New study finds vaccinations have saved thousands of lives in NC, but could have saved more

A man wears a ‘I Do Not Comply’ pin at a protest against masks, COVID-19 vaccines, and vaccine passports outside the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control on March 13, 2021. Photo by Elijah Nouvelage | Getty Images

Researchers from the Brown University School of Public Health reported this week that COVID-19 vaccinations have saved thousands of lives — both across the country and in North Carolina — but could have saved many more.

More than 1 million Americans have died from COVID-19, and the researchers concluded that nearly one-third — more than 318,000 of those deaths — could have been prevented if more people were vaccinated. North Carolina has suffered more than 24,000 deaths and, as the report notes, more than 16,000 people have died from COVID-19 since vaccines became available in early 2021.

Thanks largely to the Cooper administration’s leadership, North Carolina actually did a better job than a lot of southern states in vaccinating its population, but on the whole, the state’s overall vaccination rate of 61.8% still trails the national average of 67.4%. (The vaccination rate in South Carolina, for instance, is only 56.6%. In Georgia, it’s only 54.9%).

What’s more, according to the Brown report, it’s possible to accurately estimate how many lives would have been saved here if the state had achieved higher vaccination rates.

If our state had achieved an 85% vaccination rate, for example, the researchers determined that we would have seen 5,389 fewer deaths. At a 90% vaccination rate, 6,462 lives would have been saved. And at 100%, the lives saved figure would have risen to 8,604 — that is to say, more than half of those who died since 2021 could have been saved.

The bottom line: while it’s true that achieving a 100% vaccination rate is all but impossible for any vaccine, the report provides still more compelling evidence that vaccines save lives and that North Carolina leaders did the right thing by combating the lies and misinformation spread by vaccination opponents.

What’s more, it still not too late to make more headway. While recent COVID variants have shown a maddening capacity for infecting vaccinated people, it’s also clear that vaccinations have helped assure that thousands of people have gotten much less sick than they would have otherwise.

Note: A story prepared by Dillon Rosenblatt for the Arizona Mirror helped inform this report.

Anti-gun violence advocates to hold vigil today at 5:30 pm across from the Legislative Building

In the wake of the most recent pair of horrific mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, anti-gun violence advocates will gather in downtown Raleigh this afternoon for a press conference and vigil. Anti-gun violence demonstrations are also scheduled for June 4 and 5.

Here are the details from the good people at North Carolinians Against Gun Violence and Moms Demand Action/Everytown for Gun Safety:

Vigil Tonight — EVENT DETAILS:

Vigil and Community Call to Action for Uvalde, TX Victims

WHERE: Bicentennial Plaza, 1 E Edenton St Raleigh, NC 27601

WHEN: May 26, 5:30 pm

We lead the world with 288 school shootings since 2009. This is unconscionable and it is high time our elected officials do their jobs. Stand with us right now, and RSVP for the press and vigil event. 

Events for Wear Orange, hosted by Moms Demand Action: 

  • Friday, June 3: National Gun Violence Awareness Day. Wear orange, post to social media, and let everyone know! We will have some social media posts that you can copy and make your own.
  • Saturday, June 4: Triangle Wear Orange Community Awareness Day.
    10 am-12 pm, Chavis Park in Raleigh (Baseball Field). This is our triangle-wide, family-friendly gathering. We’ll have a few speakers, kids activities, snacks and drinks, and some calls to action.

    • RSVP is here—if you plan to be there, please make it official. :)
    • Volunteer sign-up—this is where you can volunteer to help out that day. We need help with set-up/clean-up; coordinating kids’ activities (coloring, games, etc.); managing our postcard project; providing support to our community partners, and more.
    • Supplies list—if you can share a table, chairs, tent, cooler, lawn games, or anything that would come in handy at a picnic, please provide that info!
  • Sunday, June 5: Wear Orange Walk coordinated by Rep. Julie von Haefen. We’ll walk through downtown, from the legislature (16 W. Jones Street, Raleigh) to Trophy Brewery. Trophy will supply pizza, beer, and soda to participants. RSVP for the Wear Orange Walk here!All are welcome.

For other Moms Demand Action Wear Orange events across North Carolina: 

Here are details and sign up for the other events.

Census Bureau: NC near the bottom nationally in per-pupil spending

Report reveals the toll that a decade of disinvestment has taken

According to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau, North Carolina continues to lag near the bottom of the pack (44th) nationally when it comes to per-pupil spending on K-12 schools.

In 2020, North Carolina spent $9,958 per student on public education — more than $3,500 (or 26.2%) below the national average of $13,494. Only seven states — Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arizona, Utah and Idaho came in lower. And the advantage over Florida and  Tennessee was very small — just $21 and $62 respectively.

North Carolina’s per-pupil spending was even significantly outpaced by states like West Virginia ($12,375)  South Carolina ($11,532), and Alabama ($10,116). North Carolina came in $996 (or 9%) below the average reported for 17 southern states.

When one adjusts for inflation, the 2020 figure also represented a real dollar decline from the amount our state spent a decade ago, at the start of Republican rule at the North Carolina General Assembly. The per-pupil figure for North Carolina in 2010 — the year GOP majorities assumed control of the legislature — was $8,409. At the time, this was $2,206 (or 20.7%) below the national average of $10,615.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, $8409 in September of 2010 was worth $10,020 in September of 2020 — $62 more than what the state actually spent.

U.S. School System Current Spending Per Pupil by Region: Fiscal Year 2020[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

In other words, not only did the state fall farther behind the rest of the country during the past decade, it actually suffered an absolute decline in the total inflation-adjusted per-pupil investment.

And, of course, this decline took place during a period in which North Carolina was subject to a constitutional mandate to provide every child in the state with access to a sound basic education — something that repeated court orders in the landmark Leandro case have determined requires significantly larger public investments.

The bottom line: While appropriations obviously don’t explain everything, it’s hard not to see this new report as just the latest in a long line of damning evidence that North Carolina is failing its children — especially in this era of large budget surpluses that would make it relatively easy to raise investments to (or even well-above) the national average.

Now, maybe Cawthorn can get the help he needs

Rep. Madison Cawthorn is a troubled young man who needs help.

His supporters? That’s another matter

Western North Carolina Congressman Madison Cawthorn lost his bid for re-election yesterday. The first-term representative who enjoyed the strong support of former President Donald Trump, was narrowly defeated in the Republican primary in the state’s 11th Congressional District by State Senator Chuck Edwards. Edwards prevailed by just over 1,300 votes out of the 88,000-or-so that were spread among eight candidates.

Edwards received 33.4% of the vote and Cawthorn 31.9%. He will now face Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, who won the Democratic primary rather handily, in the November election. The district leans strongly Republican.

As for what’s next for Cawthorn — a 26-year-old right-wing firebrand who has drawn international attention for his outrageous/extremist views and an endless series of deeply embarrassing personal and legal problems — thing look less certain.

With a deep wellspring of far right support and access to the cash that often accompanies such popularity, it figures that Cawthorn may retain some prominence. One presumes that he will be an attraction at right-wing events and, perhaps, in some media circles for — at least for a while.

That said, it’s also hard to imagine that such a deeply confused, troubled, inexperienced, and shallow young person will be able to sustain a high-impact presence in the world of politics or media for an extended period. At some point, you have to think that even the people who’ve bought into his delusions and lies will come to realize just how utterly vacuous this poor fellow is and move on to another bright, shiny object.

All of which, one hopes, opens the door at some point soon for Cawthorn to seek out and receive the sustained mental health care and counseling he so obviously needs. The man has obviously been through a lot in his life and it’s had a very traumatic impact. Perhaps now he can address some of those demons.

As, however, for the roughly one-third of the 11th District GOP electorate that, despite Cawthorn’s myriad lies and inexcusable statements and actions, still voted for him, that looks like a longer-term project.

Donald Trump once infamously bragged that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” without alienating his supporters and Cawthorn clearly tapped into a similar brand of deeply crazy and oblivious loyalty.

One hopes that Cawthorn’s political demise will embolden Edwards and some of his powerful Republican backers (like Senator Tom Tillis) to push back against this delusional extremism that’s infected the party of Lincoln.

Elections watchdog files complaint targeting Justice Phil Berger, Jr. contribution

Justice Phil Berger, Jr.

Bob Hall calls for Board to issue “cease and desist” order to NC for Justice PAC

Veteran North Carolina campaign watchdog Bob Hall filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections today in which he asked for a ruling that Supreme Court Justice Phil Berger, Jr.’s campaign committee made an illegal contribution to a PAC.

Policy Watch will provide additional updates on this story as they become available.

Here is the complaint (click here to read it as a PDF document):

May 16, 2022

Karen Brinson Bell
State Board of Elections
430 N. Salisbury St., 3rd Floor, Dobbs Building
Raleigh, NC 27603

Dear Ms. Bell,

Based on the plain language of NC General Statute 163-278.16B, I am asking the State Board of Elections to rule that the $4,000 sent by Phil Berger Jr.’s campaign committee to NC for Justice PAC is an illegal contribution.

The campaign committee, Berger for Justice, describes the $4,000 payment as a “contribution” and the PAC lists it among “contributions” received. However, NCGS 163-278.16B clearly prohibits Berger for Justice and other candidate campaign committees from making contributions to PACs. The law specifies that candidate committees may only contribute to another candidate committee or to a political party committee or its affiliate or caucus.  If the General Assembly intended to allow contributions to PACs, the law (which was updated as recently as 2018) would have included “political committees” among the permitted recipients of contributions.

Moreover, it would be an act of outrageous overreach for the State Board of Elections to redefine the term “expenditure” as used in NCGS 163-278.16B to include this $4,000 “contribution.”  I recognize it may be difficult for the Board of Elections to rule against actions by the son of state Senate boss Phil Berger Sr. who may retaliate by undercutting the Board’s budget. However, by adhering to the law and rules of legislative construction, the conservative and proper decision is to (1) find that the $4,000 contribution is illegal and (2) order NC for Justice PAC to forfeit the $4,000 it received on April 26 and send it to the Board of Elections for deposit in the Civil Penalty and Forfeiture Fund to benefit public schools in North Carolina.

In a previous complaint, I asked the Board to investigate and penalize the apparently willful failure of Phil Berger Jr.’s campaign committee to disclose who paid the costs of three fund-raising events in 2016. Read more