Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Vaccine opponents scatter the herd

Is there anything more predictable than the hue and cry from committed anti-COVID vaxxers that, pandemic or no, they have the right to make their own immunization decisions and it’s none of the government’s business?

(More predictable, that is, than my admittedly shallow wish every Oscar night Frances McDormand would, just once, put a little color on.)

Yes, yes, anti-COVID vaxxers; we hear you. Your body, your choice. Talk about your strange bedfellows…Calm down. No one is going to hold you down and try to dab just a little Papaya Pop by Clinique on your naked lips. Sorry, that was about Frances again. No, what I meant to say was, if you insist on not getting vaccinated, you don’t get to say you’re “waiting for herd immunity to kick in” because, uhhhhhh, without you that will never happen. I mean, frankly, at this point, we’re not all that crazy about y’all coming along but we have no choice. Just sit in the back seat and try not to talk.

Objections to getting jabbed include deep concerns about “just what exactly is in that vaccine.”

This has led to some pretty funny memes about how these “my body is a temple” folk question the vaccine while happily noshing on fast food “chicken” and washing it down with “red” soda containing approximately 4,786 “ingredients.”

If you really want to see the hair-on-fire anti-vaccine crowd get worked up, start talking about “digital health passes” which used to be called “vaccine passports” but that seemed too elitist and apparently called to mind priority gold boarding and liberals in first class with their support parakeets and whatnot. The objection seems to be you can’t have the guvmint having access to your health information. (Note: It already has all that stuff, ya big silly.)

I don’t mind the notion of a digital health pass if it means I no longer have to keep up with my flimsy paper vaccine record. It already has ketchup stains from an unfortunate proximity to a delectable platter of tots. First world problems, amiright?

I’m always amused at how vaccine critics carp about erry little thing with the rollout when you consider how much has been accomplished by the scientists in just one year. It’s almost unfathomable, like Frances McDormand’s prison matron gown. Honestly, what was she THINKING?

This is like whining to God about the degree of lushness in the Garden of Eden: “Frankly, big guy, you could’ve added more mandevilla because pops of color are super important. (Are you listening, Frances??) and all these waterfalls? Too noisy. Honestly, I hate to denigrate your handiwork, but it just seems like you could’ve done more in a WEEK.”

And like the “I don’t know what’s in it” argument, the objection to having privacy compromised by digital health passes seems a tad ironic considering all the bloviating is happening via the super private, absolutely tamper-proof environment of… social media. What could go wrong?

But back, for a sec, to the notion of herd immunity. The thinking here seems to be when those of us who are vaccinated wake up in a few months with a baby arm jutting from our foreheads, the unvaccinated will be juuuuust fine. Also mildly amused because, well, baby arm.

Like I said, without y’all, it’s going to be impossible to get to herd levels. You’re like the bandits hiding behind the rocks in an old Western. You try to steal the cattle, but you shoot your guns, spook them til they scatter and everybody loses.

Now we learn some anti-vaccine folks are buying fake vaccination cards online. Look, it’s one thing to refuse the vaccine because you fear for your health, safety, privacy…whatever. But PRETENDING you’re vaccinated so you can travel, etc.? Man, that’s some serious bottom-feeding right there.

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].

NC’s governor lifts most statewide pandemic restrictions

Governor Roy Cooper

After months of reminding the public to mask-up and keep their distance, Governor Roy Cooper announced Friday that North Carolina would be lifting its gathering limits, social distancing requirements, and indoor mask mandate in most circumstances.

The news comes one day after the Centers for Disease Control announced Thursday a shift in federal guidelines, allowing fully-vaccinated Americans to shed their masks both indoors and outdoors.

“This is a big step forward in living our lives the way they were before the pandemic,” Gov. Cooper said.

There will continue to be an indoor mask requirement on public transportation, in childcare settings, schools, camps and in certain public health settings.

Just over 51% of the state is now partially vaccinated  and 45.5% are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Click below to listen to the governor explain why they are making this change now:

The governor acknowledged that there are those who are unvaccinated who may use this as an excuse to stop taking safety precautions.

“Get vaccinated now. And if you won’t listen to me, ask your doctor. Do what your doctor tells you,” the governor urged.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said her department remains committed to its expansion strategy — making the vaccines readily available statewide.

State officials had hoped to lift the restrictions when 66% of North Carolinians had been partially vaccinated.

And while that milestone is still a long ways off, Cohen believes the state can reach its goal with the help of the business community.

HHS Sec, Mandy Cohen

“Some are offering incentives to their own employees to get vaccinated – time off, some are offering bonus pay,” said Dr. Cohen. “We’ve already heard about free donuts, free beer. I really appreciate businesses stepping forward and helping us raise awareness and incentivize folks getting a vaccine.”

Even with today’s shift, NCDHHS is recommending businesses post signage reminding guests to socially distance and wear a face covering if they are not fully vaccinated, and remind employees to self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.

It’s worth noting that businesses may choose to continue to require that their customers wear masks.

Masks will still be strongly recommended by the state for everyone at large crowded indoor gatherings such as sporting events and live performances.

And for the time being masks will be mandatory in schools.

“Just starting yesterday (Thursday) our 12-15 years are now eligible. They are starting to get vaccinated, but we know it is going to take some time. That still leaves a large population of our student body unvaccinated.”

Cohen said the state will follow the CDC’s guidance while working to get as many shots in arms as possible.

“This is a virus that has been with us for over a year now. It is going to continue to be with us,” she cautioned.

Click here to read Gov. Cooper’s Executive Order 215 lifting many of the COVID mandates.

NC needs to invest in child care assistance if we want to get people back to work

The COVID-19 pandemic has put child care access and affordability front and center. Working parents and early childhood educators have always known how important child care is, but now the need to shore up and transform our early childhood education system is front page news. On Mother’s Day weekend, an op-ed in Raleigh’s News & Observer argued persuasively that if our state really wants to recognize and support North Carolina moms, we need to expand access to child care subsidies.

A look at the data shows just how far North Carolina has to go in order to support eligible families with young children. The average annual cost of care for an infant attending a child care center in the state is $9,650, over $600 more than the current in-state tuition at the University of North Carolina. That’s more than one-third of the state median income for a single mother.

The state’s child care subsidy program uses state and federal funds to cover most of these costs for eligible families, and is a lifeline for working parents who are lucky enough to receive it. But low levels of investment in the subsidy program mean the vast majority of eligible families don’t get access. Generally, children under six are eligible for assistance if their parents are working and their family’s annual income is under 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($53,000 for a family of four). An estimated 226,000 of North Carolina’s children under six are eligible, but the most recent data show only about 38,000 — or 17 percent — received assistance in February 2021. (Another 22,000 school-age children, who are subject to different eligibility rules, also received assistance.)

As the map below shows, the number of eligible children under 6 served varies widely by county. It ranges from just 2% of about 100 eligible children in Hyde County to 37% in Washington County.

Read more

CDC: You can ditch the mask in most places, indoors and out, if fully vaccinated

National and state unemployment insurance data show initial claims return to pre-COVID-19 levels

The release of national weekly unemployment insurance claims data shows that initial claims for unemployment insurance (UI) are 92 percent lower than this time last year in North Carolina.

The continued decline week-over-week similarly points to the continued improvements in the labor market and the important role UI plays in ensuring jobless workers stay engaged in the labor market and looking for work.

“North Carolina’s unemployment system is the first line of defense against people leaving the labor force out of frustration that too few jobs are available,” said Alexandra Sirota, Director of the Budget& Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “For more than 467,000 North Carolinians our state system fell short, failing to sustain them until their job searches resulted in employment.”

New research from the Economic Policy Institute points to the critical role that federal extensions of UI eligibility and the number of weeks have had in North Carolina, as well as the heavy reliance in our state on those programs to stabilize the economy. Federal UI provided more than 80 percent of the unemployment benefits in North Carolina, which went a long way to stabilizing household budgets, local commerce, and state revenue.

In North Carolina, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which reaches those who would otherwise not be eligible for state UI, such as the self-employed or those on contracts, provided wage replacement during the week ending April 24th to more than 83,000 North Carolinians.

UI must be the foundation of the state’s work to ensure people get back to good, family-sustaining jobs. Right now, national data show that despite improvements in the number of job openings economy-wide there are still 12 workers officially counted as unemployed for just 10 job openings. Moreover, well-documented barriers—including here in North Carolina—point to the real barrier of childcare faced by a significant share of the labor force, which makes it difficult for every worker to return to their jobs.

“Unemployment Insurance is one of the most effective tools we have to support the economy to recovery,” said Bill Rowe, Deputy Director of Advocacy at the NC Justice Center. “The key is to provide adequate wage replacement for those who have lost employment until the labor market has the quantity and quality of jobs that ensure workers can go back to work.”

Julia Hawes is the Director of Communications for the N.C. Justice Center.