U.S. House Dems mull how to address GOP lawmaker’s anti-Muslim remarks

NC Health Secretary Mandy Cohen to depart DHHS, Deputy Secretary will step into leadership role

Sec. Mandy Cohen

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the leading voice of the state’s COVID-19 response, will leave her post as Secretary of the NC Department of Health and Human Services at the end of this year.

News of Cohen’s departure was reported by multiple media outlets just hours before  Tuesday’s briefing with Gov. Roy Cooper and members of the Coronavirus Task Force.

Dr. Cohen, who has two daughters ages 7 and 9, has served as North Carolina’s top health official since 2017.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve this state at such an important moment in history,” said Cohen. “I am grateful for Governor Cooper’s leadership, and I am so proud of what we have accomplished to improve the health and well-being of the state over the last five years. There is much work still to do, and I am so pleased the Governor selected Kody Kinsley to take the baton to run the next leg of this race.”

Governor Roy Cooper praised Cohen’s leadership and tireless work ethic in announcing her departure.

Health and Human Services Sec. Mandy Cohen shares the story of her own daughters getting vaccinated against COVID-19 in this PSA.

“She has worked every day during this pandemic to help keep North Carolinians healthy and safe,” said Governor Cooper. “We are stronger because of her efforts and I am enormously grateful for her service. She has built a remarkable team of talented people.”

Secretary Cohen was awarded the Leadership in Public Health Practice Award from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in September of last year. She was named the 2020 Tar Heel of the Year by the Raleigh News & Observer. Earlier this year Dr. Cohen was also elected to the National Academy of Medicine.

In addition to managing the state’s COVID response the governor’s office notes that Sec. Cohen and her team successfully launched Medicaid managed care, receiving national recognition for the state’s innovative approach to whole-person care, including the integration of physical and mental health and using Medicaid to address drivers of health such as housing, transportation, and employment.

Under Cohen’s leadership, NCDHHS also hired its first Chief Health Equity Officer to focus on reducing disparities in opportunity and outcomes for historically marginalized populations.

Cohen, an internal medicine physician, plans to spend more time with her family while exploring new opportunities.

Kody H. Kinsley

Gov. Cooper has tapped Kody H. Kinsley, who currently serves as the Chief Deputy Secretary for Health at NCDHHS and Operations Lead for NC’s COVID-19 pandemic response to fill Cohen’s position.

Kinsley has been Kinsley has been a leader in North Carolina’s vaccine distribution efforts and overseen the state’s response to the Opioid Epidemic.

Prior to his work at NCDHHS, Kinsley served as the presidentially appointed Assistant Secretary for Management for the United States Department of the Treasury.  He served as both the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer with a broad scope of responsibility for the agency and its $15.5 billion budget.

Kinsley, who will take over the post January 1, will become the first openly gay cabinet Secretary in North Carolina history.

At nearly 600 acres, Pilot Mountain wildfire triggers air quality alert near Winston-Salem, statewide burn ban

At least 15% of one of the state’s most popular parks, Pilot Mountain, has burned in a wildfire, according to state and federal data, and the blaze is still not under control. The fire has consumed more than 570 of the park’s 3,872 acres.

Smoke drifted over US 421 in Winston-Salem Monday afternoon, blown in from fire, which is less than 30 miles north of the city. Extremely fine particulate matter known as PM 2.5 prompted the EPA to issue a a Code Red air quality alert for Surry, Yadkin, western Forsyth, northeastern Iredell, and Davie counties. Code Red means air quality is unhealthy, not only for people with heart or lung disease, but even low-risk groups. The EPA advises people to reduce the time spent outdoors and to avoid strenuous activities, like running.

Red represents areas where air quality is considered unhealthy for both low-risk and at-risk people. Orange designates areas where the air is unhealthy for people with heart or lung disease, including asthma. Yellow shows where air quality is moderate. (Map: AirNow.gov)

Other nearby counties were under a Code Orange, meaning air quality is unhealthy for sensitive people.

The incident at Pilot Mountain in Surry County, is known as the Grindstone fire. Human activity caused the incident, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, although it’s unclear whether it was accidental or intentional.

A campfire started a second blaze, at Sauratown Mountain, in Stokes County, which has charred 40 acres. The NC Forest Service reports that 95% of that fire is under control. Federal data show the cost of extinguishing the fire has exceeded nearly $278,000.

These fires are just two of the 697 reported in November, according to the NC Forest Service — 50 of them on Monday alone. More than 1,600 acres on private and state-owned land have burned.

Extremely dry as well as windy conditions have prompted the NC Forest Service to issue a statewide burn ban, which prohibits all open burning. Violators can be fined $100 plus $183 court costs. Any person responsible for setting a fire may be liable for any expenses related to extinguishing the fire.

More than three-quarters of North Carolina have been classified as abnormally dry or in a moderate drought, according to the state drought monitor. Stokes and Surry counties are listed as abnormally dry, but new data will be released Wednesday morning.

The number of fires this year — 2,801, with nearly 8,500 acres burned– has already exceeded the total for 2020. Last year, the NC Forest Service reported 2,302 fires and 7,829 acres.

These are the locations of all reported wildfires as of Nov. 30. Brown signifies fires that have been contained; the rest are listed as either active or reported. (Map: NC Forest Service)



If it’s Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson must be embarrassing the state again

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson

It’s always a little risky to try and psychoanalyze or diagnose the mental well-being of a public figure from a distance, but one thing is undeniable about North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson: the man has a serious case of homophobia — what Merriam Webster defines as “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or gay people.”

What’s more, Robinson likes to share his affliction publicly.

The latest of what now seem like umpteen incidents involving this deeply troubled man engaging in utterly outrageous and hurtful behavior took place yesterday afternoon, when he publicly confronted and attempted to bully a state lawmaker who courageously spoke in defense of human rights for all people.

This is from a story on WRAL.com:

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson confronted a Democratic lawmaker on Monday afternoon following her speech calling out elected officials who speak out against minorities.

Sen. Julie Mayfield, D-Buncombe, gave a speech that did not name Robinson, but said elected officials should have respect for all their constituents. Senate rules forbid members from criticizing other members by name on the chamber floor.

“My comments were absolutely in response to his very hateful statements against LGBTQ individuals,” Mayfield told WRAL News on Monday night.

After the session, Robinson told … Mayfield…”next time, before you get ready to say something on that floor, come see me.”

The confrontation appeared to be in response to Mayfield’s speech Monday, according to a tweet by Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg…..

“As elected leaders, we have a responsibility to serve all of our constituents. Not just those who look like us, think like us or worship at the same church as us. We are here to serve everyone, even if we may not understand them and even if they didn’t – and never will – vote for us. And yes, even if they love differently from us,” Mayfield told fellow state lawmakers.

Mayfield went on to say that it was “folly” for elected officials to think they could speak in public and separate themselves from their elected office.

Sen. Julie Mayfield

Click here to explore the full story, which contains some video of the confrontation that Marcus captured.

The bottom line: Hardly a day goes by now in which Robinson doesn’t embarrass our state and cause pain and harm to good people. Meanwhile, as is noted in today’s edition of the Weekly Briefing, cowardly Republican leaders who know better stand by in cynical silence and allow this cruelty to continue.

Federal vaccine mandate for health care workers in 10 states blocked by judge

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Enforcement of the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for millions of health care workers was blocked in 10 states on Monday, after a ruling by a federal judge in Missouri.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp affects the states involved in the lawsuit, which include Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and New Hampshire.

The others are North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas, Wyoming and Alaska.

At issue is President Joe Biden’s campaign to ensure that workers throughout the country are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Many private sector employees will be required to get vaccinated or undergo weekly tests, while some 17 million health care providers at facilities participating in the federal Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs must be vaccinated — with no option to choose weekly testing instead.

Under the requirement, health care workers were to be vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022.

In his 32-page opinion granting a preliminary injunction while the lawsuit proceeds, Schelp wrote that the state attorneys general challenging the mandate appear likely to succeed in their argument that federal health officials lack the authority to implement the requirement.

He also agreed with claims from the plaintiffs that health care facilities will suffer staffing shortages due to the requirement.

“The public has an interest in stopping the spread of COVID. No one disputes that,” Schelp, who was nominated by President Donald Trump in 2019, wrote in the 32-page opinion. “But the court concludes that the public would suffer little, if any, harm from maintaining the ‘status quo’ through the litigation of this case.”

In a statement after the ruling, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt described the injunction as “a huge victory for healthcare workers in Missouri and across the country, including rural hospitals who were facing near-certain collapse due to this mandate.”

“While today’s ruling is a victory, there’s more work to be done, and I will keep fighting to push back on this unprecedented federal overreach,” Schmitt added.

Several other lawsuits from states are pending in federal courts, challenging both the mandate on health care workers and the broader mandate on most private sector employees.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday that the administration is “obviously going to abide by the law and fight any efforts in courts or otherwise” to prevent health care facilities from protecting their work forces.