Commentary, COVID-19

New report: U.S. should take these steps to get the virus under control

One fervently hopes that things will be in a better place come January of 2021, but for those looking to get a feel for the kinds of policies a Biden administration might implement if they’re not (or that a Democratic administration might have put in place had one been in power in early 2020), be sure to check out a new report released by the progressive Center for American Progress today.

In “A New Strategy to Contain the Coronavirus,” a team of CAP analysts lays out a straightforward and common sense plan that’s based on the successful experiences of Japan and some states in the American Northeast. As the report makes clear, there’s nothing particularly radical or magical in the recommendations. What they call for is a redoubling of our national effort in several basic areas of public health policy that were never adequately pursued. This is from the introduction to the report:

“After states rushed to reopen their economies in late spring, coronavirus cases began to surge across most of the United States. At the same time, states in the Northeast have experienced declines in COVID-19 cases, deaths, and hospitalizations. Despite having been the epicenter of the U.S. cases throughout the early spring, this region now has a relatively low degree of new case incidence, even as transmission of the virus accelerates in other parts of the country—particularly in the South and West. (see Figure 1)

Public health experts agree that the rush to end stay-at-home orders without meeting public health benchmarks and the politicization of mask-wearing have created this surge. This report analyses the timing and scope of reopening measures to determine which specific actions were more likely to be the reason for the latest spikes. In particular, the following factors appear to be why the Northeast has had more recent success than the rest of the country in slowing the spread of COVID-19:

  • The timing and duration of initial stay-at-home orders
  • The timing and scope of reopening economic activity
  • Individual behavior and local culture, which may have been influenced by local COVID-19 risks early in the pandemic and reinforced by local policy choices

In particular, this analysis finds that a key policy difference between the Northeast and other states is the timing of reopening bars and indoor dining, combined with the adoption of mask mandates before the lifting of stay-at-home orders. In addition, this report briefly compares these findings with the experiences of other countries, focusing on Japan’s successful approach to cluster-based contact tracing and public education.

Given this evidence, other states and the federal government must at a minimum work to quickly replicate these conditions throughout the rest of the United States. In addition to mask mandates, federal economic support directed to high-risk businesses and their workers can keep those companies financially viable, protect workers’ health and pocketbooks, and slow the spread of the virus.

The need for both the first and second wave of business closures was never inevitable. Like other countries around the world, the United States could have prevented high levels of community spread through swift and aggressive measures such as testing and tracing or promoted the adoption of personal hygiene habits such as social distancing and mask-wearing. Unfortunately, the federal government’s failure to act early on in the pandemic and states’ decisions to reopen too rapidly mean that targeted closures are again critical to controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the United States. This approach of targeted closures and attacking clusters is what is needed at a minimum in areas with substantial spread—but ultimately, local stay-at-home orders may also be needed to create the conditions under which this strategy could work.”

The report concludes by advancing four basic, but proven effective recommendations to limit the spread of the virus:

  • Closing indoor dining and bars, with the federal government providing these establishments critical financial support to cover fixed costs and keep workers employed
  • Monitoring and imposing greater restrictions on potentially high-risk venues such as gyms and places of worship where people generate higher levels of droplets and aerosols
  • Implementing mask mandates, publicizing the rules, and ensuring that all residents—especially lower-income individuals—have access to masks at no cost to them
  • Adopting cluster-based contact tracing

Let’s hope our national and state leaders are paying attention. Click here to read the report.

Commentary

Higher education group blasts new scheme for selecting UNC System chancellors

UNC System President Peter Hans.

As Policy Watch reported two weeks ago, the UNC Board of Governors is considering a controversial change from new system president Peter Hans to the way the chancellor selection process will work at the system’s various campuses.

This is from reporter Joe Killian’s story:

“Hans’ proposed change would allow the UNC System president to add up to two candidates to search process. Those candidates would go through the same interviews as other candidates, but would automatically move forward as part of a slate of finalists for the position. In effect, the president would have the power to both insert candidates into the search process without approval from the board of trustees, those candidates would become finalists for the positions whether or not the board of trustees approves and the president would then choose a final candidate from those finalists.”

As Killian also reported in July, the proposal received a negative response in some quarters – including from some members of the Board of Trustees at East Carolina University, who expressed a concern that such a switch could pave the way for a politically-connected candidate without other obvious qualifications (like North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore) to secure the chancellorship at the Greenville campus.

Yesterday, one of the state’s leading higher education nonprofits, Higher Ed Works, also weighed in with an editorial criticizing the proposal.

Here’s the conclusion to an unsigned essay entitled “Why bother with a search if outcome is decided?” that the group posted yesterday:

“The move would disenfranchise campus Boards of Trustees – again, why go to the trouble to conduct a national search if two finalists have already been chosen? – and strip trustees of ownership in who leads the campus. Trustees have already bristled at the proposal, saying it could politicize chancellor searches.

Further, it would stifle applications from external candidates if they think the search is biased toward internal candidates.

North Carolina’s public universities have been blessed with good leadership and can only benefit from the broadest possible pool of applicants.

Some – like recently retired UNC Charlotte Chancellor Phil Dubois and his predecessor Jim Woodward – came from outside the UNC System to lead its most rapidly growing campus. So did current NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson.

As [UNC Board chair Randall] Ramsey recently noted, the Board of Governors can already return a campus’s recommendations to trustees if it doesn’t like its choices – and has done so.

The President has the same prerogative. There’s no need to make his or her recommendations a self-fulfilling prophecy – the recommendation alone should send a strong signal.

Republicans once billed themselves as the party of local control – “investing authority in the level of government closest to the people.”

That would include trustees at the 17 campuses of the UNC System. So let’s have faith in those local leaders – who are primarily appointed by the Board of Governors – and not dictate their choices to them.

Developing a pool of prospects makes good sense. But mandating the choice of finalists is overkill.”

Click here to read the entire essay.

Commentary, News

Another conservative state opts for Medicaid expansion

The walls are closing in on the conservative politicians and their apologists in the right-wing think tanks who continue stand in the way of Medicaid expansion under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. That’s the only conclusion one can draw after yesterday’s vote in deeply-red Missouri.

As Politico reports this morning:

“Missouri voters on Tuesday approved Medicaid expansion to many of the state’s poorest adults, making their conservative state the second to join the Obamacare program through the ballot during the pandemic.

The Missouri ballot measure expands Medicaid to about 230,000 low-income residents at a time when the state’s safety net health care program is already experiencing an enrollment surge tied to the pandemic’s economic upheaval. The measure was supported by 53 percent of voters.

…Missouri becomes the sixth Republican-led state where voters have defied GOP leaders to expand Medicaid, just weeks after Oklahoma voters narrowly backed the program. No state has ever voted down such a ballot initiative in recent years, underscoring the popularity of Medicaid expansion even in parts of the country hostile to Obamacare”

Yesterday’s vote leaves North Carolina stuck in a small and shrinking group of holdouts that includes eight states from the old Confederacy, three mostly rural Midwestern states and the nation’s least-populated state (Wyoming). As has been the case in so many other areas of societal progress in recent months, it seems now as if it’s just a matter of time before obstructionist politicians like North Carolina legislative leaders Phil Berger and Tim Moore stand aside and get on board with expansion or face the prospect of voters making the decision for them.

Commentary, COVID-19, Trump Administration

Editorial: Trump and science

In case you missed it, be sure to check out this morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com. In “Trump, magnificently incompetent,” the authors do a great job of exposing President Trump’s almost pathological aversion to science and its vital importance to the well-being of modern society.

As the editorial notes, we know what real science is, what it can do and what it can produce, and we witnessed it again in a powerful way this week when engineers launched a new mission to Mars.

“In real America, scientists and engineers used real facts, real math, to launch the Mars rover ‘Perseverance’ atop an Atlas V rocket early last Thursday morning on a 64 million-mile trip to arrive at the Red Planet in February 2021. It was a flawless launch. Watch the video here.

The mission Perseverance is about ambition, innovation and embracing the future. Exploration of the Jezero Crater located in a basin slightly north of the Martian equator will seek REAL evidence of past microbial life and test out conditions for possible human exploration.”

Unfortunately, as the editorial also points out, President Trump has given repeated indications that he just doesn’t get this basic reality. Instead of championing real science, Trump champions nonsense and fantasy. The latest example: his decision to lift up the COVID-19-related comments of a troubled/delusional doctor from Texas:

“Facebook, YouTube and Twitter removed several versions of another video that Trump re-tweeted about dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic because it violated policies on false data and misinformation. But there’s an archive of the video here and a transcript here.

The ‘very impressive’ doctor turns out to be Stella Immanuel of Houston, Texas. She is a doctor, who says that there is demon sperm and the uterine condition “endometriosis” is caused by sex with demons during dreams. She spouts fiction and myth.”

When Trump was asked about the Immanuel’s bizarre claims during a press conference, he simply walked out.

As the editorial noted in conclusion, we must do better as a nation:

“We reject backward thinking that embraces the false premise of the ‘good-old-days’ and where hunches, guesses, myth and phony facts lead to impulsive, dangerous unproductive actions.

We choose an ambitious and innovative America where technology, research, evidence and planning calculates risk to produce bold and decisive success.”

Amen to that.

Commentary, News

Faith leaders join lawmakers and more than 34,000 citizens in calling for release of Ronnie Long

Image: Adobe Stock

Last Friday, an interfaith group of 38 religious leaders called on Gov. Cooper to commute the sentence of Ronnie Wallace Long.

Long’s story is a profoundly disturbing one. An all-white jury convicted Wallace, who is Black, of sexually assaulting a white woman in Concord, N.C., in 1976.

For more than 44 years Long has maintained his innocence, and it is now known that exculpatory evidence was hidden from Long and his attorneys at trial and that law enforcement officers testified falsely under oath. Long is represented by the Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic.

The faith leaders supporting Long include the Reverend Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, President of the North Carolina NAACP, and the Rev. William J. Barber II and the Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign. Their letter is the latest of a growing number of calls on Governor Cooper to free Long.

This is from the letter sent by the faith leaders:

“Numerous issues undercut the case on which the State secured Mr. Long’s conviction. Neither Mr. Long’s defense nor the jury knew that forty-three fingerprints were found at the scene, none of which matched Mr. Long’s. Nor did they know that the prosecution possessed an untested rape kit. The victim’s identification of Mr. Long was obtained through leading techniques, and his appearance was inconsistent with her initial description of the attacker. These are only a few questions among the many—including the lack of physical evidence implicating Mr. Long—that continue to cast doubt on his conviction forty-four years later.”

The letter from faith leaders came just days after a group of 16 North Carolina lawmakers wrote the governor urging him to commute Long’s sentence, and more than 34,000 people have signed a Change.org petition demanding Long’s release. This is from the lawmakers’ letter:

“The 1976 prosecution is emblematic of North Carolina’s all-too-familiar history with criminal cases drawn along racial lines: an all   -white jury, without the benefit of existing evidence that would have cast doubt on Mr. Long’s guilt, convicted a  Black man suspected of raping a white woman.”

Remarkably, Gov. Cooper has not yet exercised his authority to grant clemency since taking office. If this pattern holds, he would be the first North Carolina Governor in more than forty years to complete a term without granting clemency to a single person. Let’s hope he changes course in this important case.