COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients

In the summer, many vehicles will be on the roads for long travels. During the summer season, auto accidents and injuries can become prevalent. In addition to accidents, drivers and passengers can also experience health issues. Before driving during in the summer, it is important to be aware of the potential dangers that can occur.

With many cars, tractor-trailers, motorcycles, and public transportation systems traveling, there is an increased chance of any auto accident occurring, including rear-end collisions. Since many people go on vacations during the summer, there are also drivers who have been on the road for long period of time. Accidents are more likely to occur when there are many vehicles driving on congested roads. Statistically, there are also more inexperienced drivers on the road during this time, and they do not have years of experience with heavy traffic and auto accidents. As a result, they can have the potential of being involved in an accident if they are not aware of their surroundings.

Tire accidents are common to occur in summer. In fact, the summer season is sometimes referred to as “tire blowout season”. When temperatures are high, roads can become extremely hot. It is not unusual in the summer for tractor-trailers and other vehicles to have tire blowouts, which occur as a result of low tire pressure. Tire tread separation can also cause tire blowouts. In addition to tire blowouts, temperatures can also affect the performances of vehicles. In most cases, it can cause vehicles to use more fuel to operate. To support your car’s engine during the summer months, it is recommended to stay updated on oil changes and other safety precautions. If these factors are not maintained, vehicles can experience internal damages.

In June, the Office of Unemployment Compensation from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry will implement a new Unemployment Compensation system. The primary initiative of this system is to allow applicants to navigate the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s website easier and to complete filing for benefits more efficiently. As a result, people will be able to file claims quickly and have more time and energy to concentrate on applying for new jobs. Unemployment Compensation has been able to provide compensation payments for decades. After around 40 years of using the same system, the Department has decided to implement new changes to better suit people’s needs.

In addition to making the process of filing for weekly and biweekly claims easier, the system will also provide new features. For example, individuals will be able to access a dashboard and message professionals directly using a chat program on the website. The Office of Unemployment Compensation lists that participants will also have the capability to file a new claim, access information about claims, check the status of claims, and the ability to change options on how they can receive communication services and to withhold federal income tax. The Office also states that employers could view information as it becomes available, receive faster response times, and have expert communication about information changes. The current unemployment system sends certain information, such as hearing dates, to individuals on paper through the postal service. With the new system, people will be able to view their notifications and updates online.

The Office of Unemployment Compensation claims that the new program will transition Unemployment Compensation, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, Extended Benefits, Shared Work or Short-Time Compensation, and Trade Readjustment Allowances. Since the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program is provided by the CARES Act, it is considered a separate program and will remain unaffected by the change.

During the winter months, Pennsylvania receives large amounts of snow that usually last for a long period of time. Ice typically follows after snow, which causes roads to be extremely dangerous for drivers. The Federal Highway Administration states that more than 1,300 people are killed and more than 116,800 people are injured in vehicle crashes during snow and ice conditions annually. The chance of causing or being involved in a winter auto accident increases as weather conditions become more severe.

AccuWeather states that there are three common accidents that can occur in the winter, including spin out collisions, rear end crashes, and lane drifting accidents. Icy conditions can potentially cause drivers to lose control and drift off the road or in the opposite lane of traffic. Spin out collisions are very dangerous and any slight movements of the wheel can make the problem worse. It is recommended for drivers to turn the wheel in the direction that they are spinning. Black ice is a transparent layer of ice on roads and paved areas, which is especially dangerous while driving. It is difficult for drivers to see black ice and can potentially cause an accident. In fact, icy roads are one of the top common winter auto accident contributors. In extreme weather conditions, drivers can lose control and crash off the road or into other cars.

Once cars start to slide on ice, they can also slide into other people and cause a rear end crash. Cars should keep a safe distance between each other, especially when driving in the winter. Generally, staying two to three car-lengths away from the car in front is a safe distance. Driving through a snowstorm or blizzard also has many problems. In this occasion, it can be very hard to see the lines on the road. As a result, lane departures can be common. Following tracks made by previous cars can be an easy solution to prevent moving into another lane.

An organization that protects safe and healthy work conditions for employees in the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has failed its mission in a meat packaging plant in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Three workers have filed a lawsuit in a federal court against the agency claiming that they have caused the plant to become dangerous and potentially fatal to all the employees.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an agency of the United States Department of Labor. The organization was created under the Occupational Safety and Health Act by President Richard M. Nixon in 1970. The primary goal of OSHA is to protect employees by observing and verifying that working conditions are updated and safe to work in. However, the government foundation was unsuccessful at ensuring secure environments at a meat packaging franchise. Maid-Rite Specialty Foods is a frozen food manufacturer that produces meat products, such as chicken, pork, turkey, beef, and veal. Recently, their plant in Scranton has experienced an influx of attention, due to its questionable practices.

In July, three meatpacking workers decided to file a lawsuit against OSHA for unsafe working conditions after they failed to respond to the incident previously. The employees stated that the company has produced an “imminent danger” throughout the plant by inadequately implementing codes and procedures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Originally filed in May, the suit states that Maid-Rite did not supply workers with appropriate equipment and failed to implement social distancing guidelines. In response, Maid-Rite reported to OSHA that they are not able to maintain a 6 feet distance between workers on the production lines, but they have provided workers with masks, given them staggered breaks, and performed deep cleanings of the plant. As a result, OSHA closed the case. Since then, one person who spoke out against the manufacturer claims that they did not separate sick workers in the plant, and people failed to tell the company that they were infected. In addition, the employee claimed that Maid-Rite provided workers with an incentive to work by providing bonuses to people who did not miss a day of work. According to public health officials, this decision encourages people to work when they are potentially sick. All the evidence described has led workers to go to a federal court in order to receive changes in their current working conditions.

Famous auto insurance giants are being sued by policyholders for providing insufficient financial relief to motorists during the pandemic. Among those accused include: Allstate, Geico, Progressive, Erie Insurance, American Family Insurance, and The Travelers Company. These well-known insurers are currently facing major allegations by Illinois residents for their inappropriate rebates to financially unstable clients.

During the height of the pandemic, companies issued policies for their employees to work remotely from home. As stated in the lawsuits, miles driven by motorists dropped by almost two-thirds during the spring. In addition, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that the rate of unemployment rose to 14.7% in April 2020. Previously, the rate was 10.3%, which they claim is the highest rate increase in the history of their data records. At this time, the statistics from the United States Department of Labor show that the number of people who were unemployed increased from 15.9 million to 23.1 million. Also, the governor of Illinois, J. B. Pritzker, announced that residents should stay at home to reduce exposure to COVID-19. As a result, people did not have to use their vehicles as often as they previously did.

However, insurance companies did not reduce premiums or rates during the pandemic. Now, multiple lawsuits are emerging against the insurers. In an Illinois Cook County Circuit Court, people protested that high rates have greatly affected their financial status. Although some of the alleged insurers offered some support to customers, it was not a significant amount that would cause the policyholders to drop the case. Clients state that a community State Farm offered its customers a 25% credit during March 20 to May 31 of this year. In contrast, a local Allstate in Northbrook offered a 15% credit for April, May, and June. Consequentially, the lawsuits accuse the companies responsible to be in violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. The legislation protects consumers, borrowers, and business workers against fraud or deceptive actions in trade or business activities. As stated in the lawsuits, the clients expect that as long as the disease continues to spread, the abnormal amount of rebates will pursue.

Popular ridesharing companies are currently facing extreme criticism for an undefined classification of their employees and for providing inadequate wages. People claim that Uber and Lyft are deliberately labeling drivers as “independent contractors” instead of employees. An Independent Contractor status means Uber and Lyft to not need to reimburse drivers for expenses such as mileage and car maintenance, nor are they required to pay drivers minimum wage, unemployment, and sick pay benefits, which as employees they would legally receive.

Uber Technologies, Inc. (Uber) is an American multi-purposeful company that has become a worldwide phenomenon since it was founded in 2009. According to Uber, there are currently 900,000 Uber drivers in the United States, and it is projected that there are about 3 million drivers throughout the world. Uber has announced that there are 75 million riders worldwide, and the company has completed 6.9 billion trips in 2019. Primarily located in the United States and Canada, Lyft, Inc. is another carpooling service that is similar to Uber. With over 1.4 million drivers, Lyft continues to expand its accessibility to clients in both countries. The two establishments employ drivers to offer a variety of services, including delivering food and providing rides for transportation. In fact, a majority of Uber drivers also work for Lyft. As the businesses continue to grow, the debate over the companies’ employee policies becomes more imminent.

The major lawsuits are predominantly occurring in California, where both companies are headquartered in San Francisco. In May, a lawsuit concerning the misclassification of drivers was opened. As a result of the case, a judge has allowed Uber and Lyft to change their classification of drivers as a preliminary injunction. If the companies fail to response to this decision, the judge will prohibit the terminology of drivers as independent employees. As stated by law in California, ridesharing establishments are required to announce their drivers as official employees. Following the previous and current lawsuits, California has updated strict and specific laws for people to be independent contractors. Since then, other numerous lawsuits have surfaced. California’s Labor Commissioner declared that the businesses are being charged for alleged wage theft. Also, they have been accused of not providing certain benefits for their workers that are mandatory under state law. Under the misinterpretation of drivers as independent contractors, they were not required to provide benefits. Now that the term is being viewed incorrectly, Uber and Lyft will have to compensate for the financial losses.

The United States-based travel management company, Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT), successfully completed a transaction with hackers who stole company data and knocked tens of thousands of company computers offline.  The transaction, which was negotiated and agreed upon through a publicly accessible online chat, stated that if CWT were to pay $4.5 million to the hackers within 24 hours of the messages (occurring on 7/27/2020), then the hackers would delete all of CWT’s data from their servers and supply the company with decryption software to restore all computers affected by the hack.

The perpetrators used a strain of ransomware called “Ragnar Locker” to attack the company’s data.  Ragnar Locker is actually able to take the data hostage, encrypting it and essentially making it useless.  The victims of these attacks are then forced to succumb to the demands of the hackers or lose access to the data permanently.  When it comes to large companies like CWT, the data is often extremely sensitive and frequently personal.  Attacks like these put the companies’ data, along with the data of their clients at risk.  CWT is believed to have had two terabytes of files, which included financial reports, security documents and other sensitive data stolen.

CWT claims to have immediately reported the hack to United States law enforcement and data protection authorities, located in Europe.  Despite the swift action, they were left to decide whether to continue risking the data of employees and clients or roll the dice on trusting the hackers to pull through their side of the bargain, and paying the ransom.  Following payment, which was completed using the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, it was reported that the hackers did indeed stick to their word and supplied decryption software.  It is also currently assumed, although it may never officially be confirmed, that they did delete all CWT data from their servers.

Last month, Schuylkill County and the surrounding areas experienced an unusual and plentiful amount of rain; however, one small borough received a little more than most. With a population of just over 700 people, the main street of Gilberton was transformed into a river of eight feet of water. Since the water levels were progressively rising, multiple people had to evacuate their homes into boats to get to safety.

Officials reported that the peculiar amount of water was partially the result of construction and clogged drainage pipes on a bridge in the town. They believe that the bridge and its piping system was unable to contain the rushing waters of the Mahanoy Creek, which caused Main Street to flood. Gilberton’s drainage and piping system was severely damaged. Eventually, six pumps from New Jersey were used in draining the water levels and are currently serving as the primary way to move water through the town. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), an agency that supervises issues of transportation for the state, was working on construction for the bridge before the flooding occurred.

Local towns and organizations partnered together to supply the residents of Gilberton with life essentials, such as food, water, and clothing. Organizations, such as veteran groups and Boy Scouts, and businesses, like Lowe’s and Advanced Auto, have donated to the relief fund. Only 3 miles away, Girardville, another small community, donated cleaning supplies to help people restore and disinfect their homes. Items included gloves and cleaners, along with clothes, rags, and non-perishable food. The mayor and residents of Gilberton started a donation drive for the families of the damaged homes. They expect that the town will need a substantial amount of financial help in order to restore the town’s water system and appearance.

As the world nears the end of July, new research declares promising results for the latest Coronavirus vaccines. There are more than 3,800,000 confirmed cases in the United States and more than 14,700,000 cases worldwide. The public has been waiting patiently for a vaccination; however, there are multiple steps that must be completed before a vaccine is deemed effective.

Before a vaccination is permitted for public-use, there are several steps and guidelines in order to ensure its success. First, the vaccine must be developed and studied before it can be tested on people. At this stage, the vaccine is considered “preclinical”, which means that it is being changed and updated frequently. There are more than 100 vaccinations that are in this stage, and only 18 have moved to Phase I of the testing stage. Researchers will begin testing a small group of people to monitor the dosage and efficiency of the vaccine. As it becomes available to pass to Phase II, more participants from different ages are involved. Essentially, the trials are expanded from Phase I and are studied more closely in the following phases. The Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) has declared that the vaccine must protect at least 50% of all vaccinated participants to be labeled “effective” and succeed to the third and final phase of testing. Phase III incorporates testing thousands of people from different age groups and monitoring their results. Once the test trials conclude, official regulators will review the results and determine whether the vaccine will be approved for commercial use.

Oxford University and AstraZeneca, a global bio-pharmaceutical company, have recently conducted a trial for their prototype vaccine. Researchers have published their data in a general medical journal, The Lancet. Their test vaccine consists of a combination of genetic material from the Coronavirus and a modification of the Adenovirus, which causes mild respiratory illnesses. They tested 1,000 participants between the ages of 18 to 55 in their trial. Overall, the vaccine was mostly accepted by the participants tested; some reported that they experienced mild symptoms, such as fatigue and headaches, but there were no severe reactions.

Have you noticed your go-to beer or soft drink is hard to come by or completely unavailable?  It may not be coincidence; as the COVID19 pandemic continues to rage across the United States, shortages of a multitude of supplies have occurred.  Everyone remembers the toilet paper panic of March and April, the lack of available Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the beef shortage at fast food restaurants like Wendy’s, and the general uneasiness these shortages and others like them gave us.  However, July has seen the rise of new shortages, most notably: aluminum cans.

You may have seen articles online or news segments that are discussing other prominent July shortages due to COVID19, such as coins or lumber; however, aluminum cans may make the greatest impact on the average American.  As COVID19 impacts rose, many Americans sought to bulk up on goods stored in their homes.  In doing so, consumption of products, including beers and sodas, shifted away from bars, restaurants, and convenience stores, which rarely utilize aluminum cans, and moved towards multi-pack products often purchased for domestic consumption.  These bulk-based products frequently feature aluminum-canned items.

This newfound demand for aluminum cans is pinching supplies for some drinks, and creating a significant disparity between supply and demand.  This disparity has sent the can industry into a tizzy, as manufacturers have already announced plans to build three new manufacturing plants in the next 18 months. Ball Corporation, a popular North American can maker, has also pledged to open two new manufacturing plants in the United States and add two additional production lines to already existing factories.  The corporation had seen an uptick in can demand from specialty drinks like hard seltzers and sparkling waters.  They also noted that the environmental upside of cans, combined with the rise in popularity of newly canned drinks and COVID19 impacts, has created “unprecedented demand and short supplies” of their coveted aluminum product.

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