COVID-19, News

Survey: Americans of color more likely to favor keeping schools closed

Image: Adobe Stock

There is new survey data out today indicating that Black and Latinx Americans are much more likely than white Americans to support keeping schools closed to children during the new school year that is about to commence. The survey was conducted Consumer Reports.

This is from an article the nonprofit posted today:

“For Aundi Marie Moore, a Black mother of two in Bowie, Md., there’s no debate about whether her kids should be returning to school this year during the coronavirus pandemic. “My husband and I decided we’re not going to send our children to school, even if it’s mandated, until there’s a vaccine and the safety and health of our community is put first.” Moore says. “Right now, things just seem too rushed.”

Moore is not alone in her concern. Fifty-seven percent of Black Americans and 52 percent of Hispanic Americans say they think that schools should remain closed and that children should begin the school year taking classes online, compared with 25 percent of white Americans, according to a nationally representative survey of over 2,000 U.S. adults conducted by Consumer Reports in July.

The reasons for this disparity are no doubt complex. Still, CR found some common reasons emerge from interviews with Black and Hispanic parents who were not part of the survey. They include concerns over greater susceptibility to COVID-19, a lack of faith that safety protocols, including wearing masks and social distancing, can be followed and enforced in a school setting, and a feeling that the decision to open schools is inconsistent with other policies in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

That people of color are greatly concerned about the novel coronavirus comes as little surprise. As NC Justice Center analyst Will Munn reported in this space back in May, African Americans have been suffering and dying from COVID-19 at disproportionate rates since the onset of the pandemic. This from Munn’s report:

Historical discriminatory policies and practices, as well as the nation’s failure to value its ‘essential workers,’ have put African Americans at greater risk.

  • African Americans are more likely than white Americans to work jobs — even multiple jobs — that do not offer health insurance. Many of these workers fall into the “coverage gap,” meaning they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to qualify for financial assistance under the Affordable Care Act.
  • African Americans are overrepresented in occupations now deemed essential to the well-being of the nation, such as food service, food production, home health care and nursing home care. These jobs put the people who work them at higher risk for contracting the coronavirus.
  • Neighborhoods and counties with high populations of people of color have fewer health care providers and grocery stores, as well as lower air and water quality due to the legacy of environmental discrimination. As a result, African Americans have a higher rate of conditions that make COVID-19 more deadly, such as diabetes, chronic lung disease and hypertension.”

Of course, there is a perverse flip side to this story in that these same populations — people of color and low income — are also the ones that are generally less well-prepared to cope with online education thanks to the fact that they tend to have more of a need to work outside of the home and less access to reliable internet service and or the devices they need to get online in the first place.

Click here to read the CR story.

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

PW Exclusive: UNC System creating all-campus COVID-19 dashboard not open to public

The UNC System is creating a system-wide dashboard to monitor COVID-19 metrics across the system’s 17 campuses, according to a memo from UNC System President Peter Hans to chancellors of UNC schools.

The memo, obtained by Policy Watch this week, describes a dashboard that would be updated daily for “internal, informational purposes only” and not available to the public. It would be password protected and chancellors would have to request access even for their leadership teams, according to the memo.

The memo, dated August 5, is accompanied by a series of charts marked “confidential draft: not for distribution” which detail which metrics may be tracked.

Josh Ellis, UNC System associate vice president for media relations, sent Policy Watch a statement late Thursday.

“The UNC System issued a draft administrative memo to our campuses providing direction on data reporting to the System Office to assess relevant conditions at our institutions,” Ellis wrote. “The information being collected is public information and nothing in the memo suggests otherwise.”

The memo uses the words “for internal, informational purposes only” in describing the dashboard and says that it will be password protected, for use by chancellors and their leadership teams if they should be given permission.

“Our campuses have, or can choose to have, public facing dashboards with information that is most relevant to monitoring and assessing conditions at each of our institutions,” Ellis wrote.

The memo makes no reference to public-facing dashboards at the university level and does not address whether the info collected daily is to be used in any university’s public-facing dashboard.

“Much of that data is also shared with county or local health departments and collected by the state,” Ellis wrote. ” The UNC System is committed to the safety of our students, faculty, and staff, and providing safe environments to learn, teach, work and live.”

This is a developing story Policy Watch will continue reporting.

Read the memo in its entirety below:

 

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

UNC-Chapel Hill housing policies, density change as pandemic concerns intensify

It’s been a rough week for the UNC System — particularly its flagship campus, UNC Chapel Hill.

First, it was revealed that the Orange County Health Department recommended the school move online-only for the Fall semester and restrict on-campus housing to a bare minimum. The school did not disclose those recommendations to faculty, students or the community and only responded to them when they were reported by media outlets, including Policy Watch.

The school’s lack of transparency was condemned by students, faculty and local elected officials.

On Wednesday evening, UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz defended the school’s decision not to follow the health department’s recommendations at an emergency Faculty Executive Committee meeting.

Instead, he said the UNC System had told campus administration to “stay the course” and continue with their reopening plan. He also touted several lesser measures the school is taking that address the health department’s concerns.  The two largest: reducing full capacity dorms to 64 percent capacity and classroom capacity to 30 percent.

But in a press conference Thursday, UNC-Chapel Hill Provost Bob Blouin clarified that the reduced residential capacity on campus isn’t the result of a plan by the school but the result of masses of students cancelling their housing contracts.

“We thought it would be better if students made the determinations more on their own rather than being directed in one way or another,” Blouin said.

The provost said the administration has been trying to “encourage dedensification of the campus.” Among those have been the “Carolina Away” program allowing more remote learning. It was initially thought a few hundred students might use the program, Blouin said, but somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 are now planning to use it.

But the primary reason the dorms have become less dense is that students cancelled their housing contracts, either because of health concerns or because more of their classes went online.

Allan Blattner, executive director of Carolina Housing.

The extended deadline for getting out of housing contracts without financial penalty is August 7. Students can cancel for any reason.

The school further clarified in a follow up e-mail.

“As outlined in the Roadmap for Fall 2020, all residential students may cancel their housing contract for any reason and without penalty prior to 5:00 p.m. August 7, 2020,” a spokesperson wrote in the email.

“After August 7 or following move-in, whichever comes first, a student-initiated contract cancellation will be accompanied by the standard cancellation costs, and that individual student will receive a prorated credit,” they wrote. “Students who elect a course schedule of remote learning for all classes before the Fall 2020 late registration deadline of August 16, will have no cancellation costs or penalty and will receive a prorated credit.”

“However, if the University moves to fully remote instruction as an off ramp during the semester, the University and Carolina Housing will work with the UNC System to determine whether the University is able to issue housing refunds to residential students,” they wrote.

After that date, any student whose classes are all online can cancel their housing contract without penalty, Blouin said. Students wishing to do so can contact the Carolina Housing via email.

With two dorms being used as isolation and quarantine dorms for those exposed to or positive for COVID-19 there are 7,877 available beds on campus, said Allan Blattner, executive director of Carolina Housing. Right now there are about 4,990 students scheduled to live on campus, Blattner said.

It is not clear the degree to which classroom density, which the university says will be down to 30 percent, is the result of moves to actively reduce capacity or of professors shifting their classes online.

There has been a movement among professors at many UNC schools to move as many classes online as possible as administrators have not been willing to officially move all instruction online.

This week Dr. Mimi Chapman, chair of the faculty council, said she will herself be teaching online-only following the Orange County Health Department’s recommendation.

“I could not possibly do otherwise in the face of such a letter from our local health department,” Chapman wrote to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz in an email Wednesday.

Calls and e-mails to the UNC System and UNC-Chapel Hill for clarification on system and university policies and density reduction measures were not returned Thursday.

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

Unions call for county health directors to shut down in-person instruction at UNC schools in pandemic

Unions and groups representing UNC System workers and professors are urging county health directors from college communities across the state to order universities to close for normal business “until such time as students, faculty and staff can return safely to their work” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The memo, sent Thursday, comes after this week’s revelation that the Orange County Health Department recommended UNC-Chapel Hill go entirely online in the Fall semester and cut on-campus living to a bare minimum. UNC-Chapel Hill administrators did not disclose those recommendations to faculty, students or the community and is not following them.

The President of the UNC System and the UNC Board of Governors will make the ultimate decision about university closings. They have directed the chancellors to follow orders from public health officials but not recommendations.

The coalition of groups sent the memo calling for orders to directors of health in Watauga, Pitt, Pasquotank, Cumberland, Guilford, Wake, Durham, Orange, Buncombe, Mecklenburg, Robeson, Forsyth, New Hanover and Jackson counties.

“Today, we implore each of you, as the experts and stewards of public health in your respective communities that include UNC System campuses, to communicate your own concerns, guidance, mandates, directives and recommendations in explicit terms, directly to university leadership at the campus in your county,” the unions wrote in the memo. “We ask you to send your own thoughts about how, when, and whether to safely re-open campus to the chancellor and other university leadership with whom you are working on this evolving situation.”

“Nobody knows your county’s unique strengths and areas of vulnerability better than you and your colleagues. We are depending on your collective knowledge, experience, and voices to keep our communities safe, healthy, and strong,” they wrote in the memo. “We ask that you do the responsible thing and order universities closed for normal business until such time as students, faculty, and staff can return safely to their work. We speak not only for ourselves, but on behalf of our students, co-workers, families, and neighbors in making this plea. Ultimately it is your guidance, your words and actions that will matter the most as we move forward together.”

The coalition includes NC Public Service Workers Union: UE Local 150; UNC-Chapel Hill American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Chapter; Members of the North Carolina Conference of AAUP; Workers of UNC Coalition

Read the full memo here.

 

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.