GOP balks at White House request for billions for public health, natural disasters, Ukraine

Richard Burr needs to explain himself to North Carolinians

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) (Photo by Greg Nash- Pool/Getty Images)

Maybe North Carolina’s senior U.S. Senator, Richard Burr, has already checked out.

Burr, who’s never really been known as a workaholic, has already been censured by his own party for having the temerity to vote to convict Donald Trump during his second impeachment trial, and has just a few months left in his third Senate term.

And given such a set of circumstances, one supposes it’s entirely possible that, after 30 years in Washington, the Winston-Salem Republican has had his fill of the spotlight and is already moving to wrap things up, and get on with life after politics. A judge’s order recently referred to him as “former Senator Burr.”

Unfortunately for Burr, that’s not good enough — or, at least, it ought not to be good enough — when it comes to the latest revelations regarding his controversial stock sales at the very outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As multiple news outlets have reported, the warrant used by federal investigators to obtain Burr’s cellphone was unsealed yesterday and it reveals some disturbing facts.

This is from a report by CNN:

Sen. Richard Burr avoided about $87,000 of losses when he sold off stock at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a 2020 search warrant affidavit unsealed on Monday.

Investigators said in the warrant that because of his position in Congress, the North Carolina Republican knew about the threat of Covid-19 in February — before public concern of severe economic impacts from the pandemic crescendoed. The Justice Department launched an insider trading investigation into Burr, which eventually concluded without criminal charges.

The warrant affidavit and other court records were unsealed following a lawsuit by the Los Angeles Times.

According to investigators, the senator made a series of “well-timed stock sales” and sold more than 95% of the holdings in his Individual Retirement Account. “As a result of Senator Burr’s sales on February 13, 2020, his portfolio went from approximately 83% in equities to approximately 3% in equities,” the affidavit says.

The story went on to report that Burr “did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.”

While Burr has thus far avoided criminal prosecution (and it appears it will likely stay that way), he badly needs to explain himself and his actions to the millions of North Carolinians he swore under an oath to serve. Maybe he’s got a believable story. The man clearly has at least some moral compass given his impeachment vote.

But unless he speaks up soon (and provides a damn compelling explanation for what appears, at best, to have been deeply sketchy and unethical behavior) he will leave office under a dark cloud and with a badly tarnished reputation as just another  grasping and slimy politician on the make — a man who viewed public service as a means to line his own pockets.

And that would be one heck of a lousy legacy for someone who’s spent most of his adult life in elected office.

CDC endorses updated COVID-19 vaccine boosters for this fall

Schools and state health officials should go beyond CDC guidelines to ensure continued access to in-person learning

The author says North Carolina officials should not let down their guard in protecting public school students from COVID-19. Photo: Getty images

As students returned to school across North Carolina this week, school leaders are facing a daunting challenge: how to academically support students knocked off track by the pandemic while still navigating an ongoing COVID pandemic that puts student and staff health in jeopardy.

This critical challenge is heightened by lack of strong guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and state agencies. Once again, it’s our school leaders who are being asked to serve the role of our community’s leading public health practitioners. Luckily, we now know what steps schools should be taking to protect students and staff from COVID infection. These actions will, in turn, protect the continuation of in-person learning that’s critical for boosting academic outcomes.

CDC Guidelines for 22-23

Federal and state health agencies continue to adopt a lasses faire approach more focused on the short-term health of the economy rather than the long-term health of its citizens. Guidelines have been loosened for this school year despite continued community spread and increasingly grim news about the long-term impacts of COVID infections.

In general, the updated CDC guidance for schools this year consists of loose recommendations rather than mandates. The CDC’s recommendations for schools vary based on a measure called “COVID-19 Community Levels.” COVID-19 Community Levels ranks counties based largely on ICU bed availability. These measures were unveiled by the CDC in in February after corporations complained about worker shortages during the Omicron wave. The measures have been roundly criticized by public health experts, mostly for putting the focus on minimizing hospital bed shortages instead of focusing on limiting COVID transmission, and relying on lagging indicators that only raise alarms after community spread is already at dangerously high levels.

The CDC only recommends universal masking when the COVID-19 Community Levels are high. Students with immunocompromised family members are largely on their own. The guidelines state that such students should wear a mask at medium and high COVID-19 Community Levels, but there’s no requirement to mask placed on their non-immunocompromised classmates.

The CDC no longer recommends screening testing. They only recommend diagnostic testing of students or staff with symptoms or who have been exposed to people with confirmed cases.

Students who test positive are supposed to isolate for just five days and wear a mask for another five days.

Students who are exposed to positive cases are no longer expected to quarantine.

The CDC recommends that schools “optimize ventilation” but provides no mandatory standards. Open windows and outdoor classrooms are only recommended when the school is having an outbreak or when the COVID-19 Community Level is high.

North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services does not place any additional requirements on schools or make stricter recommendations. They simply defer to the CDC.

Why schools need public health leadership

It is both unfair, and bad public health policy, to place these decisions on school officials. Read more

Hit me with your best shot of science

Researchers work in Monoclonal Antibody Discovery Lab at TLS Foundation in Siena, Italy. (Gianluca Panella/Getty Images)

The recent photographs from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope mesmerized millions of Earth-bound mortals, myself included. On display was both the spectacular beauty of deep space and the power and creativity of science.

Shortly after those photos arrived on our timelines did we learn of the uptick in cases of polio in the U.S. On display was an ongoing and by most reports growing skepticism of science.

Framing this dichotomy for me was several weeks in COVID isolation, wondering where my mild to moderate symptoms were going.

Unlike the cold or flu or any respiratory ailment, the coronavirus can play with your mind. A sniffling, sneezing summer cold or a flu bug from hell can make you feel as if you may die. With COVID … well … you know the end of that story. With nearly a million Americans lost to COVID, the deadly degree of separation is small.

On the other side of COVID, I’m left with a singular feeling: gratitude … for the healing power of science, because vaccines and boosters and antiviral medication kept me out of the hospital or worse.

Science, now in the crosshairs from Facebook University Ph.D.s in epidemiology and other online experts, has saved me for over seven decades. This newfound repudiation of lifesaving and life-enhancing has, dangerously, diminished the role and importance of science in many American lives, however. Read more