NORTH CAROLINA'S BEAUTY TRIUMPHS AMID COVID 19: During the next few weeks and months while many of us are “hunkered down,” it is important to remember that the world around us is still beautiful, ever changing, and very much alive. Across North Carolina new wildflowers will pop up every week, different birds arrive and depart each month. Beaches, rivers and forests can provide sanctuary and respite in these difficult times. While we are unable to travel freely, isolated from friends and the natural world, I’ll try to send pictures of North Carolina each week—from Bald Head Island to Cape Lookout, Southport to Currituck, Umstead Park to Pilot Mountain, and from Linville Gorge and Panthertown Valley to the high peaks of Mitchell, Grandfather and Roan.
EPIDEMIOLOGISTS ON WHY SOCIAL DISTANCING IS CRITICAL: Reducing the contact rate means reducing and changing the ways that individuals and populations interact and therefore spread infectious agents. Isolating people with COVID-19 is one way to reduce the contact rate between infected and uninfected people, as is quarantining people who may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. But those strategies work best when you can identify with certainty who has the disease and who does not. In the current situation, when we mostly don’t know who is infected and who isn’t due to testing delays and lots of people about possibly with asymptomatic infections, reducing the contact rate essentially means that the entire population needs to reduce mixing. This, in the absence of a vaccine, which will be many more months away, lever number three is our most effective disease control strategy. Data released this week suggest the majority of the U.S. drastically restricted movement starting in March – except in the U.S. Southeast. Smartphone movement data suggests that many people in Georgia, Louisiana and other southern states have continued to move about their daily lives despite urgent news about the pandemic on the horizon and case counts increasing rapidly. Unnecessary trips to the grocery store, group outings on the beach or interactions with others at the park could mean life and death for someone’s grandmother or diabetic brother, for example. We should be overcautious and assume that those in the street, those in aisles at the grocery store and those passing on the hiking trail are infected.
ALARM, DENIAL, BLAME. THE PRO-TRUMP MEDIA'S CORONAVIRUS DISTORTION: A review of hundreds of hours of programming and social media traffic from Jan. 1 through mid-March — when the White House started urging people to stay home and limit their exposure to others — shows that doubt, cynicism and misinformation about the virus took root among many of Trump’s boosters in the right-wing media as the number of confirmed cases in the United States grew. It was during this lull — before the human and economic toll became undeniable — when the story of the coronavirus among the president’s most stalwart defenders evolved into the kind of us-versus-them clash that Trump has waged for much of his life. Now, with the nation’s economic and physical health in clear peril, Trump and many of his allies on the airwaves and online are blaming familiar enemies in the Democratic Party and the news media. The pervasiveness of the denial among many of Trump’s followers from early in the outbreak, and their sharp pivot to finding fault with an old foe once the crisis deepened, is a pattern that one expert in the spread of misinformation said resembled a textbook propaganda campaign. By the middle of March, the story of the virus on the right was one of how Trump’s enemies had weaponized “the flu” and preyed on the insecurities of an emasculated America. Limbaugh blamed “wimp politics — which is liberalism.” Pollak, whose tone grew more serious, said the virus had spread while Democrats stretched out the president’s impeachment. “We now know the cost of impeachment,” he wrote.
FOOT-DRAGGING GOP GOVERNORS ARE IMPERILING THE WHOLE COUNTRY: Those governors, all Republicans, have been enabled by Mr. Trump, who points to states that don’t yet “have the problem,” and remarks that it’s “awfully tough to say, ‘Close it down.’ ” He favors flexibility and is seconded by Vice President Pence, who says the federal government “will defer to state and local health authorities on any measures that they deem appropriate.” As the White House leads from behind, the effect is to endorse and induce complacency. Faced with a stealthy pathogen that can spread from asymptomatic individuals, or incubate for weeks before a victim falls ill with fever, states are free to delude themselves into thinking the virus has passed them by — until, having bidden its time, it erupts inside their cities and towns. Governors of those states can entertain the illusion of alternative facts, imagining their borders are impermeable. They can, like Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, resist a stay-at-home order for weeks until discovering just this week — surprise! — that the virus is “transmitting before people see signs.” It allows state-to-state gaps in the firewall that will likely encourage a raging disease to erupt in a series of rolling blazes across the country. As many states get tough, even deploying the police to encourage people to stay indoors, their odds of impeding the pandemic’s path of destruction are undercut by their neighbors’ selfishness.
PUTTING JARED KUSHNER IN CHARGE IS UTTER MADNESS: According to Sherman, when New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said that the state would need 30,000 ventilators at the apex of the coronavirus outbreak, Kushner decided that Cuomo was being alarmist. “I have all this data about I.C.U. capacity,” Kushner reportedly said. “I’m doing my own projections, and I’ve gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn’t need all the ventilators.” (Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top expert on infectious diseases, has said he trusts Cuomo’s estimate.) Even now, it’s hard to believe that someone with as little expertise as Kushner could be so arrogant, but he said something similar on Thursday, when he made his debut at the White House’s daily coronavirus briefing: “People who have requests for different products and supplies, a lot of them are doing it based on projections which are not the realistic projections.” Kushner has succeeded at exactly three things in his life. He was born to the right parents, married well and learned how to influence his father-in-law. Most of his other endeavors — his biggest real estate deal, his foray into newspaper ownership, his attempt to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians — have been failures. Kushner, Bernstein told me, “really sees himself as a disrupter.” Again and again, she said, people who’d dealt with Kushner told her that whatever he did, he “believed he could do it better than anybody else, and he had supreme confidence in his own abilities and his own judgment even when he didn’t know what he was talking about.” (Sound familiar?)
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
KATHY REPASS: OUR "AMERICA FIRST" POLICIES ACTUALLY MADE US MORE VULNERABLE: Every “America first” article has concerned me. We’re now seeing the reasons for my angst. As we concentrated on “America first,” the Trump administration abolished the position of our CDC liaison in China, eliminating our inside connection to the onset of COVID-19. Gone was the knowledge we needed to stay ahead of this threat. When America was viewed as a global leader and partner, we helped the world overcome Ebola and SARS, eliminating threats to our homeland while also helping the world. Unfortunately, our current lack of global leadership left us vulnerable. Americans need to do some soul-searching while quarantined. Do we want a president who fires key scientists? Or, do we want a government that’ll ensure necessary offices are reinstated so that we once again become a global leader. Our lives depend on us taking back the reins of international partnership.
TAMARA GREGORY: HELP US CONTINUE TO FEED THE POOR: Shepherd’s Table Soup Kitchen in downtown Raleigh has remained open during this time. We prepare bag lunches and distribute them to our guests outside our facility. Remaining open amid so many closures presents challenges. Most of our partners have temporarily ceased operations or no longer have the excess supply that enabled their generosity in the past. It has created the unanticipated expense of having to purchase bag lunch contents rather than rely on donations from our restaurant, corporate and grocery partners. I invite Raleigh’s civic and corporate leaders and anyone with the means to think outside the box to ensure we remain able to provide our food-insecure neighbors with community and a good solid meal during these hard days. Distance should be no obstacle to sustaining our mission of feeding those neighbors. What will you do to help keep that mission strong?
NANCY MERRICK: THE PRESIDENT'S POSTCARD WAS A SHAMELESS POLITICAL PLOY: I was appalled to receive a postcard from the White House and CDC titled “President Trump’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America.” As usual Trump wants to turn any situation, no matter how catastrophic, into a spotlight moment for him. But now is the time for the spotlight to be on the health care professionals furiously working to combat this pandemic. It is outrageous that taxpayer money was spent on this postcard when all funds should go toward acquiring supplies for our health care workers as they fight to save the lives. The heartbreak is that Trump is appropriating this time of national tragedy for political gain. Please remember this in November. Remove this man from office. The nation is at stake.