Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Jan. 6

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

North Carolina, like other states, is now seeing the effects of two accelerants that health officials had feared would ignite the spread of COVID-19. Thanks in part to Thanksgiving gatherings and colder weather pushing people indoors, daily case counts regularly reach record highs, as does the positive rate of infections and the hospitalizations that follow both of those metrics. Our state is, right now, in its most urgent stretch of the COVID pandemic.

Quite possibly, things could get worse.

As Gov. Roy Cooper held his weekly update on the virus Wednesday, he was faced not only with daunting numbers but the possibility that we haven’t yet paid the price for the most recent holidays. Christmas and New Year’s gatherings are just beginning to show themselves in new infections, and if those numbers continue to rise — as the growing positive infection rate suggests — more hospitalizations will inevitably follow.

Add to that a new, highly-contagious virus variant that has been documented in Georgia, and the landscape is clear: It’s critical in the next 2-3 weeks to once again bend the COVID curve and get North Carolina’s numbers headed in the right direction.

“There has never been a more important time to take this seriously,” the governor said Wednesday.

For his part, Cooper has been hesitant to tighten COVID-19 restrictions beyond the curfew he extended Wednesday and the early halt to on-site alcohol sales he mandated in early December. He announced no new restrictions Wednesday, and we understand why. Such a move would burden businesses and workers already struggling in the pandemic, and it would be met with backlash across the state that could become counterproductive to containing the virus. As Cooper said when he warned of more restrictions last month: “None of us want that.”

But the curfew has not had the impact on the virus that many had hoped. Hospital ICU occupancy has risen to 83 percent statewide — above the national average of 77 percent but not quite to urgent levels. In spots throughout the state, however, hospitals are reporting that ICU beds are becoming scarce. In Mecklenburg County, health director Gibbie Harris told county commissioners Tuesday night that she was concerned about hospitals and hopeful that Mecklenburg doesn’t see conditions like Los Angeles, where hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 are turning away emergency patients.

There is good news — at least in the distance. Vaccine distribution is ramping up in North Carolina, with the first group of Phase 1b lining up for shots this week and Cooper taking steps to fix distribution issues by mobilizing the National Guard. While the effects of vaccines won’t be felt in the immediate future, the COVID-19 caseload should start to decline at the end of January, Dr. David Priest, Novant infectious disease expert, told reporters Tuesday morning.

That assumes, however, that individuals and businesses follow COVID safeguards, and that the new fast-spreading virus variant doesn’t prompt a sudden spike in cases and hospitalizations. That’s what has happened in Britain, where infections prompted by the new strain forced Prime Minister Boris Johnson to impose a nationwide lockdown this week. Johnson ordered schools and colleges to shift to remote learning, and he urged individuals to stay at home unless they were working or buying food and medicine.

Cooper could consider lesser measures, such as further limiting capacity of places where people from different households interact, especially indoors. Any such measure should be accompanied by relief for businesses and workers, and N.C. lawmakers should be ready to fill gaps left by the second COVID package Congress approved last month.

Mostly, though, these critical 2-3 weeks ahead are in the hands of North Carolinians. If you’re not already doing so, stop gathering indoors with people not in your household. Wear a mask wherever and whenever you are near others. The daily creep of record highs can be more numbing than alarming, but without continued vigilance to COVID, the alarming could quickly become our reality.

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

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

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Jan. 4

Winston Salem-Journal and The Greensboro News & Record on the effort by some Republican lawmakers to overrule President-elect Joe Biden’s election triumph:

With the words “I just want to find 11,780 votes” ringing in our ears — President Trump’s demand of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, approved by North Carolina’s Mark Meadows, Trump’s current chief of staff — the drama of 2020 unfortunately is leaking into the new year.

But while that one soaks, other Republican operatives are still trying to overturn the presidential election — or at least look like they are.

As we write, a dozen Republican senators now say they’ll contest the certification of Electoral College votes on Wednesday. This is usually a routine matter — essentially, the states report their election results to Congress, which records them.

But it seems nothing is too routine for Republican lunacy these days.

Sen. Josh Hawley was the first to say he’d object to the certification and vote against accepting the results — despite strong discouragement from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

But Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is trying to stake his claim, too. He’s leading a group of senators who don’t just plan to object to the certification — they’re demanding the creation of a commission to investigate claims of voter fraud.

The demand has a veneer of reasonableness to it. “Why not hold a commission to examine the facts?” Cruz asked.

The answer is more reasonable still: Because the facts have already been examined. All the Republican-contested states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — have conducted post-election audits, open to the public. A series of judges, some appointed by Trump, have rejected nearly 60 attempts to challenge the results. Why should we believe that one more examination would settle matters for Cruz?

Many Democrats have responded to the scheme with words like “coup” and “sedition.”

But one needn’t listen to a Democrat. Listen instead to the Republicans:

“The president and his allies are playing with fire. They have been asking — first the courts, then state legislatures, now the Congress — to overturn the results of a presidential election. ... If you make big claims, you had better have the evidence. But the president doesn’t, and neither do the institutional arsonist members of Congress who will object to the Electoral College vote.” — Sen. Ben Sasse

“A fundamental, defining feature of a democratic republic is the right of the people to elect their own leaders. The effort by Senators Hawley, Cruz, and others to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in swing states like Pennsylvania directly undermines this right.” — Sen. Pat Toomey

“It is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act than a federal intervention to overturn the results of state-certified elections.” — former House Speaker Paul Ryan

Their conclusions have been echoed by former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele; Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney; Rep. Liz Cheney and many other conservative stalwarts.

As we go to press, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr has indicated that he will not join the overthrow effort. Sen. Thom Tillis hasn’t spoken to the matter.

These efforts are very unlikely to change anything — at worst, they could delay a final vote. Many see this as an attempt on the part of both Cruz and Hawley to appeal to Trump’s base in preparation for presidential bids in 2024.

Some will no doubt consider Cruz and Hawley to be some type of “never say die” patriots while their calmer Republican colleagues are RINOs — Republicans in Name Only. But very soon Republicans are going to have to decide who the real RINOs are: those who respect conservative principles and American traditions — or the conspiracy-loving opportunists who feed the flames of grievance and deceit for political gain.

Online: https://journalnow.com/

Online: https://greensboro.com/

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Dec. 31

The Salisbury Post on high school basketball in North Carolina:

For the first time in months, high school athletes next week are scheduled to hit the hardwood for the first games in the 2020-2021 basketball season.

Athletes will take the court clad in uniforms with school colors, but that’s about the only thing that will stay the same. Basketball players are required to wear masks during practices and games. Exceptions are allowed if the student has a medical condition. Gaiters are not permitted. Other notable changes include no jump ball to start the game, no pre- or postgame handshakes, a new official timeout after the four-minute mark of each quarter, host schools must ensure balls are disinfected during timeouts and between quarters, and team benches will be opposite spectator seating.

If these rules are needed just to get athletes on the basketball court indoors, should the state’s public schools be playing basketball at all? High school sports provide a sense of camaraderie and are often a critical part of adolescence for athletes and their spectator peers, but the first duty of schools is education. As community hubs, schools also are forced to grapple with the well-being of students at home. So, it’s worth noting that, while youngsters have a lower risk for severe cases of coronavirus, the same may not be true for their parents or grandparents.

South Carolina schools have apparently realized their most critical duty, and news outlets there report swaths of basketball games are being canceled or postponed.

Meanwhile, basketball is a contact sport and one that the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services recommended avoiding in guidance issued Dec. 8 even as the N.C. High School Athletic Association kept its calendar. Things have only gotten worse since then. Why is the state athletic association plowing ahead with a sport state health officials advise against?

Volleyball is not an apt comparison because the sport is played in an entirely different manner and the same state health officials simply recommended playing outdoors when possible, wearing face coverings if possible and limiting tournaments.

Sure, North Carolina isn’t alone in drafting new rules to allow high school sports to move forward or requiring masks for indoor sports where there’s prolonged contact. In Virginia, the Department of Health “strongly advises athletes to wear masks at all times during group training, competition and on the sidelines.”

And as they did in volleyball, North Carolina’s high school basketball players will adapt to the mask-wearing requirement and other rules partially because of their love for the game and that it’s been months since organized competition that counted for wins and losses.

But this may be the moment where health guidance should rule the day.

There is a logical fallacy in the fact that the basketball season is about to start as Gov. Roy Cooper and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen are giving regular press briefings that stress the severity of worsening COVID-19. The state is reporting record percentages of tests returning positive and numbers of people hospitalized.

More than half of the counties in the state have been labeled as “critical spread” areas and only eight are in the lowest tier for the severity of virus spread in their communities. Department of Health and Human Services’ guidance for “critical” (the worst category) and “substantial” counties (the second-worst) is to limit mixing between households and minimize the number of people in your social circle. The department also recommends limiting public interactions to mainly essential activities.

Why is the state in that context about to start indoor basketball? That vaccines are being administered now is not relevant until the first groups of people have received both doses necessary to protect against COVID-19.

Online: https://www.salisburypost.com/