Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


Oct. 28

The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer on the rise of coronavirus cases in North Carolina:

Scientists and doctors warned it was coming if stronger action wasn’t taken and here it is – another wave of coronavirus cases. And this one, coming as colder weather keeps more people indoors, could exceed the spike of midsummer.

North Carolina reported a record high of 2,716 new COVID-19 cases Friday. The numbers have averaged above 2,000 cases a day for much of the past two weeks. Hospitalizations are rising and positive tests are at 7.2 percent, above the 5 percent target level for controlling the spread. Nationally, new coronavirus cases are averaging 71,000 a day during the past week, the highest level of the pandemic.

Another economic shutdown is not the solution. That response has been exhausted. The economy is too weak to undergo another forced contraction and many people are too weary of the stress and isolation to again cut off all but essential activities.

But North Carolina and the nation can still mount an effective response. It requires a united and constant commitment to the steps that have been proven to work: wear a mask in public, maintain social distance, limit gatherings, even of family, wash hands frequently and quarantine if exposed to someone who has tested positive. Those preventative measures should be joined by a strong government effort to increase testing and contact tracing.

Gov. Roy Cooper is sympathetic to the public’s weariness with the pandemic, but he has extended Phrase 3 limits on some businesses and social activities and will continue the statewide mask mandate. His efforts, and the guidance provided by Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, have made a difference. North Carolina has one of the lowest rates of coronavirus cases per thousand people in the South. Still, the virus has taken a grim toll in the state. More than 4,100 people have died and more than 1,100 are currently hospitalized.

Efforts to stem infections in North Carolina and nationally would have been more effective had President Trump set out a national plan and encouraged mask wearing. Instead he left the response up to the states, urged them to reopen early, dismissed the advice of government doctors and scientists and has held large rallies and indoor gatherings where few people wear masks. Even contracting the virus himself didn’t change his cavalier attitude toward an infection that has killed more than 220,000 Americans.

In North Carolina, Republican leaders have followed Trump’s reckless example. Republican legislative leaders repeatedly offered bills to open bars and other businesses that present a high risk of spreading the coronavirus, only to have those bills vetoed by Cooper. GOP gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Dan Forest has called for the reopening of all schools without requiring students or teachers to wear masks.

Fittingly, it was a North Carolina Republican, former congressman and now White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who revealed that the Trump administration has given up on trying to stem the soaring number of infections. “We’re not going to control the pandemic,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday. Instead the administration will focus on a providing a vaccine and developing treatments, a shift that will leave many more people vulnerable to a fatal or debilitating infection.

Those who would rather not surrender can support a wiser and more humane course in this election. Cooper and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden offer an approach that imposes limits on risky gatherings and exhorts the public to take preventive measures. Theirs in not simply a better response to the pandemic. It’s a better response for the economy. The nation cannot regain its economic footing until the infections are under control.




Oct. 28

The Salisbury Post on text messages from political campaigns and other groups:

The flood of political text message in this year’s election has gotten out of control.

Normally, voters see TV and online advertisements as well as receive some flyers in the mail and phone calls from candidates or parties asking you to vote. Emails long ago were added to the mix.

All of those things are still happening this year, but campaigns seemingly have added text messages to their arsenal of tools this year unlike any before. That buzzing in your pocket or notification on your smartwatch isn’t a friend or family member checking in. Just a political campaign or partisan group.

“Hey babe, any ideas what I should grab for dinner” quickly gets interrupted by, “When Biden hid in his basement, President Trump acted with decisive leadership. Reply “MAGA” if you agree we need a president who fights for us.”

You’re trying to ask whether it’s your turn to pick up the kids when, “There are less than 2 weeks left to vote in this election. Less than 2 weeks to choose our nation’s future. Can we count on you to remind 3 friends to vote for Biden by Nov. 3rd?”

Some messages include images with text on them. Others attack a specific candidate, occasionally also offering up a contrast with the party the sender is working for. Groups not directly affiliated with a candidate have also been among text message senders and pushing information hoping to sway your opinion.

Talk to someone who’s voted before, and he or she has probably received text messages this year. Chances are that the person isn’t particularly thrilled to be receiving political campaign messages on their phone.

Candidates obtained your phone number from a third party and hope that their efforts will prompt you to vote for their candidate. Campaigns do not have an incentive to dial back the political text messages, particularly when their opponent may be doing the same thing or when it may reach voters who otherwise tune out political advertising.

The Federal Communications Commission exempts campaign calls and texts from the Do Not Call List requirements. But there are some rules, including that calls or texts cannot be autodialed to cellphones (a computer sending out the same text message to hundreds or thousands of cellphones, for example) without the called party’s express consent. Text messages can be sent without consent if they are sent manually.

That political campaign texts can be sent doesn’t mean they shouldn’t face additional rules. And if there’s any place where Republicans and Democrats, already bitterly divided, might be able to reach a bipartisan compromise, we’d hope that it could involve raising additional barriers to entry for campaigns of all partisan persuasions.

For starters, because text messages cannot be autodialed, senders should have to clearly identify themselves at the start of a conversation. The sender also should clearly identify which campaign he or she is affiliated with. There may be pitfalls to making campaigns abide by the Do Not Call List, but peace and quiet wouldn’t be one of them.

If the text is just a friend hoping to talk politics, that’s fine, but political campaigns seem to be repeat offenders this year, and their prevalence and annoyance will only grow once down-ballot candidates adopt the practice, too.



Oct. 26

Winston Salem-Journal on a mask designed by a company in North Carolina:

We’re pleased to learn that local manufacturer Hanesbrands is behind the design and production of a new, more breathable surgical mask that can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, as the Journal’s Richard Craver reported Sunday. It’s well in keeping with our community’s local reputation for medical innovation.

The new two-ply mask has been given FDA emergency approval after meeting requirements for fluid resistance, flammability performance, particulate filtration and breathability, the Journal reported.

The approval is only provisional, meant to speed up our response to the pandemic in the face of concerns about supply and availability. And while they’re being used at UNC Health and Duke Health, they’re not being used in surgical settings and they’re not yet available to the public.

But if all continues to go well, they could be one day.

Hanesbrands worked with the Nonwovens Institute at N.C. State University, a shared biomedical engineers program between N.C. State and UNC-Chapel Hill, and UNC Health infection prevention experts to produce the advanced-design mask. It’s able to utilize fewer layers because it uses a spun-bond fabric, composed of two different polymer materials, to make a single fiber “that has significant strength and bulk that is as effective in filtration as current materials on the market,” the institute says.

The mask also uses a duckbill shape.

All of that improves the mask’s comfort level.

By now many of us have learned something of the hierarchy of masks. Generally speaking, fabrics with higher thread counts are better at filtering particles. The World Health Organization recommends that fabric masks have three layers: an inner layer to absorb, a middle layer to filter and an extra outer layer made from a nonabsorbent material like polyester.

N95 masks are the gold standard; they seal tightly around the nose and mouth so that few viral particles seep in or out. A recent Duke study showed that less than 0.1% of droplets were transmitted through an N95 mask while the wearer was speaking.

Surgical masks are also superior, filtering up to 98.5% of large droplets and 89.5% of aerosols.

“Hybrid” masks — combining two layers of 600-thread-count cotton with another material, like silk or flannel — are an effective homemade option. They filter at least 94% of small particles and least 96% of larger particles, according to a study from the University of Chicago.

From there, the efficiency drops, through two-layer cotton masks, one-layer cotton or silk, down to scarfs or bandanas, which should be considered options of last-resort.

But anything is better than nothing.

Hanesbrands does make a three-ply, disposable medical surgical mask that’s now available to consumers. Some 40 million such masks were being manufactured per week as part of a federal contract to fight the virus with some of the work being done in North Carolina facilities.

Some masks are considered disposable because, in an effort to make them affordable, the fabrics used are fragile and don’t withstand extended use.

It’s a sign of American ingenuity that some manufacturers are now considering masks’ fashionability factor and producing some intended to be aesthetically appealing. But however fancy a mask appears, its effectiveness should still be the highest priority.

Meanwhile, we’re beginning to see masks being disposed of in public places, on streets and in parks — which is just sloppy. Come on, folks. You can wait to reach a trash can.

We’re in this now for the long haul; the pandemic may last until 2022, according to researchers at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

We’re likely to see more advances in personal protection as we go forward. We’re glad that Hanesbrands is doing its part. The rest of us should follow suit.