Happy Monday, CivMixers!! Is everyone happy that it is nice out today? I am. At least it makes it easier to entertain the children.

My daughter has now hit the level where she is pretending to go to Target. I think this says a lot about not only our life now, but perhaps about our life before the quarantine. Probably there is a Target addiction happening here that we will need to address before life goes back to normal, but we still have a little while to decide how to address that particular issue.

It seems both easier right now to imagine an end and harder in a sense, too. In the stores, seeing the sneeze/germ guards up in front of registers and at delis punches you in the gut. Every time we go out and see the masks on everyone, it brings up conflicting emotions. I am happy that people are complying that we are banding together to take care of the weakest members of our communities.

It is also terrifying, and for a geek like me, I keep waiting to hear the news that it’s just the start of the Zombie Apocolypse. Or the Clown Apocalypse. That, however, is a particular fear to me, and unlikely to happen. Right?

There’s drama on that front, too, with a federal administration that refused to take a leadership role at the height of the virus now looking to guide a shell-shocked country that is just short of locked down back to a beginning of ordinary, with a lot of pushback.

The pushback is coming not only from citizens who oppose how the Trump administration has managed the COVID-19 crisis, but also from governors who had to take on the brunt of the responsibility while being second-guessed by that same administration. Now, as President Trump has released his reopening guidelines, the states continue to band together, making task forces to coordinating the reopening of respective their states.

Anyway, we should get to what happened in the news today, before we get sucked down THAT particular vortex.

1) In the state of Ohio, over 1,300 inmates throughout three of their facilities have tested positive for the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC), the three impacted facilities are: Franklin Medical Center (101 positives), The Marion Correctional Institution (1,057 positives) and the Pickaway Correctional Institution (202 positives).

According to JoEllen Smith, a spokesperson for the ODRC, any inmate who tests positive is put into isolation, and all common areas are being cleaned and disinfected by sanitation crews. Smith also confirmed that mass testing is taking place in three facilities, and will continue into the foreseeable future.

There have been other modifications made to the schedules in daily prison life. Both visitations and volunteer activities are suspended, and ODRC is attempting to figure out different ways for inmates to communicate as well. Right now, there are some additional communications options in place for prisoners, such as eight free monthly emails, two phone calls at no charge per week, and a weekly free video chat.

ODRC is turning away any county jail transfers that show COVID symptoms, as well as screening anyone who is slated to be released. They have reduced their meal times to only twice daily, but they also have upped the calories from 2,500 to 2,700. The staff has also advised all inmates to sleep head to toe during this time to help prevent the spread of germs. Any new inmates are being held in a special containment area for at least five weeks from the date of their arrival so that they can monitor them and keep them quarantined from the existing population in the facilities.

According to a spokeswoman from the Ohio Department of Health, Melanie Amato, last Thursday, the decision was made to test all of the staff and inmates of those three facilities. Amato said that the test results are coming back slowly and in stages, but so far, there have been 103 staffers who have tested positive.

One staff member has passed away from COVID-related complications, but no additional details have been released.

2) After fewer than 14 days of operations, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) ran out of money – and many companies, on both the lending and borrowing side, are facing a lot of criticism for how it was handled. What a lot of people see as a loophole in the system allowed some more sizable and significant businesses to apply for and receive the PPP that was supposed to help out small businesses.

For example, Shake Shack has announced that they will be returning the $10 million check it received through the program, even though, technically speaking, it met the criterial to receive funding by having fewer than 500 employees in a single location.

In a statement defending their decision to apply and to keep the money they got last week, Shake Shack officials stated that they have only around 45 people at their franchises nationwide, on average. The latest count of their employees across the country, however, indicates that they have almost 8,000 on staff all told.

Now that the PPP has run out of money, Shake Shack will return what it received to the Small Business Administration (SBA) so that it can be handed out to restaurants that are more in need. However, in doing so, the Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti, also listed suggestions to help improve what he feels is a very confusing system.

According to the SBA, the vast majority of PPP loans were for under $150,000, but this represents only 17% of the total money dispersed. The food and accommodation service industries were about 9 percent of all disbursements that came out of the SBA.

3) For the first time since the beginning of April, yesterday’s COVID- 19 death toll was under 500, with 478 people succumbing to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Though Gov. Andrew Cuomo agrees that the number is still grim, the downward trend is positive.

Starting on April 6, New York deaths were over 700 a day, peaking with 799 just two days later on April 8. However, on Friday, April 17, they fell under 600 for the first time since April 5.

In the 51 days since the state had its first positive COVID-19 case confirmed, the state death toll has climbed to 14,347. Though the spread is consistently – though slowly – starting to take a downturn, we remain the epicenter of the US’s pandemic with 247,512 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Not only is the spread slowing, but hospitalizations, cases in the ICU, intubations, and deaths have all started too, and have kept decreasing.

Cuomo agreed that these are significant trends and numbers and that they confirm we have passed the apex of this crisis. However, there is no way to tell how long it will take to come fully down the other side. Cuomo has extended the stay at home and closure of all non-essential businesses to mid-March, and issued an executive order that makes it mandatory to wear masks in public if you are unable to comply with social distancing guidelines.

Though he confirms that we are on the right trend, and that means we are headed to reopening, he also stated that it would be a slow, stepped process, based on science, facts, and a lot of testing – which still isn’t widely available.

4) Over the weekend, Albany County Executive Dan McCoy confirmed that walk-up test sites are going to continue to be scheduled for this week in the City of Albany’s Arbor Hill, South End, and West End neighborhoods.

The schedule for the rest of the week has a walk-up site every day at Whitney M. Young Jr. Health Center at 920 Lark Drive from 9 AM to 4 PM. Capital South Campus will host one on Wednesday, 4/22, and Friday 4/24 at 20 Warren Street from 12 PM to 4 PM both days.

On Tuesday, 4/21, (tomorrow, that is), there will also be a site at the Ezra Prentice Homes at 625 South Pearl Street from 9 AM to Noon, and on Thursday 4/23 at Bleecker Terrace Apartments, North Manning Boulevard from 9 AM to Noon.

Though they are walk-up sites, appointments are required. You can make an appointment by calling (518) 465-4771 and press 0. The UAlbany site remains open with appointments – which you can get by calling the state’s COVID hotline at 888-364-3065.

McCoy confirmed that currently in Albany County, there are 656 new COVID cases, and 784 people are under mandatory quarantine. There are 35 in the hospital, with nine of those being in the Intensive Care Unit and 23 total deaths.

5) Kara Hoblin, an artist from Cutchogue, took to her driveway this weekend for her latest project. She used her favorite medium, chalk, to create a beautifully eye-catching “Thank You” mural for those medical staff and first-line responders working to fight against COVID-19.

Stories like this are helping everyone to get through the crisis, but this gorgeous piece of art has captured attention across the world.

That’s all for tonight, CivMixers. Have a great one, and we will be here tomorrow, same time, same place.

Photo credit: George Fazio.