Rise and Shine: April 28, 2020

Good morning, CivMixers, happy Democratic presidential primary day that isn’t!

Yes, in the BC days (before coronavirus), Democrats all across New York would have been heading to the polls today to cast a ballot in the election to select their standard-bearer to go up against Republican President Donald Trump in the November general election.

Wow. That seems like a lifetime ago.

Anyway, once the pandemic hit, Gov. Andrew Cuomo realized that having people go to pollsites – traditionally set up in places like schools, churches and nursing homes – was neither wise nor safe not feasible because 1) those buildings were closed due to flatten-the-curve lockdown, 2) few people wanted to actually risk their lives to vote, not to mention spend all day working the polls, and 3) letting people congregate anywhere, but especially a nursing home, was a recipe for transmission disaster.

So, Cuomo delayed the primary to June 23. But now, even as we’re talking about a phased-in and regional economic re-opening, the virus is still very much among us, and Summer 2020 is looking pretty bleak.

And so yesterday, commissioners at the state Board of Elections went one step further and canceled the whole dang primary (the Republicans had already done so, since no one was challenging Trump).

“I think it’s time for us to recognize that the presidential contest is over,” Commissioner Doug Kellner explained, referring to the fact that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has conceded the race to former Vice President Joe Biden.

But Sanders didn’t want New York to cancel its primary, with his campaign calling the decision both an “outrage” and a “blow to democracy.

Had we all been heading to the polls today – and oh, how I wish that were so – it would have been a pretty nice day for voting. The Weather Channel is predicting party cloud skies and a high temperature of 61 degrees.

In the the headlines…

The White House released new guidelines aimed at answering criticism that America’s coronavirus testing has been too slow, and President Donald Trump tried to pivot toward a focus on “reopening” the nation. Still, there were doubts from public health experts that the new testing targets were sufficient.

Trump touted the testing blueprint as an “amazing thing” that aims for states to test about 2.6 percent of their populations each month. The document suggests states prioritize testing for people who are in high-risk settings, regardless of whether they’re displaying symptoms.

As some governors across the United States begin to ease restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, hopes are soaring that life as Americans knew it might be returning. But plans emerging in many states indicate that “normal” is still a long way off.

Parts of the U.S. are starting to lift closures, and some of the quickest to do so have been rural states like Montana, Vermont and Alaska. The effects of the pandemic in small towns can seem a world away from cities grappling with overwhelmed hospitals, packed morgues and economies pushed to the brink.

Restaurants opened up to dine-in patrons in at least three states yesterday and the governor of Texas allowed movie theaters, malls and eateries to start letting customers trickle into their establishments later this week.

Efforts to quickly restart economic activity risk further dividing Americans into two major groups along socioeconomic lines: one that has the power to control its exposure to the coronavirus outbreak and another that is forced to choose between potential sickness or financial devastation.

New York will start to reopen parts of the state after May 15, while New Jersey will indefinitely extend its stay-at-home orders — signs of a nuanced start to a process that could take months and fundamentally reshape the way people live and work.

Long Island elected officials say they’re close to meeting CDC guidelines that will allow them to start moving to re-open the local economy.

Gov. Philip Murphy sketched out benchmarks New Jersey will have to reach before the coronavirus lockdown can be lifted, even as he warned of a financial “Armageddon” that could leave the state unable to pay its teachers, firefighters and police officers.

Congress is plunging ahead on a new coronavirus relief package, but deepening partisan divide and uncertainty in the schedule could stall the federal response to the health crisis and deteriorating U.S. economy. Leaders of both parties announced the House and Senate will return May 4, despite objections from their ranks.

It’s “highly likely” the next coronavirus response bill will aid local governments whose budgets have been decimated by lockdowns and now face spiraling deficits.

…But to unlock that money, Senate Majority Leader McConnell said he will “insist” Congress limit the liabilities of health care workers, business owners and employees from lawsuits as they reopen in the coming weeks and months.

Conservative New Yorkers said they trust Gov. Andrew Cuomo more than Trump to make a decision to reopen the state, according to a poll released yesterday.

The governor’s favorability rating is 77-21 percent, up from 71-23 percent last month. His job performance rating is 71-28 percent, up from 63-35 percent last month.

A broad majority of New York voters support state requirements to wear face coverings in public and keep schools and most businesses closed until May 15 to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, the same Siena poll found.

The White House did not schedule a coronavirus task force briefing for today as the administration begins to step back from the once daily events amid criticism.

Americans are receiving letters signed by Trump that offer an explanation about the coronavirus stimulus relief payments they’re getting and also tout the bipartisan economic relief package he “proudly” signed into law last month that made the payments possible.

Trump’s public statements about using disinfectants to potentially treat the coronavirus have put him in the company of pseudoscientists and purveyors of phony elixirs who promote and sell industrial bleach as a “miracle cure” for autism, malaria and a long list of medical conditions.

As the lockdowns drag on, the weather gets warmer and some states move to reopen, researchers at the University of Maryland have found that more people across the country are going outside, that they are doing so more frequently and that they are traveling longer distances.

More than 27,000 New Yorkers have died since the start of the novel coronavirus outbreak in March — 20,900 more than would be expected over this period and thousands more than have been captured by official coronavirus death statistics.

MTA officials are scrambling to ensure New York’s subway system doesn’t turn into a rolling petri dish for a new wave of coronavirus infections once state officials begin easing lockdown measures.

NYC Council members joined parents and activists in calling for an NYPD hiring freeze and other measures to ease Department of Education cuts amidst the coronavirus crisis.

State and local governments across the United States have obtained about 30 million doses of a malaria drug touted by Trump to treat patients with the coronavirus, despite warnings from doctors that more research is needed.

A dozen of America’s top scientists and a collection of billionaires and industry titans say they have the answer to the coronavirus pandemic, and they found a backdoor to deliver their plan to the White House.

In the worldwide race for a vaccine to stop the coronavirus, the laboratory sprinting fastest is at Oxford University.

Medical researchers are doing detective work to see if the novel coronavirus was in New York before March, undertaking studies of flu swabs and deaths that could challenge the official timeline of the infection’s arrival in the state.

The chair of Department of Emergency Medicine at St. Barnabas Hospital in The Bronx, who has been on the frontlines of battling COVID-19, makes an argument in favor of re-opening the economy.

The CDC has added to the symptoms of COVID-19 to include: Chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the actions of the World Health Organization have come under fire from Trump, who cut off funding to the group earlier this month. But Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus refused to accept blame for the damage that the pandemic has brought.

“The world should have listened to WHO then, carefully,” he said, pointing out that nations could have implemented protocols to address the pandemic upon the declaration’s release. “Every country could have triggered all its public health measures possible,” Ghebreyesus added. “I think that suffices the importance of listening to WHO’s advice.”

Brazil is emerging as potentially the next big hot spot for the coronavirus amid President Jair Bolsonaro’s insistence that it is just a “little flu” and that there is no need for the sharp restrictions that have slowed the infection’s spread in Europe and the U.S.

Argentina has banned all commercial flight ticket sales until September, one of the toughest coronavirus travel bans in the world, prompting an industry outcry that the new measure will put too much strain on airlines and airports.

Kim Jong Un may have missed a key holiday on April 15 because of concerns over the coronavirus, not because he is ill, South Korea’s minister for North Korean affairs said.

A pale but vigorous-sounding Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to work yesterday, declaring that the coronavirus that nearly killed him was like an “unexpected and invisible mugger” the British people had begun to wrestle to the floor but had not yet fully disabled.

Cuomo said 14.9 percent of those tested statewide tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, which is up from the initial 13.9 percent statewide when a previous sample of 3,000 people was done on April 22. The 1 percent increase is statistically in the margin of error.

The governor announced a new initiative intended to stop the wasteful dumping of milk by area farmers struggling during the coronavirus pandemic. Due to supply chain disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, some farms and dairy cooperatives have been forced to dump milk before it can make it to market.

Plant shutdowns are leaving Americans dangerously close to seeing meat shortages at grocery stores. Meanwhile, farmers are facing the likely culling of millions of animals and mass burial graves could soon be dug across the heartland. “The food supply chain is breaking,” said John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods Inc.

America’s bankruptcy courts are yet to see a surge in filings despite the mass job losses amid what is predicted to be a deep and punishing recession, and many are even reporting a drop in cases, though one clerk likens it to the drawback of water before a tsunami.

The U.S. government reopened the pipeline for small-business loans and grants, triggering a fresh chorus of complaints from lenders and borrowers about delays and glitches plaguing the approval process.

The Small Business Administration’s electronic loan portal was overwhelmed by demand shortly after it opened yesterday morning, according to banking industry groups, that say the process was also stymied by last-minute changes in guidance on how to submit applications.

The SBA said “unprecedented demand” slowed its loan-processing platform, and that there were double the number of users accessing the system compared with any day during the initial round of funding that ended April 16.

The SBA said in a statement that it had processed more than 100,000 applications from more than 4,000 lenders as of 3:30 p.m. yesterday.

Lawmakers and state officials say the Trump administration is unreasonably restricting how local governments can spend federal aid as they struggle to stay afloat during the pandemic and Republicans raise doubts about providing added financial relief to hard-pressed communities.

Oil prices slid further today, signaling a bleak outlook for energy demand even as more countries move to restart their economies during the coronavirus pandemic.

Amazon may have violated federal worker safety laws and New York’s whistle-blower protections when it fired an employee from its Staten Island warehouse who protested the company’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, according to a letter the office of the state AG, Letitia James, sent the company last week.

While public-health officials were getting in front of the coronavirus in Seattle, Mayor Bill de Blasio dragged his feet and openly bickered with Cuomo in New York, according to a report highlighting the night-and-day disparity between the cities’ responses.

Bowing to mounting pressure, de Blasio struck a deal with Council Speaker Corey Johnson to close or modify miles of city streets to make more room for pedestrians and cyclists to social distance — especially around the Big Apple’s crowded parks.

The NYS Bar Association is helping people who have applied for unemployment insurance but were denied.

Cuomo admitted that the Empire State could run out of state funds to pay unemployment benefits to New Yorkers should the coronavirus pandemic continue to ravage the economy.

Criminal justice advocates say poverty continues to be criminalized during the coronavirus pandemic with court debts mounting for many New Yorkers, including some losing their drivers’ licenses or being jailed for unpaid fines.

Legal Aid Society is seeking emergency clemency from state prisons for 40 inmates because of their increased vulnerability to contracting and dying from COVID-19.

A top New York City emergency room doctor died from suicide after treating COVID-19 patients, her father said. Dr. Lorna Breen was the ER medical director at New York Presbyterian Allen Hospital in Inwood.

Three local musicians are attempting to turn the nightly 7 p.m. cheer for health care professionals and other essential workers – a tradition that originated in China and has been picked up in Italy and elsewhere – into what they bill as a “symphonic fanfare” in New York City tomorrow night.

For the adults in the house, trying to do their own jobs while helping children with class work has become one of the most trying aspects of the pandemic.

While school districts in the Capital Region started transitioning to remote instruction in early April, many students still cannot access the internet, and debate is unfolding over how students should be graded during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Saratoga Springs City School district is considering a tax increase of up to 3.14 percent, the postponement on a vote for its $129.7 million capital project and cuts to programs that Superintendent Michael Patton calls devastating as a result of virus-induced state funding reductions.

The New York Racing Association has contingency plans for holding live racing at Saratoga beginning July 16, that according to sources, run the gamut from fans being allowed, to a limit on fans, to no fans at all, like other tracks around the country have been doing.

Rensselaer County officials are expressing concern over a rise in coronavirus cases at area nursing homes and adult care facilities.

The Albany Police Department is warning residents about a phone scam that have quickly spread throughout the community.

Gov. Cuomo is a guest on an upcoming episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, during which Ellen says she and other are saying they’re “Cuomosexuals,” to which he replies: “I think that’s a good thing.”

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo announced that he is coronavirus free and was found to have antibodies that can potentially help protect him from reinfection.

In non-virus news…

The former neighbor of a woman who claims Joe Biden sexually assaulted her in the mid-1990s said she recalls the former Senate staffer telling her about the alleged attack.

The U.S. Supreme Court sidestepped a major decision on gun rights in a dispute over New York City’s former ban on transporting guns.

A study by Bennington College released yesterday found unusually high amounts of potentially hazardous PFAS compounds in the soil and water downwind from the embattled Norlite aggregate and incineration plant in Cohoes.

Former Assemblyman Joseph Errigo, whose reputation as a good-natured lawmaker was upended two years ago by federal bribery charges, has died at the age of 82.

A former state Department of Health research scientist was sentenced to a year of probation in federal court after admitting he lied on conflict of interest certifications he made as part of a grant application.

Few people can claim to have ever made the kind of impact as a coach as Ron Jones made with the Hoosick Falls varsity football team. The Panthers now must go forward without their mentor as Jones, 51, died last week of an apparent heart attack.

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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