Rise and Shine: April 14, 2020

Good morning, CivMixers, it’s Tuesday…just in case you lost track.

On this day in April 14, 1912, the British liner RMS Titanic collided with an iceberg in the North Atlantic at 11:40 p.m. ship’s time and began sinking. (The ship went under two hours and 40 minutes later with the loss of 1,514 lives.)

Seems fitting to mention.

We’re on tap for clouds in the morning and sun in the afternoon, with temperatures in the low 50s, according to The Weather Channel. The crazy wind has died down, but it might remain a little breezy.

The news on the coronavirus front has been cautiously optimistic. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said yesterday that the “worst is over if we continue to be smart going forward,” though the death toll topped 10,000.

Another 671 deaths were reported in the 24-hour period ending at midnight yesterday, running the overall toll to 10,056, said Cuomo, in what he called “the worst news I’ve ever had to deliver to the people of this state.”

However, the curve continues to flatten, and the governor is increasingly turning his attention to how to safely re-open the economy, which has been all-but shuttered by the pandemic.

He has created a joint task force with six other Northeastern governors, and the group plans to work together to come up with a plan to emerge from this virus-induced pause – hopefully in a way that doesn’t result in a second wave of infections.

There is no official timeline for when the reopening will occur. But the fact that the governors have banded together to move in that direction has been widely seen as a snub to President Donald Trump, who has been trying to assert control over the question of when and how to reopen the country.

Meanwhile, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington, three Western states that were among those that felt the impact of the virus before it spread rapidly in the Northeast, announced a similar pact. All but one of the 10 governors on the two coasts are Democrats.

Looking to balance financial worries with fears that easing lockdowns could spur new outbreaks of the disease, governors warned the return to normalcy wouldn’t arrive all at once. “There is going to be no epiphany,” Cuomo said. “There will be no headline that says: ‘Hallelujah, It’s Over.'”

Countries that rapidly overhauled operations when the coronavirus struck are now focused on restarting the economy and their own businesses. That restart, according to interviews with leaders across a range of industries, suggests that back to normal will be anything but.

Trump has predicted an economic boom once stay-at-home and other restrictions are lifted. But economic activity is likely to remain subdued until the threat of the coronavirus recedes.

Trump used the White House briefing room yesterday to lash out at critics of his response to the coronavirus outbreak, rattling off a litany of grievances about press coverage and airing a reel of cable news footage that portrayed his actions in a positive light.

Trump isn’t firing Anthony Fauci, the White House said, seeking to extinguish speculation that flared over the weekend after the president retweeted a critic who called for the member of his administration’s coronavirus task force to be dismissed after he said lives could have been saved if the government had acted more quickly.

The coronavirus pandemic hit a new milestone yesterday, as worldwide cases climbed beyond 2 million since the virus began spreading in China at the end of last year, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Wyoming, the final state to avoid any deaths from coronavirus, announced its first fatality due to COVID-19 yesterday. All 50 states in the U.S. now have at least one death from the pandemic, with over 22,000 total dead nationwide.

At least 116 people in South Korea who were previously cleared of coronavirus have tested positive again, increasing fears of a second wave of infections in the country.

Rutgers University researchers have received FDA clearance for the first saliva test to help diagnose COVID-19, a new approach that could help expand testing options and reduce risks of infection for health care workers.

The backlog for COVID-19 testing in New Jersey and other parts of the country is getting worse, not better. From the nose of a patient in a mile-long line to a phone call days later, bottlenecks thwart its progress.

In two new studies, NYU researchers found certain risk factors like age, obesity and chronic illness can lead to an increased risk of hospitalization for COVID-19 patients.

A new study showed that some women who delivered babies in NYC in recent weeks had been inflicted with the coronavirus without displaying symptoms.

A Hauppauge manufacturer is supplying diagnostic tests to Stony Brook University for a 500-person study to see if the blood of coronavirus survivors can help those critically ill with the virus, officials said.

Congressional leaders and the White House stalled in efforts to break an impasse over the size and shape of the next package of aid responding to the coronavirus pandemic, according to aides, while the outbreak forced another delay in Congress’s return to Washington.

With House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer insisting on adding to the Trump administration’s request to inject $250 billion into the small business loan program, it’s unclear if lawmakers can reach a deal even as officials warn that the program could run out of funds as early as Friday.

Schumer had already made multiple calls to Trump asking for a waiver to ease the burden of coronavirus costs on New York. Yesterday, he followed up with a letter to the president pressing for the federal government to pay for more of the state’s disaster recovery as it did after 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy.

More than 180 organizations across the country urged Congress to pass $500 billion in unrestricted aid to state, territory and local governments in a letter sent yesterday.

Amazon will begin allowing third-party sellers on its platform to resume shipping so-called nonessential items this week, a signal that the company is ramping up to meet broader consumer needs.

Big news on the political front: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed former VP Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee for president, adding the weight of his left-wing support to Biden’s candidacy and taking a major step toward bringing unity to the party’s effort to unseat Trump in November.

“We need you in the White House. I will do all that I can to see that that happens, Joe,” Sanders said to Biden during a livestream broadcast by Biden’s campaign on his website and on social media.

…But don’t assume that simply because Sanders has formally endorsed Biden that the legion of supporters who have backed the Vermont democratic socialist in both of his presidential races will suddenly flock – or even meander – toward Biden.

The surprise decision by Sanders to back his former rival is an unmistakable signal to his supporters — who are known for their intense loyalty — that they should do so as well, at a moment when Biden still faces deep skepticism from many younger progressive voters.

The Biden-Sanders alliance came as the former vice president won the Wisconsin primary.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said the process of unifying Democrats around Biden should be “uncomfortable” and urged the former vice president to embrace more progressive policies.

The New York Times took 19 days to report a sexual assault allegation against Biden. Dean Baquet, the paper’s executive editor, said the article was published when there was enough reporting “to present to readers for them to make their own judgment.”

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court’s ruling blocking an executive order signed by Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt last month that sought to temporarily ban abortion services in the state during the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hold arguments by teleconference in May in key cases, including President Donald Trump’s bid to shield his tax and other financial records.

All hospitals are required to provide medical workers at least one N95 mask per day upon request under a new directive issued by Cuomo’s office — as the debate rages over whether there’s still a shortage or rationing of personal protective equipment amid the coronavirus pandemic.

New York City officials have asked local organizations for rain ponchos to be used as medical gowns as Mayor Bill de Blasio said some protective equipment would be in short supply this week.

The coronavirus has taken an unbearable toll on the NYC Education Department, killing 50 people — a grim statistic released after weeks of mounting pressure to release the sobering data.

Cuomo denied having any personal beef with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and claimed he only railroaded the mayor’s citywide school closure announcement because he can’t afford any coronavirus-related “mistakes.”

New York City’s public hospitals chief wants to provide bonuses to front-line “hero” medical workers who are risking their own health to save the lives of patients suffering from the coronavirus.

New York City has begun discharging hospitalized patients with the coronavirus and sending them directly to rooms in New York’s empty hotels to recuperate, hospitals officials said.

Metro-North has lost its first employee to the coronavirus, the MTA said.

One of the cruelties of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is that many patients may have just minutes to settle their affairs. With family members for the most part barred from visiting their loved ones, doctors often are left to facilitate such moments, full of emotion and tears.

While much of New York City is staying inside, a crisis has taken hold among a population for whom social distancing is nearly impossible: the more than 17,000 men and women, many of them already in poor health, who sleep in roughly 100 group or “congregate” shelters for single adults.

Cuomo told Howard Stern his relationship with the president is “not perfect,” adding: “There are incidents even during this where he has taken shots at me and I have taken shots at him. Not gratuitous shots, but on my side they were bona fide bones of contention with things I needed. But by and large, it has worked.”

Stern asked Cuomo if he thinks the president is happy the governor’s brother, Chris, a frequent critic of the president, tested positive for the coronavirus. Cuomo’s response: “No.”

Cuomo told Stern that he has cried during the coronavirus crisis as the death toll in New York has mounted. “I can’t get past the death numbers,” Cuomo said on Stern’s SiriusXM show. “There’s nothing that abates that pain.”

“You know I love you and I always loved you when you first became governor,” Stern told Cuomo. “You’re providing real leadership and your whole demeanor is, well, for lack of a better word, a real turn-on.”

As the governor’s popularity soars thanks to his handling of the coronavirus crisis — there’s also been a spike in Cuomo-centric products on offer from his growing fan base on crafts site Etsy. (Cuomo socks or prayer candles, anyone?)

Former Republican Gov. George Pataki, whom Cuomo tried unsuccessfully to challenge in 2002, praised the current governor’s response to the pandemic and called on all elected officials to put politics aside and unite like they did after the 9/11 attacks.

Cuomo this far has resisted calls to grant early release to state prison inmates to reduce fatalities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, despite reports of 139 inmates and nearly 600 corrections employees testing positive — and four deaths.

The TU’s Chris Churchill: “Why has New York had so many deaths from COVID-19 while California has had relatively few? The answer to that question is complicated and multifaceted, but this much is true: Officials in California responded to the threat more quickly than Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio.”

The state Department of Labor said it placed calls to 200,000 New Yorkers from Friday through Sunday night as part of its new “don’t call us, we’ll call you” procedure for handling jobless claims. (Be on the lookout for “private caller” alerts on your phone).

State employees are quietly being asked to staff phone lines for the New York Department of Labor as it plays catch-up with the unprecedented volume of calls from workers applying for unemployment.

Hundreds of lawyers have agreed to volunteer their legal services to help unemployed New Yorkers amid the coronavirus pandemic. The effort, spearheaded by Cuomo, NYSBA and the Unified Court System, will provide attorneys to assist unemployed New Yorkers applying for benefits, the bar association said.

The drive-in movie theater seems like an entertainment venue tailor-made for a global pandemic, since it doesn’t require patrons to be in close contact with one another. But New York hasn’t included drive-ins—or any theaters—as part of the list of essential businesses allowed to operate.

The biggest health threat to grocery employees working during the coronavirus pandemic is careless customers, the president of the nation’s largest food and retail union said.

The Albany County Health Department is warning of a potential COVID-19 exposure at a Lark Street convenience store.

Weeks after thousands of affluent New Yorkers fled the city and descended on the Hamptons to shelter in place in comfort, disrupting life of local year-round residents, both sides are hunkering down in an uneasy truce.

Republican Sen. James Seward, 68, who is battling COVID-19 and had been in a medically induced coma 10 days ago, has been discharged from Albany Medical Center Hospital and will continue his recovery at his Otsego County home, according to a statement from his chief of staff.

Despite the COVID-19 crisis, some state lawmakers are hoping to finish out the legislative session and pass more bills.

A month into COVID-19 school closures, many K-12 students in the Capital Region can’t get online to access their school work, particularly those in inner-city, low-income districts, despite efforts by companies like Spectrum and T-Mobile to help meet the need.

The Capital District Transportation Authority said it would provide a new frequent rider pass to customers who had started using their passes March 1 or later, after it suspended fare collections as a safety measure during the coronavirus pandemic.

The effort to keep the novel and highly contagious coronavirus out of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities has become increasingly difficult, with at least seven facilities in the Capital Region reporting new cases in the last week alone.

Glens Falls Hospital is putting 338 of its employees on unpaid furlough.

Syracuse University announced last week that it would move all of its classes through the summer due to the coronavirus pandemic. The school extended its online-only classes through at least Aug. 7.

Longtime Trump ally Roger Stone suggested that Bill Gates may have had a hand in the creation of coronavirus so that he could plant microchips in people’s heads to know who has and has not been tested for COVID-19.

Accused Sarah Lawrence sex cult leader Lawrence Ray wants to be released from federal lockup amid the coronavirus outbreak — claiming he has health issues that caused him to recently pass out in his cell, according to court papers filed yesterday.

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has been deemed an “essential business” in Florida during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Democratic Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings.

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo is frustrated by his celebrity, saying on the radio: “I’m basically being perceived as successful in a system that I don’t value. I’m seen as being good at being on TV and advocating for different positions…but I don’t know if I value those things, certainly not as much as I value being able to live my life on my own terms.”

Live music may be temporarily unavailable on Long Island but Long Island musicians are still playing. In a collective YouTube video, more than 70 local performers came together to recreate the 1985 “We Are The World” video during the COVID-19 quarantine.

More than 40 artists will participate in an at home concert event held by the Met Opera later this month, which comes as the company faces up to $60 million in losses because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A “mermaid” decked out in a sparkly green tail, white gloves and a black face mask perched herself on a rock near the East River over the weekend to remind New Yorkers to be careful amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The late Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, 73, died after suffering from a heart attack. He had displayed coronavirus symptoms, but posthumous test results show his was negative.

“Good Morning America” host George Stephanopoulos tested positive for COVID-19, but said he’s “basically asymptomatic.”

Paramedic Danny Kim, a photographer, has documented the battle against the coronavirus in very personal terms.

A baker and former pharmacist — who has also been a Navy corpsman and computer programmer and owns a local escape room — a few months ago launched The Bread Butler, which brings outstanding organic bread to your door (in the Capital Region) for slightly more than what you’d pay for an artisan loaf from a scratch bakery.

In non-virus news…

Hackers who appear to be outside the U.S. compromised the computer network serving New York’s state government in late January, officials said, prompting the state to hire an outside firm and change thousands of employee passwords.

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said that there is “no evidence that personal data of any New York resident, employee, or any other individuals were compromised or have been taken from our network.”

A Fulton County site dedicated to restoring and advocating for beaver populations has been acquired by the Utica Zoo.

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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