Free Press, Mankato, Nov. 16

Vaccines offer hope during worst stretch of pandemic

In the thick of the worst stretch so far of the COVID-19 pandemic, rays of hope shoot through the thick gloom.

A vaccine being tested appears to be 90% effective at preventing the disease. Although final steps in the process and distribution are still months or more away, the progress is a dose of good news.

Another positive development is that President-elect Joe Biden already has assembled a reputable COVID-19 task force, including nationally respected Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. The group of reputable medical experts will work together on a national strategy to combat the disease.

Mankato is fully aware of how important medical expertise is in times of a public health crisis. Osterholm, an epidemiologist, headed up the state team of experts who identified and managed the bacterial meningitis outbreak that slammed our community in 1995. His recognition of the disease behaving in unprecedented ways and the mass vaccination clinics for those at risk no doubt saved many lives here.

The country has been suffering from a patchwork of different restrictions and mixed messages about COVID-19 since March. Science has repeatedly been ignored by national and state leaders, and the White House task force was pushed into a storage closet because facts interfered with President Donald Trump’s campaign claims that the virus was rounding the corner. Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the most respected infectious disease experts in the world, has steadfastly stuck to delivering honest information to the public and has been ridiculed by the president.

Knowing that Biden’s first goal is to develop a national strategy to combat the extremely contagious virus is comforting as we have watched in horror as neighboring states refuse to implement mask mandates or restrict gatherings of any size — both measures that are proven to significantly affect risk of spreading the virus.

The excuse of “letting the people decide what’s right” made by those state leaders has become a death sentence for many. And it’s ironic that COVID-19 victims from those border state communities sometimes end up in Minnesota’s top-notch medical facilities — when there’s room.

Among the new national task force’s duties will be to make sure people of color, who have been disproportionately struck by the virus, are assured access to vaccines and other health care. This is a key component to the blueprint as the country takes steps to change its patterns of inequity. One of the co-chairs is Marcella Nunez-Smith, a Yale University associated professor and associate dean whose research focuses on promoting health care equality for marginalized populations.

Although the task force won’t officially be able to put any plan into action until after Jan. 20, the experts’ voices can until then be part of the chorus of sound, scientific medical advice that people need to pay attention to as hospital beds become more scarce and the spread picks up pace as predicted.

The coronavirus doesn’t care about your political leanings and neither do medical experts who are trying to slow down the spread by emphasizing the importance of mask-wearing, social distancing and testing. Vaccine distribution is on the horizon, but until it reaches us, the public needs to do what it can to protect one another.


Star Tribune, Minneapolis, Nov. 15

Country might benefit from fewer tweets

Here at what looks like a great divide — between election cycles for sure, and possibly in the very topography of the nation’s story — an inquiry: Might the United States benefit from becoming a “tweet less” society?

To be clear, that’s “tweet less,” not tweetless. Twitter — like social media in general — has many purposes. It can help people relay news about their personal lives, both happy and sad. It can be used to share information of interest and even organize events on the spot. And it can relay opinions.

The last of which, here at Star Tribune Opinion, happens to be our raison d’être. So we tweet a bit, both from our Editorial Board members’ individual accounts and from @StribOpinion, and we’ll continue to do so. (Here we’d also note, because it cannot be overemphasized, that the Editorial Board represents only the opinion arm of the Star Tribune. It does not make coverage decisions nor set policies for the newsroom.)

But standing on a soapbox is not an aspiration for all organizations. In fact, for many, it’s best avoided. That’s why they have public relations departments helping them to communicate with exacting caution. Still, they may find that even careful expression can generate controversy when the world has instant access to the medium on which it’s broadcast. A recent example involves the Girl Scouts of the United States of America.

Late last month, the Girl Scouts posted a tweet with pictures of all five women who’ve been appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court since its inception and congratulated the latest, Amy Coney Barrett. There was nothing wrong with that. The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization simply wished, as it later said, “to lift up girls and women.”

But that was after it deleted the tweet under pressure.

Critics pounced. “What kind of patch does one earn for uplifting a woman who is the antithesis of justice?” declared another woman of prominence, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. A number of people on social media even vowed to boycott the cookies the Girl Scouts sell each year to teach entrepreneurship and raise money.

And there was nothing wrong with such responses, coming from those with legitimate concerns about how Barrett’s jurisprudence on a court with a now-solid conservative majority might threaten civil liberties and women’s rights. This is how free speech works. Free consumption as well, we suppose.

Yet the Girl Scouts and their critics both still ended up sullied in the process: the Scouts for first failing to read the moment, then bending to it like a supplicant; and the dissenters for once again failing to make their argument without leaving the impression that a member of an identity group can never be allowed to think and act out of concert — and that movements cannot withstand adversity.

In the past, instead of a tweet, the Girl Scouts might have put out a news release for the record. With fewer limitations than a social media post has, it might have employed some nuance. Even if not, its lower visibility might have at least drawn a less eruptive response.

In the past, instead of taking their complaints directly to the public, the Scouts’ critics might have gone to the source instead, in the hope of initiating a dialogue. They might also have recognized that with Barrett irrevocably on the court, strategy will matter more than spite.

In that sense, this dispute is like the many other fast-moving ones that play out on social media each day, involving people who haven’t stopped to consider how a message might be received, or whether a reflexive response is as effective as a more considered course of action might be.

So this is a plea for reticence, or at least a greater recognition of its value.

The exchange of ideas is necessary. The best of it is measured not just by what it expresses but by what it achieves.