Today started rainy and gloomy and unfortunately remained that way until late afternoon when it became sunny but SUPER windy – like, hold onto your hat, turn your umbrella inside out windy. 

Equally unfortunate is the fact that it looks like this weather is going to stick around until Sunday, but Easter should be nice enough for an outdoor egg hunt, according to The Weather Channel.

As mentioned in today’s Rise and Shine it’s Maundy Thursday. Every Thursday before Easter is Maundy or Holy Thursday. Maundy does, in fact, come from the Latin word meaning command/commandment, and refers to Jesus’s commandment to his disciples to love each other as he had loved them.

Maundy Thursday represents the celebration of the Last Supper, which is honored throughout Christianity as communion. Upon breaking the bread at the table, Jesus declared the bread to be his body, and the wine he poured to be his blood, and that the others should partake of these in remembrance of him.

The Last Supper was actually a Seder Feast, and Jesus was celebrating his Jewish Heritage and the holiday of Passover, which started last night.

Many people were unable to take part in what remains today to be the most popular tradition among American Jewish people: The Passover Seder. This is typically held on the first night of Passover, after sunset. Traditionally, any Jewish people who live outside of Israel have a second Seder Feast on the second night of Passover.

With social distancing still keeping so many of us from our families, the traditional large gatherings that this holiday calls for were simply not possible. Instead, many Seders went virtual.

Many Christians will be celebrating virtual Easter this year as well, with services online and video chats with family members. It is frustrating, sad and even enraging at times – but it is necessary. Fingers crossed that the weather will cooperate and kids can hunt for eggs outside and maybe forget that they haven’t seen Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Grandparents, Friends, Teachers – et al – for close to over two months now.

Wow. Two months.

Onto what happened in the news today.

1) Our top infectious disease expert, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Dr. Anthony Fauci, has acknowledged that America is having a horrible week when it comes to the death toll from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus. It might be hard to grasp at this moment, but the future is actually looking pretty good – better, at least, than was first projected.

According to Dr. Fauci, thanks to social distancing and other public health protocols, the overall projected number of COVID-19 deaths has dropped to below the 100,000 to 200,000 officials initially expected, and is now somewhere around 60,000. That’s still a lot. Far too many. But in the grimness and unreality of the week, there is a shining light of hope that the sacrifices people are making are doing what we hoped and flattening the curve.

Dr. Fauci’s significantly reduced death estimate is based on a prediction run by the University of Washington’s research center the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). These are deaths projected through the beginning of August. The model also projects that the apex will occur just two days from now, on April 11.

The news is welcome to millions of American citizens as we live “sheltered in place” with essential businesses only, entering into a high unemployment rate. Approximately 15,000 COVID deaths have occurred in the states, with over 430,000 people infected. The majority of those infected are members of minority communities, with African Americans being particularly impacted.

Even in the country’s epicenter, New York City, the outlook is beginning to be promising, though Dr. Fauci was more cautious in declaring that the curve has flattened here in our state.

Dr. Fauci also talked about the antibody test, which is a blood test that will reveal if someone had the novel coronavirus and went undiagnosed. This would have happened either before the illness became a national concern or due to a lack of tests. He confirmed these antibody tests have been developed and companies are likely to make them available within a few weeks.

The presence of the antibody in someone’s blood will make returning to normal easier – especially for first responders and health care workers who will be relieved to know that they are protected from the virus as they continue to battle it on the front lines of this pandemic.

Dr. Fauci did caution the public that it is not time to stop social distancing yet, as trying to return to our old way of life too early could lead to another wave of infections and erase any of the forward progress we have made.

2) Cook County Jail in Chicago, IL is home to the largest number of cases of COVID-19 outside of a hospital. With at least 251 prisoners and 150 staff members testing positive for COVID-19, the virus is spreading within the walls of the jail like a wildfire – and points to the larger danger that exists in the prisons across the country.

Within the Cook County Jail, there is the report of at least one suspected death of an inmate due to COVID, though confirmation is pending an autopsy. With close to 5.000 incarcerated, there are plans to screen and release non-violent offenders.

Social distancing inside of a jail is virtually impossible, and there’s also a growing concern about violence. Yesterday at the Monroe Correctional Complex in the state of Washington, a demonstration in the yard grew with increasing fervor as over 100 inmates erupted upon learning six of their fellow inmates in the Minimum Security Unit had tested positive for COVID-19.

Officers used everything from verbal orders to rubber pellets to try to end the demonstration. They also employed fire extinguishers and sting balls (rubber pellets/light/noise released), and finally managed to retain control. There are no reported injuries to inmates or staff. The six infected inmates were put into the isolation unit in the Monroe Complex and are receiving treatment.

In California in one week alone, infected inmates increased by over 700 percent, and staff cases almost tripled. The California Department of Corrections reported 29 prisoners and over 60 staff have been infected.

3) The New York State Department of Labor this evening took down the unemployment website tonight between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to launch a new, streamlined unemployment application to help the overloaded system. This application is going to have fewer questions, and applicants are assured that one of the 1,000 employees manning the DOL phone lines will be reaching out to anyone who leaves questions blank within 72 hours of filing.

This will help to free up the backlog of those waiting in the queue on the existing phone line since you will no longer have to call in if a question is unanswered.

Since March 9, the DOL has received 810,000 new unemployment claims, with approximately 600,000 processed and 200,000 still waiting. There has been much vocal frustration on social media sites, but both the Cuomo administration is pleading for patience as they are dealing with unprecedented numbers and overwhelming needs.

4) In an update to the essential businesses list in New York, golf courses, marinas and other boat launches are no longer allowed to operate during the pandemic. Two weeks ago, these were listed as essential. No one is sure why the change occurred, nor were any reasons given by the governor’s office.

This, of course, impacts employees who are able to work under New York’s “PAUSE” guidelines. Since now both public and private golf courses are nonessential, they will be closed to players.

The full list of essential and nonessential businesses can be found here.

5) This morning, a plane from the Las Vegas Sands corporation landed at Albany International Airport’s cargo facility. It was filled with personal protective equipment and other needed medical supplies for the medical facilities and their healthcare workers.

Even with their Las Vegas Strip businesses closed, the major Vegas developer donated one million masks for the country’s epicenter in New York State and the front line health workers here.

That’s all for tonight guys. Have a nice day. Of course, as I finish this, the sky is blue, and though chilly, it is nice. Go out and enjoy the few hours of sunlight, but make sure to maintain social distancing, wear a mask and wash up when you get home.

“All over the world, people are being quarantined and are being compelled to practice social distancing. We are trying desperately to remain sane in a world that seems bordering on the insane. The time is just right for us to ponder, reflect, meditate, and discover the world within our own minds.”
― Avijeet Das

Photo credit: George Fazio.