Rise and Shine: April 3, 2020

It’s Friday, which is nice, as it brings to a close another surreal week of social distancing.

It’s going to rain today, which is not so nice. Temperatures will hover around 50 degrees. The weekend is looking promising, according to The Weather Channel, with clouds and some sun and the possibility of a 60 degree day on Sunday. Fingers crossed.

It’s National Walk to Work Day, which poses a bit of a challenge when one is cloistered at home. I am walking to work EVERY day of late – from the bedroom to the dining room, which is where the home office has been established.

It’s also the 5th annual Kids Yoga Day, which is a little easier to observe – even a boon for those busy parents among you who are looking for something to distract the kiddos while you take one more conference call…there are free online classes being offered, the one hitch: You’ve got to give up your Zoom meeting time.

Today’s Google Doodle is dedicated to social distancing.

In the headlines…

Confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus world-wide surpassed 1 million yesterday, a grim milestone for the pandemic as governments deploy increasingly stringent measures to battle its spread and a record 6.6 million U.S. workers applied for unemployment benefits last week.

Since January, health authorities have identified more than 245,000 COVID-19 cases throughout the United States.

The White House is poised to urge Americans to wear cloth masks or face coverings in public to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, in a reversal of earlier advice.

…The new recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would aim to reduce the risk that people who are infected but asymptomatic will spread the virus.

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has become a central player in the administration’s effort to curb the pandemic. But critics say he is part of the problem.

Stay-at-home orders have nearly halted travel for most Americans, but people in Florida, the Southeast and other places that waited to enact such orders have continued to travel widely, potentially exposing more people as the coronavirus outbreak accelerates.

The state Department of Labor processed more than 369,000 initial unemployment applications in the week ended March 28 – a 2,674 percent increase compared with the same week last year. Claims skyrocketed statewide, most significantly in Long Island and western New York, where applications increased more than 3,300 percent compared with the same period in 2019.

After a record 113 straight months of hiring, the government’s monthly jobs report today is expected to show that the American jobs machine came to a sudden halt in March as a result of the coronavirus.

Asian stock markets tumbled today after soaring U.S. job losses tempered enthusiasm about a possible deal to stabilize oil prices amid anxiety over the global economic decline due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Hours before small businesses can apply for forgivable loans from the $2 trillion financial relief package (starting today), some of the biggest U.S. banks aren’t ready to handle an expected flood of applications from potential borrowers.

Social Security beneficiaries will now automatically receive their coronavirus stimulus checks after a change made by the Trump administration late Wednesday night.

The captain of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier facing a growing outbreak of the coronavirus on his ship, Brett Crozier, was fired by Navy leaders who said he created a panic by sending his memo pleading for help to too many people.

The Democratic National Committee postponed its presidential convention because of the coronavirus, moving it from mid-July to mid-August, and making it the largest political event to be upended by the public health crisis sweeping the country.

The convention will still be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but much remains unknown, including the event’s format, crowd size and schedule.

Representatives for former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaigns were consulted on the decision to move the convention. Biden currently holds a significant lead over Sanders in the nomination fight and is the party’s frontrunner.

The Democratic convention will now be held the week immediately before Republican National Convention is scheduled to be held in Charlotte, N.C. “We’re not going to cancel,” Trump told Fox News last week. “I think we’re going to be in great shape long before then.”

The president penned a rather snarky letter to U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

With some of its golf courses and hotels closed amid the economic lockdown, the Trump Organization has been exploring whether it can delay payments on some of its loans and other financial obligations.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the peak of the coronavirus outbreak in New York state could arrive sooner than the 21-day projection he has been proffering for more than a week, but he cautioned that the estimates are largely based on the effect of the social-distancing measures that have been in place since early March.

New Yorkers have watched in helpless fear as the coronavirus, with dizzying speed and ferocity, truly took hold of the city in recent days. With more than 1,500 dead, many have already lost someone in their circle.

With the coronavirus outbreak racing through the state, sickening thousands of New Yorkers each day and draining the state economy, the Legislature was forced to pass a $177 billion budget that was laden with uncertainties. (Debate and voting wrapped up very early this morning).

As part of the state budget, New York lawmakers were on track to approve a bill that would grant sweeping civil- and criminal-liability protections to hospitals and health care workers treating the surge of patients infected with the coronavirus.

In recognition that the state’s financial outlook may worsen, lawmakers gave the governor a one-year window to unilaterally cut spending if warranted. (The state budget director has total authority to make cuts each month of the year if tax receipts are 99 percent or less of what is projected).

The budget foresees tax revenues plunging by at least $10 billion and approved up to $11 billion in short-term borrowing to cover shortfalls while New York officials pray the feds provide more aid.

Schools are more or less being held harmless in the budget, with state funding cuts being replaced with federal stimulus money – for now.

New York’s controversial law ending cash bail for misdemeanor and non-violent felony offenses is changing in the new state budget. The changes will mean a variety of criminal offenses — including sex trafficking, sex degree burglary, and money laundering — will once again require cash bail. More here.

Cuomo and state lawmakers signed off on a series of tweaks to the last year’s controversial criminal discovery overhaul that advocates say will lessen the strain on law enforcement and provide additional protection to witnesses.

The budget includes a ban on flavored vaping products and the legalization of paid gestational surrogacy.

…it also enacts the “Josef Neumann Hate Crimes Domestic Terrorism Act” — named in memory of the Monsey stabbing victim who passed away this past Monday — defining hate-fueled murder with the intent to cause mass casualties as an act of domestic terrorism with penalties equivalent to other acts of terrorism.

Legislators also legalized electric scooters and bicycles – a reversal of Cuomo’s veto of similar legislation late last year because he had safety and implementation concerns.

Lawmakers also passed one of Cuomo’s top priorities: structural changes to reduce billions in spending on the state’s growing Medicaid program, which the governor blamed for helping to create a projected $6 billion budget gap before the coronavirus outbreak hit New York.

New York State officials moved to institute a three-year transit ban for criminals who commit assault or sexual assault on MTA property.

Despite challenges posed by the 2020-21 state budget – the secrecy, the remote voting and the sheer lack of resources due to the coronavirus pandemic – members of New York’s environmental lobby are pleased with the outcome, since it appears to have avoided feared cuts or delays in key items.

In a closing speech in the Senate, the minority leader, John Flanagan, who is not seeking re-election in the fall, wept as he spoke about his Republican colleague, James Seward, a central New York state senator, who has been hospitalized with the infection.

Flanagan said Seward is having a “tough time,” adding: “I can’t think of a finer public servant, and my heart breaks as I speak about him, because there’s tens of thousands of Jim Sewards in New York at this very moment who need our love, our service, our devotion, our prayers and our support.”

Two weeks ago, the Pentagon promised to make as many as 2,000 military ventilators available as the federal government strains to contend with the coronavirus pandemic. As of Wednesday, less than half had been allocated, despite a desperate need across the country.

New York state will finance companies willing to manufacture ventilators and other needed medical supplies, Cuomo said, as reported cases of the coronavirus continued to grow.

…The state has enough ventilators in its stockpile for the next six days at hospitals’ current rate of use, the governor said.

New York state is set to miss a payment deadline and forfeit the right to buy 1.5 million highly-sought, specialized medical masks, according to the Capital Region firm facilitating the deal.

Doctors around the world are dusting off a century-old treatment for infections: Infusions of blood plasma teeming with immune molecules that helped survivors beat the new coronavirus.

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine believe that they’ve found a potential vaccine for the new coronavirus.

Funeral homes are struggling to meet surging demand amid the coronavirus pandemic that has killed around 1,400 people in New York City alone, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.

The Navy hospital ship that was welcomed into New York City this week had a total of 20 patients as of yesterday as the city dealt with thousands of patients infected with COVID-19.

…”If I’m blunt about it, it’s a joke,” said Michael Dowling, the head of Northwell Health, New York’s largest hospital system. “Everyone can say, ‘Thank you for putting up these wonderful places and opening up these cavernous halls.’ But we’re in a crisis here, we’re in a battlefield.”

Military personnel will begin treating coronavirus patients at new medical facilities that have popped up in the cities of New York, New Orleans and Dallas, the White House said, marking a shift in policy for how the Pentagon is aiding in the medical response to the pandemic.

The emergency hospital constructed at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan will begin taking Covid-19 patients, rather than serve as an overflow facility only for non-coronavirus patients as previously planned.

From Seattle to Miami, but especially in New York City, the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in the United States, workers have said they do not have enough gear to protect themselves from the virus as they treat patients. Doctors and nurses have had to reuse equipment or use trash bags and scarves – or even Yankees plastic ponchos – for protection.

More COVID-19 patients from the New York City area are on their way to the Capital Region – specifically, to St. Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam and Albany Med.

The parent company of St. Peter’s Health Partners, which has 12,000 local employees at its Capital Region hospitals and doctors offices, is making executives take pay cuts and plans to furlough other workers as a way to stay solvent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Trader Joe’s, a chain known for its outwardly cheerful work force, employees have criticized what they describe as the company’s haphazard response to the crisis, reigniting a debate about union organizing that has simmered for years.

New York’s Real estate agents, home inspectors and residential appraisers are now considered “essential employees,” according to the Empire State Development agency.

Coronavirus-related hate crimes against Asian-Americans have risen in New York City, according to new New York Police Department data.

One out of every six New York City police officers is out sick or in quarantine. A veteran detective and seven civilian workers have died from the disease caused by the coronavirus. And two chiefs and the deputy commissioner in charge of counterterrorism are among more than 1,500 others in the department who have been infected.

The highly acclaimed and normally expensive Manhattan restaurant Eleven Madison Park is becoming a commissary kitchen for ReThink, a nonprofit organization that uses excess food from grocery stores and restaurants to make free or low-cost meals for New Yorkers in need.

A few high-profile lifestyle influencers have posted about fleeing New York City to smaller towns and other states, potentially endangering local communities and inadvertently encouraging their followers to do the same.

The pandemic over the past three weeks has changed how customers shop, and what they’re buying.

New York Attorney General Letitia James has sent a letter to a CBD oil company demanding that it stop advertising that its products can help fight coronavirus.

New York State is feuding with the National Rifle Association over a classification in this COVID-19 crisis.

Former gym rats are getting increasingly creative in their efforts to stay fit as their beloved workout spots are closed.

A Department of Defense research and development facility, at Watervliet Arsenal, Benet Labs, is making personal-protective equipment to support healthcare workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

Capital Region historical societies are urging their members and other community residents to preserve their experiences during the coronavirus pandemic so their descendants and future historians will be able to know their stories.

Someone pretending to be a state Health Department staffer scammed at least one person out of money and insurance information by testing for COVID-19, North Greenbush police said.

The Austin, Texas SXSW Film Festival announced that it’s partnering with Amazon Prime Video to stream as much of its movie line-up as possible for a 10-day period in the U.S. It will be free to viewers with or without an Amazon Prime membership.

The rapper Tekashi69 walked out of a federal prison yesterday, four months short of his two-year term, thanks to a nationwide effort to stem coronavirus outbreak risks at jails and prisons, which health advocates fear might become a tinder box for infections.

Chris Cuomo said last night that he lost 13 pounds in three days as the CNN anchor continues to share his battle with the coronavirus.

Disney announced the company will be instituting a short-term furlough for executive, salaried, and non-union hourly employees based in the U.S. effective April 19.

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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