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Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


COPING WITH COVID 19 REVEALS SERIOUS BROADBAND GAPS: But that absence of connection isn’t just about fiber. A notable portion of the state’s offline households are also in urban areas, cut off not by distance but by cost. More than 40% of North Carolina households where broadband is available don’t subscribe. Infrastructure isn’t helpful if you can’t afford to use it. “That’s an equity issue,” said Roberto Gallardo of the Purdue Center for Regional Development, speaking at last month’s Forum. “We’re leaving people behind through no fault of their own.” We’re also slowing the rollout of medical technologies that could be especially valuable in moments like this. Kim Schwartz, the CEO of the Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center, spoke at the forum about remote health monitoring that her center uses to track patients with chronic conditions. It allows doctors and nurses to see potential issues in real time, making it possible for them to intervene before a patient has to visit the office. As we all learn the phrase “self-quarantine at home,” that kind of distance monitoring is likely to prove valuable. Unfortunately, it only works for people with good internet and the ability to pay for it, and that leaves out many North Carolinians.

Saturday News: Stay at home

GOVERNOR COOPER TIGHTENS RESTRICTIONS DURING PANDEMIC: Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited, although that limit doesn't apply to shopping centers, medical facilities and airports. Up to 50 people are allowed at funerals. People can go out to buy groceries, pick up prescriptions, visit a health care provider, exercise, care for family members, volunteer to serve the needy or visit a place of worship. "Essential" businesses that can continue to operate include health care providers, supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations, law enforcement, utilities, maintenance workers, human services organizations, farms and other food and beverage producers, banks and insurers, shipping, transportation, hotels, mortuaries and professional services, such as lawyers and accountants. Restaurants can continue to provide drive-thru, takeout and delivery services. Pet supply stores, electronics stores, lawn and garden shops, liquor stores and bookstores that sell education materials also can remain open.

Friday News: On the front lines


AFTER DEATH OF MANAGER, RALEIGH SANITATION WORKERS SEEK BETTER PROTECTIONS: Union representatives sent a letter to city leaders on March 17 asking for more worker protections and for the city to issue a state of emergency. Two days later, Raleigh City Manager Ruffin Hall wrote that the city had since declared a state of emergency and was making strides to protect workers. The union’s suggestions would be included in the city’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. After Grubbs’ death, union leaders sent a second letter to the mayor and city manager. “We believe that if the city had acted swiftly based on the concerns we raised in our March 17 letter, that some of the current safety issues and anxiety from workers could have been avoided,” it said. In a news release, the union said sanitation trucks aren’t being cleaned on a regular basis; workers are violating social distancing by being on one truck; they are only getting two pairs of gloves per week; and there is a lack of “adequate hazard pay.”

Thursday News: Can't wait a month


LAWMAKERS LIKELY TO CALL SPECIAL SESSION FOR COVID 19 RELIEF: A draft bill filed Wednesday would finalize some temporary changes already made administratively by Gov. Roy Cooper in the areas of jobless benefits and tax deadlines. But other changes have to be made by lawmakers, and leaders of the Economic Support working group that met Wednesday signaled they may push for a special session soon. Legislative leaders have said for days the state needs to wait to see what the federal government does before taking action and that no response bill is likely before the regular session resumes. However, Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, said some changes may need to be made immediately. Howard said the most urgent need is to ease the strain on the unemployment filing system as it processes a record number of claims – more than 166,000 thousand since in March 16, far exceeding previous records set in 2009. Allowing employers to file claims on behalf of all of their employees would dramatically reduce the flood of applications, speeding up claim processing for everyone, she said.

Wednesday News: The bottom line

RESTRICTIONS ON ELECTIVE SURGERY FINANCIALLY SQUEEZE RURAL HOSPITALS: Preparing for coronavirus patients is increasing the financial strain on rural hospitals, some already struggling to stay open. Many smaller rural hospitals in North Carolina mirror their larger, metro-area counterparts in preparing for coronavirus patients: making plans to add ICU beds, examining staffing requirements, and preserving gloves, masks and gowns. But the official government request to restrict elective surgeries during the pandemic could add to rural hospitals’ financial pain, said Dr. Roxie Wells, president of Hoke Healthcare. “Immediate funding is needed given the request from [the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services] to suspend elective surgeries,” she said in an email Tuesday. “In many instances, a rural hospital’s bottom line is inextricably tied to the ability to perform elective surgeries.” Pressures of responding to the pandemic could force more rural hospitals to close, she wrote.

Tuesday News: School's out until May 15


GOVERNOR COOPER ANNOUNCES NEW COVID 19 RESTRICTIONS: Cooper issued a new executive order that, starting late Wednesday, would make it a misdemeanor for there to be assemblies of more than 50 people, compared to the current prohibition of over 100. The 50-person limit is in keeping with previous guidance from health officials. President Donald Trump also has urged avoidance of gatherings of more than 10 people. Cooper's order also will direct that by 5 p.m. Wednesday all hair salons, barbershops, gyms, fitness clubs and movie theaters must close, as well as similar business activities that run counter to social distancing. Bingo parlors, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors also are on the closure list. Across North Carolina, restaurants and bars can continue to remain open only for delivery or take-out meals. Grocery stores also continue to operate. Public schools statewide will now remain closed for in-person instruction until May 15, Cooper said. He had already ordered closings of at least two weeks beginning March 16.

Monday News: Back-yard camping?


NC'S NATIONAL FORESTS ARE CLOSING CAMPGROUNDS, TRAILS STILL OPEN: The national forests in North Carolina will close all campgrounds starting Monday until at least May 15, the U.S. Forest Service announced Sunday. That includes dozens of campsites in the Pisgah National Forest, Nantahala National Forest and others. The roads and trails will remain open, but some trailhead facilities, like restrooms, may be closed. North Carolina has at least 307 reported cases of coronavirus as of Monday morning. Mecklenburg County has 80 reported cases, the most in the state. Wake County has 52, and Durham County has 41. Wake County declared a heightened state of emergency on Sunday, putting in place additional measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. The county is closing some public spaces and urging businesses to screen workers for high temperatures. Public gatherings are limited to 50 people.

Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


BURR'S CONTRAST--PRIVATE ACTIONS VS. PUBLIC PASSIVITY IN ADDRESSING CORONAVIRUS: To private donors: "There's one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history," he said. "It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic." In public op-ed: “The United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus, in large part due to the work of the Senate Health Committee, Congress, and the Trump Administration,” they reassured readers. We have since discovered things aren’t quite that way. If he had such confidence as a Senator, why did he on Feb. 13, unload dozens of stocks – personal investments worth up to $1.5 million – that would lose much of their value in the next few weeks? Burr was elected by the citizens of N.C. Seems like it would be his job to call home, sound the alarm to his constituents and help us get ready and push the federal government to get its act together.

Saturday News: Who cares for the caregivers?

SHORTAGE OF PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT PLAGUES U.S. HOSPITALS: With coronavirus cases soaring, doctors, nurses and other front-line medical workers across the United States are confronting a dire shortage of masks, surgical gowns and eye gear to protect them from the virus. In interviews, doctors said they were increasingly anxious, fearing they could expose not only themselves to the virus but also their families and others. Both WakeMed in Raleigh and the Durham-based Duke University Health System have sufficient personal protective equipment, or PPE, for now, officials of the two hospital systems said. "The big concern that all of us have is this issue of the [potential patient] surge," said Dr. Joseph Rogers, chief medical officer for Duke Health. "This anticipation that there may be a large influx of patients who need to be isolated, and the consumption of PPE will then go up significantly."

Friday News: Insider trading


BURR IN HOT SEAT AFTER SELLING OFF STOCKS IN EARLY FEBRUARY: U.S. Sen. Richard Burr sold up to $1.5 million in stocks, including hotel chains, in mid-February weeks before he warned a private group that the coronavirus was “akin to the 1918 pandemic” and warned it to rethink European travel. The stock sales Feb. 13 were reflected on a financial disclosure form filed with the Senate on Feb. 27, the same day he spoke to members of the Tar Heel Circle, a high-dollar membership organization that is part of the North Carolina State Society of Washington, D.C. ProPublica and the Center for Responsive Politics first reported the stock sales. NPR first reported Burr’s comments. Burr was one of three senators to vote against the STOCK Act, a 2012 bill “that explicitly prevents members of Congress and their staffs from using nonpublic information for insider trading,” according to McClatchy reporting at the time. Burr called the bill “ludicrous” and said existing laws already covered it for all Americans, including members of Congress.


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