Rise and Shine, May 19, 2020

Good Tuesday morning, CivMixers.

Apparently today is National Celebrate Your Elected Officials Day, which is when we thank those we (ostensibly, given the ridiculously and embarrassingly low voter participation rates in this country) select to represent us and fight for our interests in the halls of power.

Politicians get a bad rap, but the vast majority of them got into the business for the right reasons – to help people. We mostly read about the bad ones, the corrupt ones and the showboating ones, since keeping your head down and doing your job is not a recipe for news coverage.

But a lot of them – particularly at the local level – are working hard right now to assist their constituents at a very difficult time, even as they themselves and their families are struggling with the many challenges the pandemic has created, and not all of them are getting national love and fan clubs for doing it.

Just some food for thought.

In weather news, we are working our way slowly toward some very warm days with temperatures in the 80s. We’re not there yet – today will be partly cloudy with a high of 70 degrees, according to The Weather Channel. But it’s coming this weekend my friends, just in time for our very first socially distanced Memorial Day.

In the headlines…

The World Health Organization bowed to calls to launch an independent investigation into how it responded to the coronavirus. President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked both WHO and China, claiming the U.N. agency helped Beijing conceal the extent of the outbreak in its early stages.

Trump late threatened to permanently pull U.S. funding from the WHO if it does not “commit to major substantive improvements in the next 30 days.”

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will likely come under tough questioning from senators today about a small business lending program included in the government’s $2 trillion relief package.

…Also set to testify: Fed Chair Jerome Powell.

Trump told reporters at the White House that for “a couple weeks” he has been taking hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug as a defense against Covid-19 – despite warnings from his administration that it is dangerous.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s response: “He’s our president, and I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and his, shall we say, weight group…morbidly obese, they say.”

At least one study has shown the drug doesn’t work against Covid-19 and could cause heart problems.

Trump’s previous endorsement of hydroxychloroquine catalyzed a tremendous shift in India, spurring the world’s largest producer of the drug to make much more of it, prescribe it for front-line health workers treating the virus and deploy it as a diplomatic tool.

A vaccine manufacturer is reporting preliminary data suggesting its COVID-19 vaccine is safe, and appears to be eliciting in test subjects the kind of immune response capable of preventing disease.

Trump’s vaccine czar Moncef Slaoui agreed to forgo millions in stock options in the Boston biotech firm that claimed blockbuster early progress in its trial of a coronavirus vaccine.

As states across the country relax stay-at-home orders and people return to more normal routines, some researchers worry about a spike in vaccine-preventable diseases in addition to the coronavirus’s spread.

Response to the launch of California’s landmark new state relief program that will provide taxpayer-funded assistance to undocumented immigrants, who have been shut out of federal relief programs and unemployment assistance, was overwhelming.

Uber is cutting several thousand additional jobs, closing more than three dozen offices and re-evaluating big bets in areas ranging from freight to self-driving technology as Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi attempts to steer the ride-hailing giant through the coronavirus pandemic.

WeWork, the office space giant that was struggling even before the coronavirus shut down much of the economy, is asking landlords for a break on its huge rent bill as it tries to survive the pandemic. Some of the company’s small-business customers are also seeking relief on the rent they owe.

International markets rose after U.S. stocks surged on hopes that a new vaccine could help combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump has left the door open for supporting a so-called “Phase 4” stimulus bill known as the HEROES Act to the House Democrats, but congressional Democrats and Republicans remain at odds on how fast to push through a new massive economic recovery bill.

It’s a good time to be in the bike sales business. But the U.S. is facing a severe bicycle shortage as global supply chains, disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak, scramble to meet the surge in demand.

Airports and airlines are rolling out temperature checks for crew and, increasingly, passengers, as well as thermal scans to spot people with elevated body temperatures. Face masks are now de rigueur for travelers across the U.S. passengers on Europe’s biggest budget carrier must raise their hands to use the toilet.

Restaurants and salons across the U.S. are reportedly adding a coronavirus “surcharge” on bills, as many establishments continue to try and make ends meet.

Facing intensifying criticism of his administration’s handling of nursing homes in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York had a high number of fatalities in those facilities “not because we did anything wrong” but due — at least in part — to bad luck.

The state is ramping up testing of employees at nursing homes to combat the coronavirus in an area where the disease has had some of its most devastating impact, Cuomo said, while officials worried that New York City residents would come in large numbers to Long Island beaches for the Memorial Day weekend.

Long Island leaders’ frustration with an order keeping New York City beaches closed for the Memorial Day weekend ebbed somewhat after Nassau County Executive Laura Curran spoke with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Cuomo announced that he tested negative for coronavirus after getting a nasal swab live during his press conference a day earlier.

New York’s state government is holding back more than $1 billion of planned spending as it grapples with the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The delayed payments are a response to a steep revenue shortfall. They include aid to private colleges and revenue due to counties from the sale of medical marijuana.

The Western New York region, which includes Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, and Niagara counties, has received approval from the state to start its phased-in re-opening today.

Western New York is the sixth region to hit the seven metrics benchmark, required to reopen at a Phase One capacity.

There is a big push on both sides of the Niagara River to get economies going, particularly as warm weather starts, when ordinarily millions of tourists would be coming across the U.S.-Canada border.

The Capital Region is soon expected to meet all benchmarks required to begin the first phase of an economic reopening, though no firm date has been set.

Albany County will rely on 225 county employees who have had their workloads reduced during the pandemic to help the region reach the final state metric to start re-opening some local businesses sometime this week.

New York City released new breakdowns of coronavirus cases by zip code and, for the first time, by NYCHA development — starkly illustrating the divide in how the pandemic has affected communities of color and whites.

Data from New York City’s health department, which recorded the number of deaths in each zip code, showed the highest death rate in the city is in an area that borders East New York and Canarsie, Brooklyn.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 1,200 New Yorkers who live in the Big Apple’s public housing complexes and sickened another 6,600 tenants there.

In their second online hearing, members of the state Legislature met virtually yesterday to evaluate the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on minority communities.

New York City is investigating 145 possible cases of a potentially deadly syndrome linked to coronavirus. The news came after the feds confirmed that the condition it’s calling “Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children,” or MIS-C, is tied to COVID-19.

A Brooklyn Yeshiva was open for classes and filled with more than 60 children in defiance of the state’s coronavirus lockdown orders, eliciting a scolding and threat of a cease-and-desist order from de Blasio.

The City Health Commissioner issued a public apology to police for rejecting a plea by NYPD brass for protective masks and saying, “I don’t give two rats’ asses about your cops.”

The city’s firefighters union has called on Big Apple pols to provide line-of-duty benefits for first responders or their families if the front-line workers die or are seriously injured by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Break-ins are up 38 percent in the Big Apple over the past month, compared to the same period last year, as shops, spas and bars that remain closed because of the coronavirus provide easy pickings.

De Balsio raised the possibility of remote learning continuing into the fall instead of reopening the city’s public schools from their coronavirus-induced closures.

In a hopeful sign in the city’s fight against the coronavirus, the hard hit Department of Education did not record a single new COVID-19 death for the first time in six weeks, officials said.

It will take New York City at least four years to recover from the coronavirus’s economic devastation with employment expected to return to pre-pandemic levels by 2024, according to a blunt new analysis by the city’s Independent Budget Office.

Trump has tapped MTA transit chief Sarah Feinberg to rejoin the board of Amtrak. Feinberg, 42, has served as the interim president of MTA New York City Transit since March 9. She was previously an MTA board appointee of Cuomo.

State officials provided details about the crushing backlog of unemployment claims – the first such update since the coronavirus pandemic began. While $9.2 billion has been paid out to roughly two million out-of-work New Yorkers, thousands more say have had no word about the status of their claim.

Cuomo said he’s asked major league sports teams to start planning to reopen or start their seasons without fans, adding that the state is willing to help.

“Hockey, basketball, baseball, football – whoever can reopen – we’re a ready, willing and able partner,” Cuomo said during his daily news conference. “I think this is in the best interest of all the people and the best interest of the state of New York.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said teams could begin reopening facilities today “if they are permitted to do so under governing state and local regulations,” among other conditions.

Big beer brands had been losing ground for years before the coronavirus struck. Now drinkers are turning back to mainstream beers as the crisis shifts sales from tap rooms to grocery store aisles, giving a boost to giant beer companies while putting small craft breweries in peril.

A new phenomenon in the new reality: Pop-up drive-in movie theaters.

New York’s wedding industry is in turmoil as the coronavirus pandemic forces brides and grooms to postpone their expensive and long-held plans—in some cases for the second time.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials at the immigration detention facility in Batavia are being sued by New York legal organizations over allegations they are not protecting immigrants in their custody from COVID-19.

In virtual K-12 classrooms across the Capital Region, students are missing.

The City of Watervliet’s police chief won’t be coming back from furlough even as the police union took issue with the chief’s dismissal.

The Rensselaer Board of Education voted unanimously last night to have a proposed tax levy increase of 19.5 percent for the 2020-21 school year — drawing down its financial reserves to avoid an even larger tax hike.

Legal advocates are expanding their reach in three rural upstate counties in the greater Capital Region to assist clients facing increased civil legal hardships because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The slots are back in action at the Lakeside Entertainment casino in Union Springs, the first gaming operation in New York to reopen since non-essential businesses were shut down in mid-March.

The Freihofer’s Run for Women 5k was cancelled for the first time since its founding in 1979. Freihofer’s organizers have replaced it with a virtual 5k that women who are registered can run on a course of their choosing any time between Saturday and May 31.

In non-virus news…

Congressional Democrats say the State Department watchdog fired by Trump last week was investigating possible impropriety in a massive arms sale to Saudi Arabia last year, adding new questions to the watchdog’s abrupt dismissal.

A former top antitrust economist in the Obama administration argued that Google has used its powerful position in the digital advertising space to stifle competition, outlining a possible case against the search giant at the same time federal and state enforcers are making preparations to go to court.

Word that up to a dozen tanker trucks carrying firefighting foam with toxic PFAS chemicals might come to the Cohoes Norlite aggregate plant sparked a firestorm of worry and criticism against the federal Department of Defense, which may have prompted the federal government to back off on the plans – for now.

Years before he was gunned down while jogging, Ahmaud Arbery had a run-in with cops in which they found him in a park sitting alone in his car — and tried to tase him, newly released video shows.

Both the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and the sale of all tobacco products in pharmacies in New York ended yesterday.

Krispy Kreme announced its 2020 Graduate Dozen promotion, which includes a box of a dozen doughnuts for free – TODAY ONLY.

Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan of Sussex celebrate their second wedding anniversary today.

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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