Five Things That Happened While You Were Out: June 16, 2020

Somedays, CivMixers, you’re the windshield.

Other days, you’re the bug.

Today, I am the bug. You feel me? It was one of those days.

I think it has been nice out, but I wouldn’t know, I was too busy trying to scrape myself together. That said, there’s just an enormous amount of stuff happening out there. Things are moving at warp speed.

So yes, this is an early “5 Things,” but duty is calling and I’ve got to squeeze it in.

Oh, and by the way, Bennett Liebman, if you’re reading this: Happy 71st Birthday, friend. You thought I forgot, didn’t you? Well, I didn’t forget what I didn’t know in the first place. You can thank your brother for this one.

And in today’s news (thus far)…

1) There has been a breakthrough of sorts on the COVID-19 treatment front, as scientists at the University of Oxford say they have identified a drug that can reduce coronavirus-related deaths.

Apparently, a cheap and widely available steroid called dexamethasone reduced deaths by up to one third in severely ill hospitalized patients.

The British government immediately authorized the drug’s use across the U.K. for coronavirus patients like those who did well in the study, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease specialist in the U.S., called the announcement “good news” and a “significant improvement in the available therapeutic options that we have.”

But others are reserving judgement until they see the details of the study, which the researchers say will be published soon. The funding for the study was provided by the U.K. government, as well as private donors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

2) President Donald Trump took his first concrete steps today to address growing national outcry over police brutality, signing a reform executive order that, among other things, creates a federal database of police officers.

But he also issued a staunch defense of law enforcement and said he strongly opposes calls to defund the police. In fact, he insisted that, in many cases, police departments are “underfunded and understaffed.”

“Reducing crime and raising standards are not opposite goals,” the president said. “They are not mutually exclusive. They work together. They all work together.”

3) Good news on Wall Street today as stocks rose following a record jump in retail sales coupled with aforementioned positive trial results from a potential coronavirus treatment and hopes of more federal stimulus funding.

Retail sales shattered already-lofty expectations last month as lockdown-weary consumers started shopping again. A lot.

The 17.7 percent headline gain, which included food sales, easily topped the previous record 6.7 percent from October 2001 — a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks — and beat the 8 percent estimate from economists surveyed by Dow Jones.

4) The Capital Region has been given the green light to launch Phase III of the post-pandemic reopening process tomorrow. That phase includes indoor dining – with a 50 percent reduction in capacity (not including staff), spas, personal care specialists, tattoo parlors and more.

There are rules – naturally – that include mask wearing and temperatures checks for employees. The governor is warning everyone to adhere to these requirements or risk losing their liquor licenses (if they’re an eating and/or drinking establishment), or worse, sending the entire region in which they are located back into lockdown due to a resurgence of the virus.

This is not merely an empty threat, as some establishments in others states have been forced to shut down shortly after reopening after experiencing viral outbreaks.

The governor has signed an executive order lifting the indoor crowd limit from 10 to 25 for Phase III regions, citing New Yorkers’ sustained progress in fighting back a disease that is surging in nearly half of U.S. states.

In other COVID-19 news, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that hospitals and group homes, but not nursing homes, can start allowing visitors at their discretion Friday, provided that they follow state safety guidelines.

He also said the U.S. Open will take place as scheduled in August at its usual home in Queens’ USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, which was one of the facilities turned temporary field hospital during the height of the pandemic. The catch: Fans won’t be allowed in.

5) Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, had already announced he did not intend to seek re-election this fall. Now he’s cutting his time in office even shorter, revealing today that he plans to step down at the end of this month to take a job with Northwell Health as vice president of regional government affairs in Suffolk and eastern Nassau counties.

Flanagan has served in the state Legislature for 34 years.

He became majority leader in May 2015 after a corruption scandal felled his predecessor, Dean Skelos, another Long Island Republican. Flanagan continued as minority leader of the GOP conference after Democrats took control of the chamber last year. He has been in the Senate since 2003, and also served 16 years in the state Assembly.

Flanagan is one of a handful of GOP senators who opted not to run for re-election this year as Democratic dominance in the state continues to grow. The Democrats control every aspect of state government – from the governor’s mansion to the Legislature.

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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