic numbers out of China offered a harbinger of what could be in store for the U.S. as economic life shuts down due to the coronavirus pandemic, despite moves by the Federal Reserve over the weekend to counter a likely recession.

The Federal Reserve announced yesterday it would drop interest rates to zero and buy at least $700 billion in government and mortgage-related bonds as part of a wide-ranging emergency action to protect the economy from the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

New York City schools will close as of today until at least April 20, following spring recess. Teachers will report to work from tomorrow through Thursday for instruction on remote learning, and students will be able to pick up technology for remote learning on Thursday and Friday.

It is estimated that approximately 300,000 students in New York City need electronic devices to assist with remote learning. Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said the city has found a partner in Apple to help “get devices into the hands of students that need them.”

While other governors in the country have issued directives shutting down schools across their states, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has insisted such a decision should be left to local school districts, and they are closing all across New York – in some cases for more than a month.

In a NYT oped, Cuomo called on the president to mobilize the military to help fight the coronavirus, and criticized the Trump administration’s response thus far.

Cuomo raised the possibility of mandatory business closings to slow the spread of the coronavirus in New York State.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie tweeted that two of his members – Charles Barron and Helene Weinstein, both of Brooklyn – had tested positive. Lawmakers were told by their leaders that they can expect to be in the Capitol today through Saturday to wrap up an early state budget, which is due on April 1.

Weinstein said in a statement that she has not been in Albany since March 4, and had been attending to personal matters in her district. She said that she had not had any contact with her staff or constituents during that period.

Barron has been hospitalized.

The governor made it clear he expects state lawmakers to come to work. “Government is an essential operation to manage the situation,” he insisted, saying that the suggestion that members of the Legislature stay home would be “like saying: in a war when people might get killed at war, does it make sense to send soldiers?”

The state Capitol is closed to visitors and underwent a cleaning yesterday.

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins announced she’s closing the chamber’s Manhattan office at 250 Broadway, advising all member district offices to close, too, and asking all district office staff and non-essential central staff to work remotely.

Stewart-Cousins and Heastie had been planning to release their one-house budget proposals by Wednesday and begin negotiations with the governor ahead of the April 1 budget deadline. But that may change.

Legislators will be in Albany today with plans to approve bills to guarantee paid sick leave for quarantined workers and to ease qualifications for candidates to appear on election ballots in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.

Officials last night were looking at everything from sharp restrictions on how people can be on the legislative floors at the Capitol to potentially allowing “virtual” voting.

Cuomo said all non-essential state workers who live in the downstate area from Rockland County south, including New York City area and Long Island, will not have to go to work beginning today, to help prevent the spread of the virus. (That’s about half the state workforce).

The governor’s “work from home” directive came as some labor leaders said the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations has not agreed to a privacy provision guarding against government intrusion of the employees’ personal devices that may be used to do the work.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan has declared a state of emergency. All city of Albany public buildings are closed to the public through Friday – except in very limited circumstances. That includes Albany City Hall, along with the fire stations and police headquarters.

The NYC Hospitality Alliance said: “In the coming days, New York City’s restaurants will be forced to go deliver-only and risk their very existence to help stem the spread of this pandemic. Third-party delivery platforms now must reciprocate and immediately waive or cap fees at 10 percent, or many of these restaurants will close for good before the week is through.”

Five New York City residents have now died of the coronavirus, as the number of Big Apple cases blew past 300, de Blasio announced yesterday.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio postponed a March 24 election for Queens borough president as the new coronavirus continues to spread, and Cuomo amended ballot-access requirements for candidates around the state.

New York City college students say their schools’ decisions to close dorms over coronavirus fears have left them in limbo — as they face unknown or complicated processes for relocating on campus.

New York officials are considering plans to postpone the state’s presidential primary from April 28 to June 23 as fears over the coronavirus outbreak grow and the CDC cautioned against gatherings of more than 50 people. The decision rests with the governor and the state Legislature.

…Those discussions are underway as two states — Louisiana and Georgia — have already postponed their primaries and other states are weighing various delays or mail-in balloting measures to protect the public from exposure to the illness.

In the Capital Region, some restaurants have gone delivery or take-out only, while a few have closed either temporarily or until further notice.

Rockland County Executive Ed Day is catching flak for defiantly dining out in Nyack on Friday instead of staying home — a day after the local medical examiner reported that an area resident had died from the coronavirus and mere minutes after the governor warned against large crowds.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham announced last night that he has tested negative for the novel coronavirus.

Also negative, according to the White House: President Donald Trump, who took the test on Friday, he said during a Saturday news conference, after coming into recent contact with two individuals who have tested positive for the virus.

The testing situation in the U.S. is still not good.

Trump urged Americans not to hoard groceries or other supplies in panic over the coronavirus pandemic, saying he has spoken to the CEOs of several grocery and supply chain companies about stockpiling and how to avoid it.

The state’s Olympic Regional Development Authority announced that all its ski mountains and training facilities suspended operation yesterday. A release about the closure did not provide a reopening date.

Countries across the world have imposed travel restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

After a night of chaos at some of the nation’s busiest airports on Saturday, officials scrambled yesterday, with some apparent success, to reduce lines that had left people jammed together for hours as they waited for new health screenings mandated for travelers from Europe in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Peace Corps is telling its volunteers around the world that it is suspending all operations globally and evacuating all volunteers in light of the spread of the new coronavirus.

A Tennessee man who became a subject of national scorn after stockpiling 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer donated all of the supplies yesterday just as the Tennessee attorney general’s office began investigating him for price gouging.

An Australian television journalist said he has virus and assumes he contracted it while meeting with actress-singer Rita Wilson in Sydney. Wilson and her husband Tom Hanks have been isolated in an Australian hospital since they were both diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 12.

The NYT editorial board: “A system that has left the working poor so vulnerable — without decent health care, child care and other forms of support — turns out to have created tremendous vulnerability for the society as a whole.”

The Shenendehowa school district sent a message to district parents that a staff member at Tesago Elementary School has tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. The person has not been at work since Monday, March 9.

The TU has temporarily shut its on-site meetings and event space, the Hearst Media Center, as part of an effort by the newspaper and its parent company Hearst to help stem the tide of COVID-19. In addition, the main lobby of the TU building is also closed to the public.

From law firms to Albany Law School, attorneys have plans in place to address the new reality of COVID-19.

As New Yorkers scour the metropolitan area for commercial hand sanitizer during the coronavirus pandemic, at least a couple of Manhattan pharmacies are offering homemade alternatives. (There’s some upstate, too. I spotted it for sale in bulk at the Co-op).

Visitations at New York’s prisons were suspended Saturday in a directive that state correction officials said will protect inmates, employees and their families from having an increased risk of exposure to coronavirus.

As he campaigns for president, Joe Biden’s moderate approach to governing often fails to excite his party’s most passionate voters. But on the debate stage last night, the former vice president’s pragmatism broke through in ways that affirmed why he has become the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

It was a head-to-head Democratic primary debate for the first time in the 2020 election cycle. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Biden exchanged elbow bumps as they took the stage, but their interactions only got more heated as the night went on.

Biden has promised to select a woman as his running mate if he wins the Democratic nomination.

In (dwindling) non-virus news…

As the country reeled from growing health and economic crises brought on by the spread of the coronavirus, Trump announced that he was “strongly considering” a pardon for his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.

A federal judge in Washington, DC, issued an injunction on Friday blocking a Trump administration rule change that would have forced some 700,000 Americans off of food stamps.

Former Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum will enter a rehab facility to address his alcohol abuse after he was found inebriated inside a Miami Beach hotel room early Friday morning with another man who allegedly overdosed on crystal meth.

Before the coronavirus, FIT in Manhattan had been in upheaval since a student designer used oversized lips and “monkey ears” in a fashion show last month, setting off widespread outrage. Other episodes bubbled to the surface, revealing what many students and some faculty members describe as a climate of racial insensitivity.

The City University of New York is considering selling some of its 300 buildings to generate millions of dollars of additional revenues for its academic programs.

Twenty-two people hand-picked by the state have been meeting behind closed doors to propose short- and long-term solutions to manage crowds in the Adirondack High Peaks. They will deliver proposals to the state by June.

The attorney for one of the men beaten by city police officers last year during an incident on First Street has filed a federal lawsuit against the city and several of the officers involved.

Water tests taken at three locations near the Dunn Landfill in Rensselaer found elevated levels of toxic chemicals, environmentalist groups said Saturday.

The Albany Public Library Board of Trustees has approved a $7.15 million budget for the 2020-21 year that holds spending and taxes steady. Because the budget does not raise the tax levy, the library is not required to put it out for a public vote.

If you get a phone call threatening your arrest if you don’t pay a debt, it’s not from the Albany Police Department. It’s a phone scam — and the scammer is spoofing a real Albany Police phone number, authorities said.

Two teenagers went for a swim in Spuyten Duyvil Creek in Upper Mahattan on Friday. They haven’t been seen since, and family members fear they have drowned.

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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  1. 5 Things That Happened While You Were Out: March 16 | CivMix - […] discussed in this morning’s Rise and Shine, we all are trying to get used to the new normal and…

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