unmasked

Last week, I needed to bring one of our vehicles to a dealership for a recall. The one we usually use wasn’t certified to work on the electrical/battery system of our hybrid, so we made the appointment at another dealer in a neighboring county. We live near the county line, so it’s just a couple of towns to our west.

Tioga County is a rural county; Broome, where I live is a mix of rural, urban, and suburban, although Binghamton is a small city by most standards with a population of about 46,000. Broome County’s population is about 190,000 in 716 square miles; Tioga’s is 48,000 in 523 square miles.

Your geography trivia for the day!

So, I arrive at the service department of the dealership, wearing my mask. There is a sign on the door that face coverings are optional for customers but required for staff, which seemed a bit odd as New York State rules are to wear a mask whenever people are closer than six feet (2 meters). I was surprised to walk up to the service desk to find that there was no plexiglass barrier to protect the employee and he was not wearing a mask.

I tried to maintain distance as best I could. I checked in, walked past unmasked customers in line, and sat in the waiting area with unmasked customers while unmasked employees walked through several times. When the repair was complete, the employee doing checkout hastily put on a mask after the window that separated her desk from the hallway was opened.

The experience left me feeling not endangered, because I was masked and maintained social distance most of the time, but disrespected. While the business knew that its employees should be masked when in proximity to another employee or a customer, they were not complying.

As the designated shopper in our house, I’m used to visiting businesses which have implemented careful measures to keep their employees and customers as safe as possible. The result has been that our infection rate in the state has remained very low as we methodically re-open businesses and services. If I am ever in a similar situation that I have to use this car dealership, I’ll make arrangements to drop the car off the evening before so that I only need to go inside to do the final paperwork when it’s ready.

I hope that there won’t be any outbreaks from the disregard that I witnessed at the car dealership, which, presumably, was considered acceptable to others in that community. For me, it seemed a small taste of what I hear on the news from other states, that folks don’t believe that masks and distancing help prevent COVID infections or that masks infringe on their liberties or that COVID doesn’t exist, all of which contribute to the appalling rates of illness and death in the United States.

At least I know that no one there will have contracted COVID from me.

SoCS: mail

One of the big news stories in the United States this week has been changes in the postal service.

Let’s start with the cons.

The postmaster general, a recent Trump appointee who is a major Trump donor and who has no experience with the postal service other than owning stock in USPS competitors and contractors, has implemented allegedly cost-cutting measures, among them removal of large sorting machines that are especially useful for large mailings, removal of postal boxes where folks can mail envelopes and small packages without having to go to the post office, sending letter carriers out on their routes even when the mail has not all been sorted so that mail is getting left behind, and not allowing letter carriers to go back out on a second pass.

This results in mail delivery being delayed, which is annoying for senders and recipients. Sometimes, it is even dangerous as many seniors, veterans, and just members of the general public receive medications through the mail. It’s also difficult for the many, many businesses and consumers who are using delivery of goods rather than shopping in-person. It affects even businesses that use private carriers like United Parcel because many of them use the USPS as a so-called “last mile” service, delivering the packages to the local post office rather than to the door of the final recipient.

The postal service also informed at least 46 states and the District of Columbia that it might not be able to delivery ballots for the November election in a timely way, risking the integrity of accurate counting of votes.

The removal of postal boxes makes it difficult for people to get mail sent, especially if they can’t get mail picked up from their home and don’t live within walking distance of their post office.

Removing equipment is causing delays in delivery. While the changes were supposed to result in cuts to overtime, in many places the changes have resulted in increased overtime because things are not able to be done in the most efficient way.

I can’t come up with a single “pro” for the public, who overwhelmingly approve of the USPS, which is unusual for any part of the government. The postal service is as old as the country and is established in the Constitution itself!

The president in an interview this week described/admitted to a “pro” for him – that the election in November that is anticipated to involve lots of voting by mail due to the pandemic making in-person voting more risky will not be able to move forward effectively. The president opposes increased funding for the postal service which is included in the HEROES Act that has passed the House but is not being considered in the Senate, which is now on break through Labor Day in September.

The general public and some members of Congress are pushing back. Yesterday, the USPS postmaster general halted the removal of mail collection boxes until after the election. This is a start, but much more needs to be done to reverse the other changes and to make sure that all ballots (and other mail) gets delivered in a timely way.

The sad and infuriating thing is that the president himself revealed that the whole thing is a con.

Which many of us suspected.

You’re also not a very good con man if you give the con away.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “pro/con.” Join us! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/08/14/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-aug-15-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!

SoCS: New York State re-opening

I live in the Southern Tier region of New York State (USA), where we are undertaking a methodical re-opening of businesses after we successfully drastically lowered our number of COVID-19 cases.

Every day, I listen to the press briefings from Governor Cuomo. He has been very transparent on what the state is doing and what the role of the public is in protecting public health during our stay-at-home period and now our phased re-opening.

The Southern Tier region is about to enter Phase 3. One of the services that is allowed in phase 3 is nail salons. Hair salons were allowed to resume, with masks and other safeguards in place in phase 2, but nail salons had to wait for phase three as it involves longer face-to-face interaction.

I don’t do manicures, but I do have an appointment for a haircut in a couple of weeks. After that, I’ll be able to go without the headband that has become part of my wardrobe in order to keep my bangs out of my eyes.

Long bangs is an infinitesimal price to pay for what has been great news for New York State. Unlike other states that were less careful about re-opening businesses, our infection rates have continued to decline. The numbers are constantly monitored with widespread testing and contact tracing for positive tests so that we know we are not starting an outbreak. As soon as the numbers in a region start to creep up, there are plans in place to cut back on the re-opening until the infection rate is under control again.

I’m proud of everyone in New York and our leadership team for the thoughtful, caring, science-based, and successful way we have tackled this challenge. I hope that more states and countries, seeing our approach working so well, will follow our lead and be able to save their people from further suffering from the pandemic.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “nail.” Join us! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/06/12/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-june-13-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!
 https://www.quaintrevival.com/

pandemic shopping

During our stay-at-home order period, shopping for food and other necessities has been one of the few opportunities to be away from the house, unless one is an essential worker. Most households have one designated shopper and it is suggested that shopping occur only once every 1-2 weeks.

At our house, I am the designated shopper. I also shop for my dad, who lives in a nearby senior community. He gets some meals through their dining service, but prepares breakfast and most lunches on his own.

Ideally, I would do one, very large shopping trip every two weeks, but this has proved impossible. Our area still has supply problems that cause stores to be out of stock of certain items, for example, flour, yeast, peanut butter, meat, toilet paper, canned beans, rice, frozen vegetables. It’s not that you can’t find your favorite brand. It’s that these products can be totally missing. There are also often limits to the number of containers you can buy of a product, as well. Staples like bread, milk, pasta, and canned beans are most likely to have that kind of restriction.

Because of this, I usually shop weekly, but need to go to two or three stores to find what we need. I am also making sure to keep a two-week supply of food on hand in case we need to quarantine, so I need to have food for immediate consumption and to keep the pantry stocked without compromising our emergency provisions.

We are also trying to give business to our local restaurants that are open for curbside pick-up. We are afraid that some of the local businesses that closed may never re-open, although we were happy that our favorite neighborhood Chinese restaurant, though closed for a few weeks, has now re-opened for carryout.

We have also been enjoying trips to our favorite ice cream stand, Sugar Lips, which makes their own hard ice cream and usually about ten vegan flavors. This is a special place for the lactose-intolerant people in my family. Sugar Lips usually attracts a lot of customers from the university, so we are hoping that the local folks can give them enough business to stay open until the students are able to return to campus.

Today, thanks to our region meeting the criteria for phase one re-opening, I was able to support one of my favorite shops in a nearby town to our west. They specialize in locally made products. I usually buy handmade soaps from them and I’m pleased that I was able to put in an order online. Bonus: they had some multipurpose headband/face masks for sale. Pickup from the store is by appointment. Maybe the next time, they will be able to be open for in-person browsing. I think that might be phase four, with facemasks and social distancing, of course.

Are you having shopping adventures in your area? Please share in the comments.

SoCS: re-opening?

I want to believe that our region’s re-opening of some businesses will not spark more cases of COVID-19.

I wrote earlier in the week about our area of New York State qualifying to re-open certain businesses. As of yesterday, non-essential retail can be open for curbside pick-up. Some construction and manufacturing can start up with appropriate precautions to protect workers. Plans have to be filed with our regional commission to make sure that they comply with CDC and state guidelines. This is stage one of four. All seven metrics that govern re-opening have to be met at all times. If something slips, signalling a possible outbreak, businesses will have to close again until conditions improve.

It’s bothering me that the media are lumping New York State in with the other 47 states that are ending stay-at-home policies. The vast majority of those states have not met the CDC guidelines for two weeks of declining cases, making public interaction much more dangerous. Those states are not trying to contain the virus but to mitigate it.

New York is putting in place a much different strategy. Only those areas of the state that have the virus contained are eligible. There is a requirement to do a certain number of tests weekly and there are contact tracers, so many for every thousand residents, so that if a case is detected, they can quarantine all contacts that have been close to the infected person so that we don’t get community spread. We hope that the testing, tracing, and monitoring will keep the virus contained, allowing more businesses and services to re-open over the coming weeks and months, while protecting public health. If the program is effective, we won’t need to back off and go back to stay-at-home, but we can if infection rates go up. More importantly, we would know that infection rates are climbing before they get out of control. It turns out that the reason New York had so many cases is that the virus was already out in the community months before anyone realized, coming into New York/New Jersey airports from Europe when everyone was thinking that it was only travel to China that was worrisome. Even now, the downstate region is still under stay-at-home for at least another month. The other area of the state that is still under stay-at-home is western New York, including Buffalo.

Because New York State’s plan is so well-thought-out and relies on science and the experiences of other countries in re-opening, I am hopeful that we will be able to protect public health while gradually getting more people back to work.

I am very afraid for the states that are re-opening more haphazardly, which is, sadly, most of them. They didn’t even follow the CDC guideline to have two weeks of declining infection rates before opening businesses. Many places also opened high-risk businesses, such as hair salons and bars, where social distancing is impossible. The experts who model suspected outcomes have all raised their estimates for infections and fatalities because so many states are taking such a risky path.

I’m sad and scared.

I want New York’s path to work. If it does, I want other states to adopt similar plans, so that we can save as many people as possible from illness and death.

Is that too much to ask?
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday is using the word “want” within the first three words of the post. Join us! Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/05/15/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-may-16-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!
https://www.quaintrevival.com/

New York’s reopening plan

I’ve posted several times about how my state is handling the pandemic. Unlike many other states, New York State has taken a methodical, metric-based approach.

The whole state has been under a program called PAUSE, which is a stay-at-home order for all but essential workers and shopping for necessities. Starting on May 15th, certain regions of the state that have met the criteria will be moving into phase one of four for re-opening certain businesses.

My region, the Southern Tier, is qualified to re-open companies with worker and customer safety plans in place in construction, manufacturing, delivery/curbside pick-up retail, wholesale, agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting. The region needs to continue to meet the criteria each week, including testing and having contact tracers available. If criteria continue to be met, other businesses will open in phases. If the statistics show an outbreak is developing, the phased-in businesses will close until all the criteria are again met.

The state has a website called New York Forward, which has up-to-date information about the plan and the current status of each region. There is more information about the phase-in of businesses here. For those who would like more detail, there are many different pages and sections available on different aspects of the plan from the New York Forward main page link above, as well as a 50 page book, which includes some history, the basics of the plan itself, and future goals.

While there are no certainties in dealing with the pandemic, I am reassured that there is a detailed plan with metrics based on science and the experiences of other places dealing with the virus. It’s also good to know that there is continuous monitoring of the situation so that we can adapt the implementation as needed.

For the good of our state and the health and well-being of our residents, I hope the plan works well. If it does, I hope other governments will be able to use it as a template for their own plans.

We are better off if we make thoughtful, science-based decisions. This pandemic has shown how connected the world is. We all need to cooperate if we are ever going to end this diesase.

New York State and plans

Every day, I listen to Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York give his daily coronavirus briefing and take questions from the press.

I am definitely not alone.

I often watch through Facebook Live, so there is a comment stream during the briefing. While some of the people are, like me, New York residents, many others tune in from other states and countries. While there are some trolls, many people thank Governor Cuomo for his candid, factual presentation and his compassion. There are always some calls for him to run for president. I admit to having the occasional, totally improbable political fantasy that both the nominating conventions decide to choose a governor who has handled the pandemic as well as possible to run for president, so that instead of Trump versus Biden, we would have, say, Hogan versus Cuomo. Not going to happen, but I, for one, would breathe easier if it did.

This is a big week for New York State. Our current stay-at-home order expires May 15 and it is expected that some regions, including the Southern Tier where I live, will qualify to enter phase one (of four) for expanding what businesses and services may be opened and under what circumstances. There are a number of criteria to meet before being eligible, including at least a two-week decline of new cases, hospital and intensive care unit availability, and testing and contact tracing capabilities. All the businesses have to have plans in place for safe working conditions and customer delivery protocols. If COVID-19 cases start to increase, the state will go back to its prior level of operations until conditions improve again. The New York plan is based on medical science and the experiences of other countries and cities around the world as they try to increase economic and social activities after outbreaks of the virus. For reference, businesses like hair salons and dine-in restaurants don’t re-open until phase three.

Because of the planning and vigilance of our state government, I feel relatively secure that New York will be able to protect public health while gradually opening more and more public and private entities. I remain very worried, however, about the majority of states who are re-opening without even having had a decline in the number of cases. Indeed, right now, if you take New York out of the national statistics, you find that while New York’s infection rate is on a steady decline, the rest of the country is still on the increase. In addition, some countries that had contained the outbreak, such as Germany and South Korea, are having to back off with some of their re-opening of businesses because their case numbers are rising again.

I am hopeful that our region and other New York State regions that qualify will be able to move forward with our slow and thoughtful plans while still protecting public health. If that happens, I hope other states and countries will study our approach and adapt it to their regions.

With over four million confirmed cases world-wide, we need the best practices devised and enacted as soon as possible around the world.

balance

I’m opting to use the Just Jot It January prompt today, which is “balance.”

A large company in our area used to promote the concept of work/life balance.

They don’t anymore.

Now it is work/life “integration.”

This seems to mean that the employee is supposed to squeeze the rest of their non-work life and responsibilities into gaps in their work life. It also means that work can lay claim to what used to be personal/family time, such as evenings, weekends, and vacation, expecting monitoring of work email and helping to address problems over the phone.

I don’t think this is good for the employees, their families, or the business. It’s easy for workers to burn out and that is not good for anybody.

Let’s try to get back in balance.
*****
Join us for Just Jot It January! Today’s pingback link is here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/01/25/jusjojan-2019-daily-prompt-jan-25th/
More information and prompts here: https://lindaghill.com/2018/12/31/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2019-rules/

the return of a local institution

For many years, a favorite destination in our area has been the Cider Mill. Every year, from August sixteenth through December first, they make doughnuts and cider for sale. On weekends, they make plain, powdered sugar, and cinnamon doughnuts, and on weekdays, they add chocolate frosted with or without chopped peanuts, maple frosted with or without chopped walnuts, and vanilla frosted with or without shredded coconut. They also sell pies, cookies, jams and jellies, and, once they are in season locally, candy apples, winter squash, and many varieties of apples.

When they are pressing cider, you can walk back and observe them prepping, crushing, and pressing the apples to extract the cider. There is a chalkboard telling which types of apples and in which proportion that day’s cider contains.

In a bit of a strange twist, the Cider Mill is also home to a local professional theater company. The former apple storage space has been transformed into a cabaret-style performance space which mounts a seven-play season with each play running for three to four weeks.(People especially love concessions at the fall plays because they can get fresh cider, hot or cold.)

While the opening day is supposed to be August 16, most years the owners try to get ready and open earlier.

Daughter E, who, mind you, is five thousand miles away in Hawai’i, told daughter T yesterday that Cider Mill was opening today. Note: she is much more attuned to social media than her mother.

So, today, for the first time ever, T and I went to the opening day at Cider Mill. It was amazingly busy with long lines and separate areas for ordering and checking out.

Of course, we bought fresh cider and doughnuts.

Because they were so busy and because it is quite warm and humid, the doughnuts were being frosted and sugared when they were still quite warm. I put our doughnuts out on a rack in the kitchen so that they can finish cooling and so that the frosting didn’t adhere to its neighbor.

Once they are throughly cool, I’ll put them back in their waxed bakery bag to await tomorrow’s breakfast.

Although chocolate or maple frosted doughnuts also make a mighty fine dessert…

The “Confidence Gap”

The last several years in the United States have seen a number of articles, books, and studies about why women remain much less prominent than men in the upper echelons of business and government.

Some put the onus on women themselves for (variously) taking time off or cutting back responsibilities at work to tend to family, lack of self-confidence, and lack of ambition.

Research has made clear, though, that our country and our businesses, which we all like to think are meritocracies, are in fact, not.

What research has found in brief:
Women in the United States have been graduating from college at a higher rate than men and often have higher skill levels.
Though women are more skilled, they are also more likely to be humble. Men tend to exhibit a confidence level that they can’t actually back up with their skill set.
Despite this, managers tend to promote confident but less-competent men over more-humble but more-competent women.
If women adopt behaviors that are more confident, even when they have the skill set to back it up, they are viewed negatively, considered pushy, bossy, etc.

While women have been blamed for not being confident or ambitious enough, the bottom line is that the system is executed in a way that favors male-prevalent behavior patterns and penalizes female-prevalent ones, while also penalizing women who adopt more stereotypically male behaviors.

We need to stop blaming women and start changing corporate practices. Make assignments and promotions on the basis of demonstrated skills, not on who talks a good game. Actively solicit ideas and opinions from everyone on the team. Organize work hours in a way that helps people to manage their other responsibilities to family, community, etc. This is not just a women’s issue. Men also need to juggle multiple commitments.

To continue in the current mode is a waste of some of the knowledge, skills, and talents that women can bring to our companies, organizations, and government.

It’s (past) time for a change.