By now, everyone knows the basics to lessen exposure to the virus: stay home and distance yourself from other people, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, disinfect surfaces and frequently wash your hands. Wear a mask if you feel symptoms and if you do, get tested.
The most common symptoms of the virus, which is officially known as coronavirus (COVID-19), are fever, fatigue, chills, difficulty breathing and a dry cough. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. However, the disease can be fatal, especially among older people and those with other medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease. It takes 1-14 days for symptoms to appear. We must take it seriously.
If you believe you have the disease, call your doctor or the states special, 24-hour hotline at 1-888-364-3065. Because of high volume, the hotline was inundated with calls and wait times were unacceptable. I brought this to Gov. Cuomos attention and am impressed by how quickly the wait times decreased as state workers were redeployed. Information can also be found at www.coronavirus.health.ny.gov
New York State has partnered with Stony Brook University to conduct testing for the virus, but you must make an appointment by calling 888-364-3065. Hours of operation are seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but make sure you call first. You will be screened and someone will get back to you.
Telehealth services may be beneficial to individuals experiencing coronavirus symptoms who are unsure what to do. Individuals are advised to check with their health insurance providers to see if telehealth services are available. Utilizing telehealth services can reduce ER visits and allow individuals to access the advice of health care professionals from the safety of their own homes. The state is also directing a dramatic increase in hospital beds, and President Trump has sent the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort to New York City to relieve pressure on the states hospitals.
I have also asked the governor to bolster the Department of Labor to handle the dramatic increase in unemployment claims. The economic consequences of the virus will be tough and I will work to make sure that every form of assistance is available to our residents.
The governor has put the state on PAUSE, requiring the closure of non-essential businesses and the canceling of gatherings of any size for any reason. Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, liquor stores and other essential businesses will remain open. He also issued a 90-day moratorium on evictions and on mortgage payments, and the deadline to file taxes has been postponed.
The state is also guaranteeing workers job protection and financial compensation in the event they, or their minor dependent child, are subject to an order of mandatory or precautionary quarantine or isolation.
The virus has made Albanys annual budget process even more critical. State spending must be managed in unprecedented ways and it is essential that taxpayer dollars are not misspent. I have joined many of my colleagues to make sure this emergency situation is not used to sneak through controversial policy wish lists without proper debate, such as the disastrous bail reform and legalizing marijuana.
About 99 percent of the businesses in New York are small businesses, and their owners employ half of our states workforce. This is why I am supporting the Small Business Emergency Recover Act of 2020, which will:
- Immediately direct the state's settlement reserve fund of $890 million to small businesses;
- Create a 0% interest loan program dedicated to helping small businesses meet their payroll commitments;
- Move tax deadlines for remittance, business tax and personal income tax ahead 180 days;
- Re-purpose available tax credits to help meet the needs of the state's existing small businesses;
- Use all economic development discretionary funding for existing small businesses within New York state;
- Suspend all regulatory fees on small businesses for 180 days; and
- Suspend the plastic bag ban for grocery stores for 180 days.
For information on disaster loans, go to www.esd.ny.gov
I have also heard from employees in our law enforcement communications departments and dispatchers who have been on the front lines helping government respond to the pandemic. They should be considered First Responders, and I will be submitting a bill to give them the recognition they deserve.
New information on the pandemic comes out frequently, and I put updates on my Facebook page, which you can visit @AssemblymanDeStefano.
If we all stick together, we will get through this and emerge on the other side stronger and more well prepared for anything the future may hold. Lets all be careful and have concern and compassion for our family, friends and neighbors. State government is playing a key role in the response to this contagion and its aftermath and I will work diligently to make sure we recover.