Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


Nov. 24

The Salisbury Post on Gov. Roy Cooper's response to the coronavirus pandemic:

When Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday began a press conference, people were already preparing themselves for news that the state might be going backward into phase two restrictions.

That could mean a return to life in May and the closure of some businesses that had only just begun to get back to a semblance of normal.

Instead, Cooper chose a different strategy — one that requires people to take personal responsibility for the health and well-being of others and one that will lean heavily on local law enforcement to enforce.

People now are asked to wear a mask in just about every indoor setting, including when actively exercising indoors. That means masks on for the entirety of a gym visit. People must also wear a mask in some outdoor settings where they cannot maintain 6 feet of physical distance from others, which could include an afternoon walk on the Salisbury Greenway when there are a number of other people around.

Notably, retail businesses with more than 15,000 square feet of indoor space must have an employee ensure face covering compliance at the entrance — a job that will no doubt become testy at times because people have been nonsensically opposed to wearing masks from the start and feigned a freedom that means potentially spreading a deadly virus to others.

Previously, Cooper’s order targeted businesses for fines if they were found to be in violation of mask-wearing rules and imposed few penalties for individuals. That changed Monday.

Cooper’s order sets up a framework for individuals to be charged with a class two misdemeanor crime (similar to disorderly conduct) if he or she fails to abide by mask-wearing requirements. But it’s key to note that the executive order says law enforcement officers “may cite” an individual, leaving it up to their discretion and decreasing the chances that someone might be cited only for walking down a crowded street without a mask on.

It’s equally important to consider how local law enforcement have handled violations of Cooper’s executive orders to date.

In March, when a stay-at-home order was in place, Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes said officers would primarily be focused on detecting and preventing crime, but that they would respond to large gatherings if reported by the community. Months later, in September, Stokes said officers hadn’t cited any businesses for mask-wearing violations and that his department’s response “has been to educate for compliance.”

Similarly, Maj. John Sifford, of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, said deputies would start with issuing warnings to rule-breakers if there were executive order violations. The Sheriff’s Office ended up citing some people for violating the stay at home order, but that was only because they were accused of committing other crimes at the time. It has taken a similar route to the police department on mask-wearing rules.

There’s no reason to believe either department will act differently with the new rules, but Salisbury and Rowan County residents should realize that it’s time to keep the mask on in some additional places. Those who still don’t own a mask should put one on so that the state isn’t forced to go back to more severe restrictions and so businesses aren’t forced to close again.

It’s not about compliance. It’s about protecting the health and livelihoods of the people who live here.



Nov. 21

The Winston Salem-Journal on a possible COVID-19 vaccine:

Just in time for the holiday season comes a little much-needed hope. The development of a promising COVID-19 vaccine — two versions, in fact — has assured Americans that a solution to the scourge is, if not right around the corner, within sight of the corner.

While many have been doing their best to avoid infection and avoid infecting others, we’ve known for some time that the only real solution would be an effective vaccine. Now, the most optimistic projections say one could be provisionally available as early as next month.

Pfizer Inc. announced last week that the vaccine it’s testing is 95% effective. Pfizer says the vaccine is safe and has no serious side effects.

“This is an extraordinarily strong protection,” Dr. Ugur Sahin, the CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, Pfizer’s German partner, told The Associated Press.

On Friday, Pfizer asked the Food and Drug Administration to allow emergency use of its vaccine, based on its good safety record. Pfizer is also seeking approval in Europe and the U.K.

“Our work to deliver a safe and effective vaccine has never been more urgent,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.

If approval is given, about 25 million doses could become available in December, according to information presented to the National Academy of Medicine.

There’s a Christmas present for you.

Thirty-five million more doses could be made available in February and March.

Shortly following Pfizer’s announcement, Moderna Inc. announced its success in testing a COVID-19 vaccine, rated at 94.5% effective. Moderna also will be applying for emergency authorization within weeks.

Other versions are also still being developed.

Despite these developments, neither vaccine is likely to be widely available until the spring. And the first doses will likely go, appropriately, to front-line health care workers. Even with emergency authorization, it could be a year before a vaccine is available to the public at large.

“Help is on the way,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said last week. But he added, “We need to actually double down on the public health measures as we’re waiting for that help to come.”

Unfortunately, many more are likely to die between now and then — especially if they don’t take precautions.

So don’t put those masks away yet. This is good news, but it’s not a miracle.

Moderna designed and tested its vaccine with $1 billion provided by President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed initiative. It stands to receive up to $2.45 billion more. Trump deserves credit for pushing this program and pushing researchers to find ways to streamline vaccine development. The results are practically revolutionary, and will no doubt have life-saving applications in future virus outbreaks. The deployment of vaccines is also likely to be accelerated. Undoubtedly, Trump’s initiative has been a huge success.

“To all of the scientists, everyone behind this all the way up to President Trump and Vice President (Mike) Pence, congratulations on this great accomplishment,” CNN host Jake Tapper said earlier this month.

Unfortunately, that credit has to be tempered against the rest of Trump’s COVID response, which has overall been weak. His muddled messaging, including criticism of his own administration’s experts, have fueled skepticism and misinformation — that’s one reason the virus is spiking again. His claim that the FDA had withheld news of vaccine development to hurt his reelection campaign is embarrassing.

While the spread of the virus has grown considerably worse — straining medical workers and resources throughout the country to the breaking point — Trump is now concentrating his efforts on overthrowing the results of the 2020 presidential election or, failing that, sowing doubt about the results with a misinformation campaign.

His refusal to acknowledge his defeat also makes it more difficult for the incoming Biden administration to receive the COVID information it needs to help protect the American people.

We wish Trump’s focus were a little less on himself and more on the American people’s health, but that would call for him to be a different person.

In the meantime, with solid progress on vaccine development, we can all enter the holiday season thankful for some good news.



Nov. 19

The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer on how economic disparities between rural and urban areas in the state may have affected the presidential election:

At first glance, it is a daunting imbalance. In the 2020 election, President Donald Trump won 2,497 counties across the United States. President-elect Joe Biden won 477.

But a new report from the Brookings Institution illustrates how the imbalance reflects a different disparity – one with important implications for North Carolina. While Biden won only 16% of U.S. counties, production in those counties account for 70% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). North Carolina reflects the same tilt. Biden won only 25% of the state’s counties, but they account for 68% of the state’s GDP.

N.C. State University economist Michael Walden said the percentages illustrate the state’s urban-rural divide. “Our urban and rural areas are split in terms of prosperity, education, age and also politics - the ingredients of a ‘purple state,’ “ he said.

But the Brookings report describes more than a contrast between economic bases. The report calls what we are seeing a “political-economic divide” that is increasingly pulling the nation apart. It says: “This economic rift that persists in dividing the nation is a problem because it underscores the near-certainty of both continued clashes between the political parties and continued alienation and misunderstandings.”

Lead author Mark Muro said that North Carolina, with its thriving urban areas based on research and banking and its rural areas that have lost manufacturing industries, reflects the national split.

“I think North Carolina is a very good example of something that is occurring almost universally. Any place that has a significant urban hub seems to be seeing this exact dynamic, which is a mix of (geographic) sorting but now coded through a sort of resentment machine,” he said. “So you have a face-off between an urban economy and a rural one.”

While cultural and religious differences contribute to the political divide, economic disparities also foster opposition in rural areas toward what drives the new economy in urban areas – globalization, immigration of skilled workers and advanced education.

Rural resentment may be understandable – and politically exploitable – but it will hobble the ability of states to focus on broad economic development that would benefit the very regions that feel left behind. “It’s hard to operate when you have such a stark fissure in the middle of your politics,” Muro said.

In North Carolina, that fissure is widening. According to figures provided by Brookings, Biden flipped two counties that went for Trump in 2016, New Hanover and Nash, the state’s 7th and 13th most-productive counties. Overall, the Democrat won the state’s top eight most-productive counties and 11 of the top 15.

North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers have relied on a rural base, mostly in the western part of the state, to take and keep control of the General Assembly. But once there, they – much like President Trump – have applied measures that have exacerbated the divide.

Rural areas need to share in the new economy either by developing their own tech hubs, or by developing stronger links to urban hubs. Nationally, Trump took the opposite course. He promised to bring back the old economy, to revive coal mining, steel mills and heavy manufacturing, promises on which he largely failed to deliver.

In North Carolina, Republican lawmakers have pursued an equally ineffective “trickle down” approach. They’ve used tax cuts that favor major corporations and wealthy individuals to make the state more “business friendly.” But what businesses want are strong public schools and a well-trained workforce. The tax cuts have led to the underfunding of public schools and the state’s university system, leading in turn to a less prepared workforce.

What North Carolina and the nation need are connections that serve people, not divisions that serve politicians. That means more public spending on schools, universities, transportation, broadband and health care. The rural-urban divide will be healed by closing it, not exploiting it.

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