Feds: Florida, Missouri, Texas account for 40 percent of all COVID-19 cases this week

WASHINGTON — Amid a rise in infections and hospitalizations from the surging delta variant of COVID-19, the Biden administration is boosting money and other assistance to the hardest-hit areas of the country.

This week, just three states with lower vaccination rates — Florida, Texas and Missouri — accounted for 40 percent of all cases nationwide. One in five cases occurred in Florida alone.

Federal public health officials on Thursday announced $1.6 billion in money from the pandemic relief package approved earlier this year will be used to increase testing and mitigation in high-risk group settings, like homeless shelters, substance abuse treatment centers and prisons.

Another $100 million will be sent to rural health clinics, to pay for more vaccine education and outreach in communities that generally have seen the slowest vaccine uptake.

As they send more resources, federal health officials emphasized that those spikes in infections and hospitalizations typically are occurring in regions that have the lowest rates of vaccination.

“If you are not vaccinated, please take the delta variant seriously,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a press briefing. “This virus has no incentive to let up, and it remains in search of the next vulnerable person to infect.”

Federal “surge response” teams have been working with governors and local public health officials. They’ve provided technical expertise on genetic sequencing, data analysis, and outbreak response to Missouri, Illinois and Colorado, said Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator.

In North Carolina, FEMA will be deploying mobile vaccination clinics, Zients said.

FEMA and Department of Health and Human Services staffers have been on the ground in Nevada to assist in the COVID-19 response, and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra visited on Thursday to check in on the mitigation efforts.

The national vaccination campaign did dramatically curb the virus’ spread by late spring, but vaccinations have stalled across the country, with 68% of U.S. adults having received at least one shot.

There are wide variations regionally, and the number of infections and hospitalizations has begun to rise again as the more contagious delta variant surges. The seven-day average of U.S. cases has gone up 53% compared to the previous seven-day average, according to data from the CDC.

Hospitalizations are up 32%, and deaths have risen 19%. Ninety-seven percent of those cases are occurring among the unvaccinated, according to federal health officials.

But there may be shifting views toward the vaccine in areas of the country that have been most reluctant. In the past week, five states with the highest case rates — Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, and Nevada — had higher rates of people getting newly vaccinated compared to the national average, Zients said.

While some parts of the country have begun to reconsider or reinstate mandates on wearing face masks amid the surging cases, CDC officials so far are not calling for any changes. The agency’s recommendations say unvaccinated individuals should wear masks, and that those who are vaccinated can do so at their own discretion.

New poll: North Carolinians overwhelmingly oppose eliminating corporate income tax

Last month the North Carolina Senate passed a bill that would eliminate the corporate state income tax over five years, beginning in 2024.

New polling, released Thursday by progressive policy group State Innovation Exchange, (SiX) shows North Carolina voters overwhelmingly oppose such a change.

The poll, of 800 registered voters in the state via telephone and online between July 6 and July 11, found 66 percent against completely eliminating the state income tax.

That view held across the political spectrum with 59 percent of Republicans opposing the change, 74 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of Independents. Of those who voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, 58 percent opposed the change. Among supporters of President Joe Biden, 76 percent were opposed.

“It’s something we saw across the board, across parties,” said Nida Allam, state director for SiX. “People want to see more investment within North Carolina communities. They don’t want to see corporate taxes being eliminated.”

Allam, who is also a Durham County Commissioner, said the polls shows North Carolinians realize the impact that could have on investment in public education, infrastructure and essential services.

TargetSmart, the firm that conducted the poll, has done similar surveys in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota. Ben Lazarus, the company’s director of research solutions, said the polling on this issue appears to be consistent across the states.

“It happens to be one of these rare circumstances where it’s really bad policy and really bad politics,” Lazarus said.

In North Carolina, Lazarus said, respondents strongly opposed cutting the corporate income tax whether they were told the annual five-billion-dollar cost or not.  Sixty-eight percent of respondents who were informed of the cost opposed it, as did 66 percent of those not given the information.

“The polling shows that people want to see that money put into schools, roads, a lot of other good things that help working people,” Lazarus said. “They don’t want to see corporate taxes cut.”

See the  poll results, including information about methodology, here.

 

A North Carolina social studies teacher makes the case for teaching the truth about history on national television

A North Carolina social studies teacher appeared on MSNBC’s REIDOUT on Wednesday to discuss accusations that he’s biased for teaching the realities of slavery.

Rodney Pierce teaches at Red Oak Middle School in Battleboro, where he incorporates the history of local lynchings, slavery and Confederate monuments into lessons.

Pierce, who worked on the state’s new social studies standards, has been accused of being politically biased and obsessed with slavery by some parents.

“If you do not teach the history of slavery in the United States, then you are not teaching the history of the United States,” Pierce told host Jonathan Capehart.

Rodney Pierce

Pierce and Capehart stressed that the educator’s views were his and not the views of Nash County Public Schools, the district where Pierce works.

Pierce’s appearance on the nightly news program to discuss the Republican-led, national backlash against Critical Race Theory comes as North Carolina lawmakers consider House Bill 324 to restrict what students can learn about the nation’s racial past.

As a result of parent’s complaints, Pierce said he had to show how his lessons are relative to the social studies standards and accompanying “unpacking” documents teachers may use to craft lesson plans.

“Once that connection is made, and the administrators understand that the connection is made and that what is being taught is covered by that, they’re supportive of it, and parents usually understand at that point,” Pierce said.

Kristie Puckett-Williams, a civil rights activist and the Smart Justice manager for the ACLU of North Carolina, told lawmakers last week  that measures such as HB 324 will have a “chilling effect” on educators’ ability to teach important parts of American history.

The former social studies teacher of the year was recently featured in the progressive news magazine Mother Jones. He discussed the parents’ accusations in an article titled “The Moral Panic Over Critical Race Theory is Coming for a North Carolina Teacher of the Year.”

As Policy Watch reported last month, Critical Race Theory is an academic discipline that examines how American racism has shaped law and public policy. CRT emerged in the legal academy in the 1980s as an offshoot of critical legal studies.

Fears about Critical Race Theory have spread nationwide in recent months. Many political observers believe the issue could tip the 2022 midterm elections in favor of Republicans, many of whom are still mourning the loss of the White House.

State Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham, vowed last week to keep critical race theory out North Carolina’s K-12 classrooms.

“I oppose it, and I will combat it with everything that I have, because I believe the doctrine undoes the framework that produced the most successful ongoing experiment in self-government in the history of mankind,” Berger said last week.

Educators say the discipline is not taught in schools.

Madison Cawthorn officially flips his lid, promises to “prosecute” Fauci

For those who may have only experienced the frequently outrageous and sometimes downright deranged rants of North Carolina freshman Congressman Madison Cawthorn in print, you’ll undoubtedly want to take a moment to see and hear this deeply troubled and delusional young man in action by checking out the following excerpts from his recent appearance on a right-wing show called “Just the Truth.”

Cawthorn, as you can see, offers the truly bizarre, absurd and frightening assurance that “when” Republicans retake control of Congress in 2022, he [Cawthorn] will “make sure consequences are doled out” to Dr. Anthony Fauci and that Fauci is pursuing his nefarious plot to “lie to the American people” for the purpose of “seeing his name in the news” and to “get fame and fortune.”

As usual, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at the fact that such a confused and malevolent figure is representing our state in the United States Congress, but it must be conceded that when it comes to the congressman’s latter unhinged accusations about Fauci’s supposed motives in working to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Cawthorn is at least holding forth on a subject about which he knows a great deal.

Mecklenburg teacher obtains, publishes comments submitted to Lt. Gov’s education “FACTS” task force

Justin Parmenter

As is his wont, veteran Mecklenburg County public school teacher Justin Parmenter has done the state a valuable service in recent weeks by obtaining and publishing dozens of comments submitted by members of the public to the new “F.A.C.T.S. task force” established by North Carolina’s always embarrassing Lt. Governor, Mark Robinson. (Note to the Lite Guv: you’ve got a typo in the headline on the task force website.)

Robinson, as you’re probably aware by now, has courted controversy throughout his brief political career by repeatedly uttering outrageous comments that make Donald Trump sound like a thoughtful and mild-mannered intellectual. In particular, Robinson has a special affinity for dispensing ignorant, anti-Semitic barbs that would, 30 years ago, have gotten him kicked out of all major political parties and disqualified him from holding high office. His “task force” supposedly represents an effort to, in a manner that would make Joe McCarthy proud, ferret out all the leftist indoctrination to which the state’s diabolical cadre of commie teachers are subjecting their students.

Not surprisingly, the comments Robinson received are unlikely to shake up, much less spur any kind of dramatic overhaul in, the world of public education. Parmenter — God bless him —  went through 506 of them and published some representative samples in a pair of posts on his website, Notes from the Chalkboard.

Click here and here to read them.

As he explained in the introduction to the first post, entitled “Many of the submissions to Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson’s teacher indoctrination portal are just people roasting Mark Robinson”:

Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson launched his F.A.C.T.S. (“Fairness and Accountability for Teachers and Students”) website in March, touting it as a tool to help smoke out the rampant liberal indoctrination that is occurring in North Carolina’s classrooms.

But if you see any smoke, it’s more likely from the copious roasts of the F.A.C.T.S. project and Robinson’s extreme politics that have been submitted through the portal.

After obtaining and reading all 506 F.A.C.T.S. submissions through a public records request, I can report that a significant number of them are complaints from people who see the lieutenant governor’s effort as a shameful political witch hunt or tongue-in-cheek reports intended to mock his project. In addition, many of the submissions are from North Carolinians who more generally object to his homophobic, xenophobic views.

The submissions are not all criticisms and roasts, and they do include a good bit of generic bashing of public schools, wild accusations of teachers being satanic communists, and pleas to end the persecution of white people by Robinson’s fringe base.

And this is from the intro to post #2 (“‘I guess she had the right skin color.’ Complaints to Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson’s indoctrination portal dominated by white racial resentment”):

Many of the 506 complaints to Robinson’s task force come from North Carolinians who appear deeply concerned about what they perceive as a move away from a white Christian-centered system of public education.

These submissions include recommendations to cancel Black History Month, pleas to stop making white students feel guilty by teaching so much about slavery – which one individual remarked “is getting old”– and suggestions to end hiring practices aimed at increasing diversity of school staff.

They provide a helpful lens to understand the real motivation behind moves across the country to restrict classroom discussions on race and various types of oppression under the false pretense of fighting the boogeyman “critical race theory.”

The bottom line: Let’s hope Parmenter and other gifted educators like him who care deeply about providing our state’s schoolchildren with the education they deserve keep calling out Robinson’s nonsense.