- Associated Press
Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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March 9

The Greensboro News & Record on relaxing COVID-19 restrictions:

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has substantially relaxed COVID-19 restrictions for bars, restaurants, nightclubs and sports venues, among others.

But some people still grumble that it’s too little too late.

Maybe they should move to Texas?

Fresh off a monumental bungling of the state’s electrical grid that plunged millions of Texans into the dark in bone-chilling cold, Gov. Greg Abbott apparently was looking for what he could screw up next.

So Abbott declared victory over COVID-19 in his state, where an average of 7,000 new cases and 232 deaths were being reported daily.

Abbott has issued an executive order that completely lifts the state’s mask mandate and allows all businesses to reopen “100%.”

The order takes effect today.

Abbott triumphantly proclaimed: “With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs,” Abbott said, “Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus.”

Just as it had the tools to keep Texans warm and safe.

As of a week ago, only 6.8% of Texans had received both doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

The CDC and other health experts were none too pleased, advising strongly against the lifting of mask mandates in both Texas and elsewhere.

Some exasperated Texans were not happy either.

The phrase “I hate it here,” began to trend on Twitter after Abbott’s announcement.

But Texas has company.

Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Mississippi and West Virginia all announced significant loosening of COVID restrictions during the first week of March.

Governors are invoking the mantra of “individual responsibility.”

“We no longer need government running our lives,” Abbott said. “Instead, everybody must continue to assume their own individual responsibility to take the actions that they have already mastered to make sure that they will not be contracting COVID-19.”

That kind of thinking makes sense when you’re talking about, say, seatbelt or motorcycle helmet laws.

In those case, those individuals alone would suffer the consequences of their actions. They alone would take the risk of sustaining a catastrophic brain injury or hurtling through a car windshield. (And yet we still have seatbelt and motorcycle helmet laws in North Carolina, though no bicycle helmet requirements for adults.)

It doesn’t work that way with a highly infectious disease.

Your personal choice not to wear a mask can harm others, as well as yourself.

The lifting of mandates also places pressure on businesses to enforce the rules on their own and can encourage defiance by people who don’t want to comply.

“This is the second time that our state leadership has put us in a bad position by reopening too early,” an Austin chef, Michael Fojtasek, told the Austin American-Statesman. “We had made some progress, and now it’s all going to be walked back.”

Further, why let down our guard so near to the end of this global crisis?

More and more Americans are being vaccinated against COVID-19. As of Tuesday, 92 million doses had been administered, reaching 18.1% of the population. More vaccines are being made available, and more places to get them are being established, including a federal mass vaccination site at Four Seasons Town Centre that opens today. A site for college faculty and staff in Guilford County at opens Thursday at UNCG.

In light of this progress, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday released new guidelines that permit vaccinated people to gather indoors with others who have had COVID shots without masks or social distancing.

Still, the CDC also cautioned Americans to still wear masks and socially distance in public settings, even if they’ve been vaccinated.

The upshot: With an end to this crisis within sight, why risk setbacks with premature reopenings?

Why defy the advice of the CDC?

Why ignore the threats posed by new strains of the virus?

Why play the role of the reckless hare to the health experts’ more deliberate tortoise?

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg may have put it best on Twitter: “You don’t cut off your parachute just as you’ve slowed your descent.”

Yet, here we are, near the end of a long, scary and confounding nightmare, and some of our leaders are behaving like a scrum of Walmart shoppers at midnight on Black Friday.

Online: https://greensboro.com/

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March 8

The Winston-Salem Journal on monitoring mental health during the pandemic:

The story of Nicholas Navarre is heartbreaking.

The 15-year-old Atkins High School sophomore, with many friends and a wide variety of interests - with all the enthusiasms and hopes of the average teenager - suffered greatly after his school closed down a year ago. On Feb. 12, he took his own life.

He’s not the only one to choose this way out - and others are contemplating it even now. It falls to all of us who can to do what we can to prevent further deaths of despair.

Nicholas’ parents, Bob and Ana, have been sharing his story - including with the Journal’s Lisa O’Donnell, who wrote about Nicholas on Sunday - to raise awareness about the effects of the isolation that many children have been experiencing during the pandemic. It’s a lesson every parent needs to hear.

“These are the times in their lives when there’s a transition from being dependent on parents and caregivers to independence. It’s a time where socialization and being with friends and being in a group, whether it’s part of the band or choral society or sports or the computer geeks, and identifying yourself with that group, is very important,” Andy Hagler, the executive director of the Mental Health Association in Forsyth County, told the Journal. “It’s a part of who they are. And the pandemic and its effects run counter to that.”

Fortunately, there’s help for struggling teenagers, from parents, school system authorities and others.

“There should be no student struggling in silence. In any case where we have a student who is struggling socially, emotionally, mentally, behaviorally, in any way, we’ve got systems in place to support them,” Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Tricia McManus told the Journal. “That doesn’t diminish the fact that some of our kids are having challenges, and that’s concerning to me.”

To us all.

Hagler offered suggestions to parents to help teenagers who are struggling that include setting up routines of sleeping, eating and studying - with plenty of breaks. Outside activities and visits with friends while maintaining social distancing can also be helpful.

Physical activity can be of great benefit.

Most of all, Hagler says, “Trust your instincts.” If children seem vulnerable, make an appointment with a primary care doctor.

Bob Navarre’s message to parents is this: Tell your kids this is temporary.

We’re all familiar with the intensity of teenage emotions, uninformed by the experience that comes with the span of decades. It may be hard to understand that things change and there are better days ahead.

They may need constant reminding.

They definitely need people to listen to their concerns.

It’s not just teenagers who are under emotional and mental stress at this time. As stated in a letter in today’s Readers’ Forum, many long-term care residents have been isolated in ways that affect them physically and emotionally. The result in some cases has been deaths from what is called “failure to thrive.”

And many we would never guess, who are operating in some semblance of normalcy, are also affected emotionally by the pandemic.

We don’t begrudge the necessity of shutting down businesses and educational facilities during this crisis to starve the virus of victims - the death tally could have been much higher than it is today if government officials hadn’t taken action.

But as we learn more, if we can find safe ways to alleviate people’s suffering, we should take advantage of them.

And as vaccines become more and more available - have you scheduled your shot yet? - we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

There are more struggles ahead before life returns to - dare we say “normal”? We’ve got a long way to go yet. But where we are now - it’s only temporary.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Online: https://journalnow.com/

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March 5

The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer on the effects the pandemic has had on learning:

Vaccinations of teachers and declining COVID cases are making it possible for schools to resume in-person instruction, but getting back to more effective education will take more than having students reenter the classroom.

Months of virtual learning necessitated by the pandemic have created a learning deficit. Many of the state’s 1.5 million public school students have received no or sporadic in-person instruction since March of 2020. Now students will not only be coming back, they’ll need to readjust and catch up.

“It’s been a lost year of learning,” State Superintendent Catherine Truitt told the state Senate Education Committee this week. She noted that the students who have lost the most were those who were already struggling before the pandemic.

The depth of the learning deficit was clear in statistics presented to the committee. Twenty-three percent of students attending district schools are at risk of academic failure. End-of-course tests for high school students taken in January showed the majority of students failed the Math 1, Math 3 and biology exams. There was a slight improvement in reading.

Tammy Howard, director of accountability services at the Department of Public Instruction, cautioned that the decline must be taken in context. The widespread and long-running suspension of in-person instruction was an unprecedented disruption and the real significance of the academic decline may be that remote instruction kept it from being worse.

Schools deserve credit for what they were able to do under difficult circumstances, but still there are serious consequences for the academic progress and the mental health of students cut off from their teachers and the social life of school. They experienced emotional strain and some endured stressful situations at home where their parents had lost jobs or were away at work.

Now all the effects of the long disruption are coming back to schools that already had staff shortages and building needs before the pandemic. The schools needed then – and now need more - teacher assistants to provide intensive small group instruction. School counselors, nurses and psychologists were in short supply before and are now more urgently needed to help prevent the temporary loss of time in school from having long-term effects on students.

“Now we’re back into the school buildings and all of the glaring things that were there before definitely need our attention now,” said Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators.

Republican state lawmakers have addressed part of the learning deficit with House Bill 82, which calls for school districts to offer six weeks of summer school instruction, especially for students in need of remedial education. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, a primary sponsor of the bill, said at a news conference, “We know these kids are falling behind. We know this is something that, if we don’t do it right, North Carolina will pay for it for decades.”

That’s a good start, but it would also be good to hear Republican proposals for boosting school support staff, improving computer and textbook supplies and renovating school buildings to improve ventilation, which reduces the risk of COVID infections.

Gov. Roy Cooper has long supported increasing school staff. He also wants to repair and modernize school buildings as part of an infrastructure bond. His press secretary Dory MacMillan, said, “Governor Cooper has urged all schools to return to in-person learning to help students catch up, but many of the challenges these students face existed before the pandemic. Our public schools need significant, long-term investments to support our most at-risk students.”

Kelly of the NCAE said North Carolina, despite the setbacks of the pandemic, is now in a position to not only reopen schools, but improve them.

“North Carolina has fared well. We have rainy day fund. The budget is in better shape,” she said. “Our budget reflects our priorities and if students are our priority, our budget should reflect that.”

Online: https://www.newsobserver.com/ & https://www.charlotteobserver.com/


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