Another week, another Wednesday coming to a close, CivMixers. I hope that you all got to enjoy the warm(ish) weather, blue sky, and sun we had today.

As Liz said in this morning’s Rise and Shine, today is April Fool’s Day. The tradition of April Fool’s Day goes back to 1700s in England. The actual origins of April Fool’s Day are unknown, however, as there are many possibilities and historians can’t agree on which one they like best.

Some believe April Fool’s Day began in 1582 when the French switched to the Gregorian calendar from the Julian, making the beginning of the new year the January 1 date we celebrate today. However, news traveled slowly and many failed to make the change – either out of stubbornness or ignorance. Others made those who still celebrated at the end of March for the old April 1 date the object of many pranks, jokes, and hoaxes.

No matter how April Fools’ began, the tradition spread all over Britain.

I am not sure if many people pulled tricks or jokes today as not many people I know are in a joking mood. Officially speaking, the whole jokey thing was cancelled.

So let’s get down to those five things.

1) By now all of us know something about the chronic shortage of ventilators across the U.S., especially in areas hard hit by the coronavirus – like New York. The White House has enacted the Defense Production Act of 1950 to be able to use the power to switch factories over to restocking our dwindling stockpile of medical supplies – including everything from generators and PPE to ventilators.

President Donald Trump got quite persistent with the automakers he wants to see make this switch, using threatening language and specifically singling out GM. However, there was no order in place and no plan to write one up and give it out to the factories. The automakers were not sitting back and waiting as it may have seemed to be implied that they were though. Even without any specific orders or numbers, the factories had plunged ahead and were making ventilators.

The sheer overwhelmingness of the shortage was apparent by mid-March, and within the next two weeks, U.S. medical equipment manufacturers, health industry officials, and automakers have paired up to kick up production levels to amounts not seen since World War II. Partnerships were established, new supply chains found and increased and plants were redesigned to produce the life-saving equipment, along with mass orders placed for the parts that would be needed to complete the job.

All this was done on the part of the medical community and automaker industry leaders, and there was no concrete order from Trump, his administration or any other government entity. Companies stress they didn’t simply sit back and wait – they did what they needed to do to start producing ventilators en masse immediately.

Meanwhile, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is working at an intense pace to arrange contracts between the auto industry and the medical field, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expediting approvals. The time that it took for the government to get on board, however, may have produced a critical lag that caused the U.S. to fall behind in its battle against COVID-19.

What didn’t happen was the placement of large orders before the coronavirus appeared on our shores, or even at the very beginning of the crisis, when critically ill patients who need ventilators to breathe were at a minimum. This would have produced at least the beginning of a stockpile. Now companies are struggling to keep up with an overwhelming, crushing demand as the number of very sick patients gets closer to overtaking the number of available ventilators.

By the end of February, the government acknowledged the lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and placed massive orders for more. But even as governors like New York’s Andrew Cuomo warned that this was going to be an issue sooner rather than later, there were no orders placed for any ventilators.

There’s confusion as to why the Pentagon did not employ a well-established clause known as medical contingency contracts, in which a manufacturer has to deliver a product at a set number and be prepared to scale production up rapidly if asked. This could have been enacted at any time over the past month. The only way companies have been placed onto these already existing medical contingency contracts is by proving that they can fulfill any quickly needed increased orders.

Why this clause was not enacted, why the Pentagon instead initially ordered redirection of existing orders instead of increasing, and why it took so long for the government to get on the same page as the manufacturers no one knows. The important part to focus on is that now the ventilator orders exist and production is ramping up to meet the current need.

2)  In a followup to an earlier issue this week, Amazon confirmed that there was a small demonstration by a handful of workers at a Detroit-area warehouse, marking the second incident for the company in the U.S. this week.

The first incident came when 15 employees at a Staten Island fulfillment center walked out in protest of what they feel is a blatant disregard of employee safety amid the COVID-19 crisis. Amazon fired the organizer of this walkout and is currently being investigated for that action by the state attorney general’s office.

The Detroit walkout occurred at a fulfillment center in Romulus, MI that employs more than 4,000 workers. This was in response to fears of how the company is handling worker safety amid news that an employee had tested positive for COVID-19.

The Detroit demonstrators were demanding the warehouse be shut for proper cleaning, and also called on Amazon to cover all health costs that might spring up for workers or their families if they contracted the virus to which they had been exposed.

Amazon continues to insist it has done everything possible to protect workers, including enhanced cleaning, getting PPE and following social distancing and public health protocol guidelines. There have been confirmed cases at approximately 19 Amazon warehouses nationwide.

3) Albany Medical Center (AMC) has received 14 patients transferred to them from New York City hospitals. Gov. Cuomo has been pushing for the state health care system to band together in this time of need, and AMC CEO Dennis McKenna, M.D. answered the call.

In a message recorded on a video last night, Dr. McKenna stated that out of 97 hospitalized COVID-19 patients throughout the Capital District, only 25 of them were at AMC. The 14 NYC patients are part of a critical plan to help overwhelmed downstate hospitals deal with the crushing amount of cases they are getting.

Employees of AMC have also confirmed this is most likely a one-time transfer as they have already begun rationing personal protective equipment and anticipate more local cases as the days go on. If they accept too many downstate cases, the region’s hospitals could also become too overwhelmed to handle the influx.

4) The Rotterdam Police Department (RPD) has arrested a man who claimed to have COVID-19 and then intentionally coughed on other people at the Walmart located on Altamont Avenue in Schenectady County.

Marvin Herring, 23, is originally from Brooklyn. At approximately 7:40 p.m. yesterday, the Rotterdam Police responded to complaints about his deliberate coughing and placed Herring under arrest. He has been charged with one count of third-degree misdemeanor menacing and a felony count of making a terroristic threat.

The Rotterdam Police Department turned Herring over to the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department, which discovered that there was also a warrant out for his for a felony first-degree robbery charge issued by the New York Police Department.

All potential exposure protocols are currently being enacted and followed by the RPD.

5) A new high-risk patient testing facility has been set up in Latham. To get a test, you must have an underlying medical condition or be at least 65 years of age.

The testing will take place in the parking lot of the Community Care Physicians (CCP) office located at the Capital Region Health Park, 713 Troy-Schenectady Road, and will be available only by appointment.

Due to the shortage of test kits available, this site will currently be open to only high-risk community members that already have an established relationship as a CCP patient.

There you have it CivMixers, the top tidbits of the day. With how grim everyone and everything has been lately, maybe we all should try to pull one April Fools’ Day joke or prank today – lighthearted, kind-spirited, lift the mood type of jokes only though!! Until tomorrow all, have a good night.

“Laughter connects you with people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter. Laughter is a force for democracy.”


Photo credit: George Fazio.