Newsday. May 17, 2021.

Editorial: Vaccines in, masks out

It’s time for everyone to see you smile again.

For the fully vaccinated, this is a moment to celebrate. If you’ve had your shots, and you’re comfortable doing so, take off your masks and show us your smile.

Come Wednesday, New York will adopt the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that allow those who are vaccinated to remove their masks both outside and inside, with a few exceptions, including on public transit, in schools and at health care facilities. This is welcome news that comes as the state also will lift most capacity restrictions for restaurants, movie theaters and more on Wednesday, albeit with social distancing still in place.

The numbers support the state’s moves. Long Island’s seven-day positivity rate now hovers just below 1%, though the state’s rate is slightly higher. And 52.2% of New Yorkers are fully vaccinated.

We’ve come a long way. It’s important to understand that these steps can be taken primarily because of the protection that comes with COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccination rates are slowing considerably, and getting more shots into arms must be the highest priority.

Some venues plan to require everyone be vaccinated. That makes a lot of sense, and should act as an incentive for those who want to go to a concert, playoff game or other event. More clubs, restaurants, theaters, concert venues and even arenas should consider it.

But even now, a cautious approach is warranted, as risks remain. If individual businesses allow unvaccinated individuals inside, and want to require masks of everyone, that’s a reasonable request that should be respected. If vaccinated New Yorkers want to leave their masks on, that’s OK, too. And if COVID-19 positivity rates start to tick up again even slightly, the state must be willing to change policies quickly and we must be willing to put our masks back on.


New York Daily News. May 19, 2021.

Editorial: Mother of invention: The pandemic ushered in some innovations that NYC should preserve

New York, the first in America to don masks, is now showing its face again. Well, 8,408,217 New Yorkers who have been fully vaccinated are now allowed to do so. That’s 42% of the state’s population, and 3,255,762 in the five boroughs, 39% of the total. For them, the mask is now optional, except in the long list of places where it’s still required, from schools to health-care facilities to transit. And at any private enterprise, indoor or outdoor, that wants to keep masks in place.

Still, for the minority that has done right by themselves and for their neighbors with Pfizer or Moderna or Johnson & Johnson, a highly personal and visible (and sometimes vision-impairing from fogged-up glasses) part of our COVID nightmare is ending. Other things, like subways closed overnight, are already done or on their way out, like using empty hotel rooms instead of congregate shelters to protect the homeless.

But we have learned some useful new tricks these last 14 months that should stick around, permanently. For one, masking is a fine idea to ward off future flus.

Telemedicine, put in place under battlefield conditions, has admirably extended the reach of sound medical care for millions. Build on that foundation post-pandemic.

Judicial proceedings, always open to the public, from the U.S. Supreme Court to traffic court, have now truly become accessible to all. A principle of fair and impartial justice going to the days of the Magna Carta has been fully achieved. Allow more remote hearings for the accused, too, rather than dragging them into court for each and every motion.

We’ve been learning, albeit imperfectly, how to teach over the internet. Refine that skill, and harness it to deliver a better education regardless of geography.

Streets are not just for vehicles. When traffic receded, people took over, along with restaurants. They should stay, in many cases.

And while Amazon thrived globally, the world of delivery changed locally. Now you can get booze brought to your doorstep. Toast to real innovation.


New York Times. May 14, 2021.

Editorial: Medina Spirit and Horse Racing’s Deadly Drug Scandals

On May 1, Medina Spirit, a horse trained by Bob Baffert, one of the stars of thoroughbred racing, somewhat unexpectedly won the Kentucky Derby. About a week later, it emerged that the horse had tested positive for an anti-inflammatory pain-masking drug, throwing his victory into question. Mr. Baffert has been suspended by Churchill Downs, and the horse will most likely lose his win if a second sample confirms the first finding.

That wasn’t enough, however, to keep Medina Spirit from running in the next race of the Triple Crown Saturday, the Preakness Stakes. In the Balkanized world of horse racing, there is no central commission to rule on such matters, as there is in most professional sports. Owners of the Pimlico Race Course in Maryland, where the second race is held, declared that “fundamental fairness” compelled them to let Medina Spirit and a second horse trained by Mr. Baffert enter the race, after Mr. Baffert consented to blood testing, monitoring and medical review of his horses by Maryland authorities.

Medina Spirit will also be allowed to run in the Belmont Stakes in New York on June 5, the third race of the Triple Crown. That would give Mr. Baffert a chance to win the Triple Crown for the third time in seven years.

More than a year after Mr. Baffert’s last Triple Crown win, in 2018 with Justify, The Times revealed that the horse failed a drug test in California weeks before that year’s Kentucky Derby. But instead of a speedy disqualification, the California Horse Racing Board took four months to investigate the results and then dropped the case on dubious grounds behind closed doors.

All that may change next year, if a central racing authority meant to take charge of policing drugs and track safety under the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, passed last December, survives court challenges from groups representing racing associations. The Medina Spirit affair underscores why this can’t happen a moment too soon.

Mr. Baffert, whose horses have failed dozens of drug tests over his long career, five of them within the last two years, first insisted that there was no illicit drug in Medina Spirit and that the charges were “like a cancel culture kind of thing.” Then he acknowledged that a bit of the drug in question, betamethasone, might have entered the horse through an antifungal ointment someone had applied to the horse’s rear leg, at the recommendation of Mr. Baffert’s veterinarian. A drug meant to treat swelling and joint pain, betamethasone is not banned, but it shouldn’t be administered in the two weeks preceding a race.

Such confusion is exactly why self-policing is no longer good enough, and such excuses have been sounded far too often in a sport in which nearly 10 horses a week, on average, died at American racetracks in 2018 — a rate far higher than at better-controlled foreign tracks.

Former President Donald Trump contributed his take, bemoaning in a statement that “even our Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, is a junky.”

Whether Medina Spirit can be justifiably labeled a junkie, given how little choice he or any other horse has over what trainers and vets introduce into their thoroughbred bodies, is moot. There are no conclusive results yet, and the horse passed the first of three tests required to race in the Preakness Stakes. Still, Mr. Trump might have noted that among countless other measures tacked onto the nearly 5,600-page Covid-19 relief and government funding bill he signed less than a month before leaving office was that long-overdue Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act.

The measure is meant to establish an independent, nonprofit authority that is overseen by the Federal Trade Commission to write rules and penalties for thoroughbred racing to be enforced by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency — the one that deals with doping in human competition. The act was pushed over the legislative line by a federal indictment more than nine months earlier in which 27 people in the horse industry were charged with widespread use of drugs that stimulate endurance, mask pain and reduce inflammation, sometimes leading, according to prosecutors, to fatal injuries, all designed to elude detection in existing tests. Among the drugs was one known as red acid, which reduces inflammation in horses’ joints. In the long history of horse doping, tests have found substances as varied as frog and cobra venom, Viagra, cocaine, heart medicines and steroids.

The new authority is supposed to crack down on all that as of July 1, 2022, though the act still faces legal challenges from horse racing organizations. (Mr. Baffert is on record in support of it.) Why they would resist centralized control and the level playing field it could offer is puzzling; attendance at horse races has been in decline for years, and the heavy toll of “breakdowns” among horses — the euphemism for catastrophic injuries incurred during racing, often requiring that the horse be put down — is one reason.

Stern, centralized controls can’t come too soon. But the industry need not wait another year. One way to show good faith would be to get the result from that second sample from Medina Spirit promptly and then to let the chips fall where they should.


Jamestown Post-Journal. May 18, 2021.

Editorial: Stoking Doubts One More Reason Gov’s Emergency Powers Should Be Halted

After a four-day wait, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has decided that New York state will follow the CDC’s recently released guidance that vaccinated people can stop wearing masks and don’t have to follow 6-foot social distancing rules.

Of course, we wonder why it took four days for Cuomo to make this decision. What, exactly, do Cuomo and Dr. Howard Zucker, state health commissioner, know that the Centers for Disease Control do not? Regardless of what one thinks of Dr. Rochelle Walensky, there is no arguing that she has received her MD from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, her master’s degree from the Harvard School of Public Health and spent years researching infectious diseases. While we weren’t a fan of Walensky’s fear-filled rant earlier this year about feelings of impending doom, it’s hard to question her training. But that’s what Cuomo did each and every day he delayed accepting the CDC’s mask and social distancing guidelines.

In our opinion, Cuomo’s delay accomplished nothing but harming the state’s vaccination efforts. It was one thing for Cuomo to cast doubts and aspersions on President Donald Trump — Trump and Cuomo were like oil and water. It’s not surprising that Cuomo and Trump would lob rhetorical grenades back and forth at each other.

But extending the political charade now only gives vaccine-hesitant New Yorkers a reason to doubt the work done under Trump and President Joe Biden to create a vaccine that is safe. Cuomo is doing nothing but stoking doubts among two camps that sorely need to come back to reality — the anti-vaccine camp who look at the governor’s hesitance as reason not to believe the vaccines are safe and effective as well as those who are hesitant to return to normal until everyone is vaccinated, preferably twice.

We note Pennsylvania quickly adopted the new federal guidelines — and nobody will mistake Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. But Wolf knew that the CDC and its team of scientists know more than he does and acted accordingly.

Cuomo did not. It’s just another reason the state Legislature should bring the governor’s expansive emergency powers to a screeching halt. Enough is enough.


Dunkirk Evening Observer. May 14, 2021.

Editorial: Stefanik’s rise is disconcerting

Liz Cheney has been ousted as House Republican conference chair, likely soon to be replaced by Elise Stefanik of New York.

The reason is that Cheney has called Trump out on the election lie and is trying to get the GOP to be honest. She’s losing that fight. The party’s federal lawmakers are choosing Trump over truth. Trump has asked them to boot Cheney out of the number-three Republican House leadership post, and they’re doing so.

It’s sad how Stefanik is getting into leadership by following, and Cheney is losing leadership by trying to lead.

Our criticism is about methods, not policies. Republicans are actually hurting their chance to rein in the Democrats’ agenda.

Biden and the Democrats are pushing a huge growth of government, spending an incredible amount of money this country doesn’t have and leaving the bill for future generations. We have fundamental problems with taking on that much debt, and with government being so lavish with aid. We believe it’s better for people who can work for a living to do so, and pay their own way as much as possible.

Public funding needs to be more strategic and limited. Granted, we also have problems with many Republicans’ tendency to favor the rich, disdain immigrants, tolerate bigotry and sacrifice the environment. But still, each party makes up about half of our nation’s voters, and we need both to have a say in setting the course and making decisions. Either party, on its own, is going to make costly mistakes. We need balance.

But when the Republicans become a cult of personality, they lose sight of their ideals and let Trump violate their values of fiscal and personal responsibility. They lose credibility and lose the respect of those outside their ranks. This weakens their hand in governing. Instead of focusing on the game at hand, the GOP is trying to rewrite the history of last season. Democrats are taking that opportunity to run the table, but by grabbing as much as they can, they are setting up some problems.

Stefanik likes to tout her bipartisanship and once was actually bipartisan. We can only hope she uses her new leadership role to lead, and in a wiser direction. But first she will have to get right with reality.