5 Things That Happened While You Were Otherwise Engaged: April 27, 2020

The rain can really do a number on a person’s head these days. I was always kind of susceptible to getting a little down on rainy days, but with the added stress of the lockdown, the lack of sun really grinds me down.

Anyway, I have to get used to it because April showers and all that.

Even though the known COVID-19 death toll is incredibly high – past the 50,000 mark – the curve has clearly flattened (at least for now), and talk is increasingly turning in a more urgent fashion to when and how to safely re-open the economy.

Here’s the latest developments worth noting today…

1) Texas, the second most populous state in the nation, is moving to reopen in phases on Friday – one day after a gubernatorial stay-at-home order expires.

First up will be: retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls. But they will only be allowed to operate at 25 percent capacity. Museums and libraries will also be allowed to open at 25 percent capacity, too, but hands-on exhibits must remain closed.

California, which is THE most populous state, meanwhile has allowed a limited reopening of its beaches. And, naturally, people all flocked to the shore as a result.

Here in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proceeding with a phased-in and regional plan for re-opening, but said the current “PAUSE” order, which has everyone but essential worker staying home, will be extended in “many parts” of the state (no details) after its May 15 expiration.

In New York City, the epicenter of the nation’s COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to open up 40 miles of streets to pedestrians, with a set goal of expanding to 100 miles of open streets, all to provide additional open space to residents while still maintaining social distancing norms.

2) President Donald Trump is encouraging governors to “seriously consider” opening their schools.

“Some of you might start thinking about school openings,” the president told the governors during a call today. “Because a lot of people are wanting to have the school openings. It’s not a big subject, young children have done very well in this disaster that we’ve all gone through. So a lot of people are thinking about the school openings.”

Gov. Cuomo has said that reopening schools would be necessary for any “large-scale” reopening of businesses, but he hasn’t offered much in the way of guidance as to whether that will occur – and when. Some schools are talking about trying to make up for lost time by having classes over the summer.

The governor hasn’t yet weighed in on that, but did sign an executive order postponing school budgets until after June 1.

3) Not surprisingly, New York Board of Elections officials today canceled the state’s Democratic presidential primary, calling the vote, which had been set for June 23, “essentially a beauty contest” that isn’t worth the risk in the face of an unprecedented public health crisis.

New York is the first state in the nation to make this move. And even though Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has his presidential campaign, effectively conceding the Democratic nomination to former Vice President Joe Biden, Sanders’ campaign and his supporters were not at all happy with the decision.

4) More trouble for the beleaguered Paycheck Protection Program, which, on the first day it reopened to applications after running out of the money allocated to it in the last federal stimulus package, saw its site malfunction and crash.

The SBA’s processing site, E-Tran, reportedly experienced problems shortly after it opened back up at around 10:30 a.m., although it was unclear if the issues were widespread.

Replenished with a new $310 billion approved in the fourth stimulus package, many banks have said this money will initially go directly to the backlogged applications from the first round that were unable to get funded or processed in time.

The SBA acknowledged that “unprecedented demand” was responsible for “slowing” its system, but said that by 3:30 p.m. it had processed 100,000 loans submitted by 4,000 lenders. Twice as many people attempted to access the program today as during any period in the initial phase of funding, SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza said on Twitter.

As bankers expressed fury that computer systems appeared to be faltering, the Los Angeles Lakers organization confirmed that it had received one of the taxpayer-backed loans under the program in recent weeks. The NBA franchise said it was returning the money.

5) Happy (belated) 50th birthday to First Lady Melania Trump. Reportedly, she marked this milestone while on lockdown with her family at the White House.

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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