Mecklenburg Co. Manager to suspended, unvaccinated employees: You put yourself in this situation. (with video)

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio didn’t mince words Tuesday when it came to the status of 86 employees who have failed to follow the county’s COVID protocol.

The county announced in August that government employees would be required to show proof of vaccination or undergo weekly testing in September. As of last week, 322 of the more than 5,800 employees were not in compliance.

That number had dropped to 86 by Tuesday.

“And the people who got jammed-up are the people who didn’t read the information, didn’t follow-up, didn’t have a plan, and they got snagged,” Diorio told county commissioners.

Diorio said county workers who have submitted the appropriate documentation are no longer on the suspension list, but will not receive back pay for the time they were suspended. .

“There are people who have not submitted anything – who have not submitted a vaccination card, who have not submitted any information at all. Nothing. They have been silent,” Diorio said. “Those people are in trouble.”

Those employees who have failed to respond now risk termination.

“That’s an indication to me that they’re not going to follow the policy, and that not following the policy is more important than keeping your job.”

To date, 75% of the county’s employees have complied and received the COVID vaccine, according to Diorio. Countywide, 55% of residents are fully vaccinated.

More than 1,100 residents of the county have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Click below to hear an excerpt of Diorio’s remarks:

“None of this belongs in our public schools.”

NC Governor calls for civility as school boards continue to draw fire over COVID precautions

Governor Roy Cooper said he is troubled by the fevered pitch many school board meetings have reached in recent weeks with parents and politicians fighting mask mandates and COVID precautions.

“Threats, bullying, intimidation. None of this belongs in our public schools particularly by adults,” said Cooper at a Tuesday press conference.

The governor said it is a small but vocal minority of adults showing up to fight mask requirements, and his administration is continuing to encourage all districts to keep the mask requirements in place while the spread of the coronavirus remains high.

“Being civil and respectful of others is more important than ever. Let’s behave the way we want our kids to act.”

North Carolina’s COVID-19 cases have been relatively level over the last few days. But the state is averaging 6,000 new cases each day with roughly 900 North Carolinians requiring intensive care unit beds for more than a month now.

Sec. Mandy Cohen

One-third of all COVID hospital admissions in the past week have been in North Carolinians under the age of 49.

“Our hospitals are strained. And in other states we’ve seen care is not readily available for people experiencing non-COVID life-threatening health crises,” cautioned Health and Human Services Sec. Mandy Cohen.

“We don’t want that to be the experience here.”

Secretary Cohen says vaccination remains the best tool for protection against the highly transmissible virus.

While 86% of North Carolinians 75 and older have now been vaccinated, that number drops down to 38% for the 12-17 age bracket.

“Those of us who interact with schools, need to get vaccinated if you are eligible, and need to wear a mask to prevent the spread of virus. Because the more virus that’s circulating, the more that’s going to end up in our schools,” warned Dr. Cohen.

While the focus remains on keeping students in the classroom for in-person learning during the pandemic, the governor said local districts can present a virtual option to the state school board before October 1st for consideration.

On Tuesday, Gov.Cooper also issued an open letter to the state’s faith community seeking their help in getting more people to roll-up their sleeves and get a COVID shot.

The letter encourages the faith community to sponsor events at their houses of worship and become “vaccine ambassadors.”

The letter reads in part:

Direct your congregation and faith community to trustworthy sources about COVID-19  vaccines, like doctors, other medical providers, and the NCDHHS website YourSpotYourShot.nc.gov. Good people are being misinformed. As a trusted spiritual leader, you can help those who have questions get accurate information. Help educate your community on why  and how to get vaccinated by:
• Posting and sharing vaccine information in common and highly visible areas in your house of
worship.
• Sending a letter or email to your congregants sharing resources that provide accurate
information about vaccines and encouraging people to avoid sharing misinformation on social
media.
• Talking to your congregation about why our faith calls upon us to protect our health and those
around us be getting vaccinated.
• Adding a message encouraging people to get vaccinated to your organization’s voicemail.

The appeal to churches comes as the latest CDC map still shows all North Carolina counties in the red zone with the highly transmissible Delta variant.

Editorial: Time for GOP-leaders to drop irresponsible rhetoric, racially-motivated voter ID laws

The Winston-Salem Journal’s editorial board offers a strong rebuke in its Tuesday edition of the ongoing push by conservatives in the legislature to muscle through a voter ID requirement.

Last week a North Carolina court struck down the legislature 2018 voter ID law, noting it was “would not have been enacted in its current form but for its tendency to discriminate against African American voters.”

Here’s an excerpt from the Journal’s editorial:

The decision will be appealed, but it’s only one of several voter ID cases moving through the courts. No such law is likely to be instituted before the 2022 election, which is good for people who prefer their elections to be free and fair.

Republicans have said voter ID laws are needed to build public confidence in elections — the public confidence they’ve been actively undermining for a good decade or more — and to prevent voter fraud — the widespread voter fraud they consistently fail to prove exists.

The idea of a voter ID requirement, in and of itself, may not be objectionable — especially if it actually does help restore voter confidence. (Telling the truth, that Democrats sometimes win, also would help.) But there were multiple problems with this law.

For one, many terms in the law were left undefined, like what types of IDs would be accepted and who would make those decisions. Those factors could be manipulated by whatever party is in the majority for its own gain.

But the biggest problem, as the court says, is that this law aimed to suppress the votes of Black citizens, who vote more heavily for Democrats — and not for the first time. It’s an echo of the Republicans’ 2013 election law, which a federal appeals court slapped down for being riddled with “racially discriminatory intent” to target Black residents with “almost surgical precision.”

Last week’s decision was welcomed by Kevin Farmer, the chairman of the Forsyth County Democratic Party. “The courts saw through the lies and hypocrisy and ruled accordingly,” Farmer told the Journal’s John Hinton.

His counterpart, Kenneth Raymond, the chairman of the Forsyth County Republican Party, disagreed.

“I’m not going to tiptoe around this,” Raymond told the Journal. “The Democrats hate the voter ID law because they want to be able to easily cheat during elections.

“Why do they even bother to hide behind accusations of racism. Everybody knows they cheat.”

Ah, yes, the mysterious but ubiquitous “everybody” and the effective but untraceable “cheating.” Is this the “everybody” that says vaccines aren’t effective, despite the absence of the vaccinated from overflowing hospitals? Is it the “everybody” that says John F. Kennedy Jr. is still alive, or that former President Trump will be reinstated to office next week?

Despite all the fanciful claims, Republicans have consistently failed to prove widespread voter fraud in court. The charge exists only through a series of self-serving anecdotal tall tales.

On top of that, Republican officials who run elections in disputed states such as Georgia and Arizona continually assure us that no widespread voter fraud occurs.

Raymond’s rhetoric is not only unrealistic, it’s highly irresponsible. With increasingly violent rhetoric and actions rising in right-wing circles because of such claims — Jan. 6 comes to mind — responsible leaders need to calm the waters, not churn them more with baseless, sour-grapes conspiracy theories.

Raymond might want to consider that Republican assertions that elections are rigged are probably keeping a number of their own supporters from casting votes.

Republicans don’t have to go down this route. There are GOP leaders who insist on integrity and adherence to reality, even if it means short-term election loss. They believe that the GOP should get ahead by promoting their conservative message and expanding their voter base.

Those are the leaders who deserve followers — and the leaders North Carolina needs to take us into the future.

Read the full editorial online in the Winston-Salem Journal.

To avoid possible legal action, Union County resumes COVID quarantine measures

Union Co. Board Chair Melissa Merrell

The Union County Board of Education reversed course Monday, one week after rescinding COVID-19 quarantine measures and contact tracing for students and staff.

Dr. Many Cohen, state Sec. of Health and Human Services, advised the school board last week that their action posed an “imminent threat of serious adverse health consequences.”

Dr. Cohen made it clear in her letter the district could face legal action if it failed to protect the public’s health.

On Monday, a more subdued board issued a statement clarifying that the district will adhere to the quarantine measures directed by the State and local health departments. The new policy also shortens the duration of quarantine, based on further testing or if they are asymptomatic.

Masks will remain optional for all students and staff.

Here’s an excerpt of the new policy:

According to state law, our local health department has taken over primary responsibility of contact tracing and has reduced the length of the quarantine period of asymptomatic individuals, I move that:

  • UCPS will continue to follow its legal obligations of reporting positive cases to the local health department and providing relevant information to the local health department;
  • UCPS will require students and staff who are symptomatic or who have tested positive for COVID-19 to stay home in accordance with state law;
  • UCPS will recognize quarantines, in accordance with state law, of students and staff who are considered close contacts with a COVID-19 positive case.

Based on this motion, UCPS will continue adhering to the quarantine measures directed by the State and local health departments. However, if a student or staff member has been identified as a close contact to a positive case, they will not need to quarantine for 14 days if they remain asymptomatic, rather their quarantine period will be shortened to 10 days and could be shortened to 7 days if the individual has received a negative antigen or PCR/molecular test on a test taken no earlier than day 5 of quarantine. During the quarantine period, students will not be allowed to come to school. When a student or staff member returns to school after 10 or 7 days, they will need to wear a face covering through the 14th day.

Rev. Jimmy H. Bention, Sr. was the only member to vote against the new policy.

“This motion will cause healthy children to be sent home. I vote nay.”

Union County has 352 active COVID cases involving students and staff with 1,822 in quarantine, based on the most recent data on school district’s dashboard.

Click below to watch the board make their decision:

Expert: It’s not about masks or freedom, it’s about grandstanding and branding for Cawthorn

Professor Chris Cooper

Chris Cooper, a distinguished professor of political science at Western Carolina University, offers a must read assessment of Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s visit to the Johnston County School Board meeting this evening. Professor Cooper rightfully questions why the freshman congressman would travel 300 miles outside of his own district to weigh in on a local school board decision. The answer: political aspirations and cash.

As Cooper explains in today’s column cross-posted from Old North State Politics:

If all goes according to plan, this evening Republican member of Congress Madison Cawthorn will speak at a Johnston County School Board Meeting and ask the board to reverse their decision to require face masks in schools. According to a flier advertising the event, Cawthorn will park at either the fast food parking lot “in front of the outlets” or Becky’s Log Cabin Motel in Smithfield and join a few hundred protestors to fight for “PARENT’S CHOICE on masks, vaccines, and CRT in schools.” Robby Starbuck, a congressional candidate from Tennessee who once produced the official video for the Spongebob Movie will also be offering his advice to the 7 member school board in Johnston County.

Madison Cawthorn addressing Macon County supporters over the summer.

If you’re thinking that this seems a little… geographically puzzling, you’re right. Johnston County is located in the 7th congressional district, whereas Cawthorn represents the 11th congressional district. To get from Smithfield to Cawthorn’s home in Henderson County, head West and in about four and a half hours (assuming you don’t need to stop for gas or a bite to eat), you’d finally enter the friendly confines of Hendersonville, NC. Along the way, you’ll pass through 6 other congressional districts.

So, why would a member of Congress drive hundreds of miles out of his district to join a political novice from Tennessee and a few hundred other protestors to weigh in on a school board decision that doesn’t fall under even the most generous view of congressional power?

Not to sound too meta, but the primary answer is that we’re talking about it. And by “we” I don’t just mean the readers of this blog, but rather everyone who covers, follows, or practices NC politics. Cawthorn’s trip to Johnston County has been covered in media outlets across the state, and has spawned enough Twitter traffic to rival an early season Duke/UNC game. The attention is the point. And it’s working.

If the attention is both the means and the primary end, then fundraising is a secondary goal–and one that will likely be successful. Cawthorn raised over $1.7 million through June 30 of this year—a sum that dwarfs the receipts from established Republican members of Congress like Patrick McHenry and Virginia Foxx. When the fundraising numbers are revealed from September, 2021, I’ll bet you a beer (or ginger ale if that’s more your speed) at any North Carolina brewery that the Johnston County event will spark a pop in Cawthorn’s fundraising—a cash infusion that would come in handy for any candidate, but particularly one with Cawthorn’s burn rate.

It also seems likely that Cawthorn’s political aspirations extend past NC-11, making this out-of-district attention grab a little less confusing that it would be for a member of Congress who has no intention of running in higher office. In four years Cawthorn will be 30 years old and eligible to run for the US Senate, an office that will be up for election in 2026. While the Senate incumbent Thom Tillis’ stature within the Republican Party would stop most Republican members of Congress from seeking the seat, Cawthorn has not been shy about criticizing Republican party leadership and recently called Tillis “a terrible campaigner and a complete RINO” [Republican in Name Only]. It’s not much of a stretch to think that Cawthorn has his eyes on that seat.

Cawthorn’s social media branding also reinforces the notion that a trip to Johnston County, while not helpful to his NC-11 constituents, may play into larger, statewide political aspirations. His Twitter handle is “CawthornforNC,” not “CawthornforNC11” or “CawthornforWNC.” While this might be dismissed as a coincidence or a small detail that should be ignored, Cawthorn’s behavior and decision-making suggests that one thing he is unusually attuned to is branding. After all, he built his team around “comms, not legislation

In the end, Madison Cawthorn’s visit to a school board meeting hours away from his home will not further his legislative goals or move the policy needle for constituents in his district, but it will further his brand as a national political figure who is, in his own words, “probably the furthest, most conservative person in Congress.” And that, is precisely the point.

Chris Cooper is the Madison Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs at Western Carolina University. He tweets at @chriscooperwcu