Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


May 12

The Winston-Salem Journal on protecting an endangered wolf species:

Animal lovers were no doubt pleased to hear the announcement about the five new red wolf pups born in the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro on April 21. Three are males and two females; they and their mother, named Piglet, are all healthy.

The father, Jewell, also seems to be fine.

How’s that for some cheer?

The five pups were named after North Carolina native plants: The males are Oak (Appalachian Oak), Cedar (Red Cedar) and Sage (Azure Sage). The females are Lily (Carolina Lily, the state’s wildflower) and Aster (Piedmont Aster). The pups bring the number of red wolves in the zoo’s breeding program to 25 — the second-largest pack in the nation, after a zoo in Tacoma, Wash. They’ll grow in the safety of the zoo grounds where they’ll have minimal contact with people. At some point, some of them may be released into the wild to bolster the wild red wolf population that lives in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina.

The zoo has been an integral part of the American Red Wolf Recovery program since 1994, breeding 11 pups over the past three years and 34 wolves total.

Thousands of red wolves once occupied much of the eastern U.S., from Pennsylvania to Florida, but they were added to the endangered species list in 1967 after being driven to near-extinction. Over the years they’ve faced opposition from farmers and ranchers who feared the wolves would decimate their livestock; from hunters who found them to be a challenging target; and from coyotes, which compete with them for resources.

Today the range of wild red wolves is limited to five counties in eastern North Carolina. Despite recovery efforts, the wild population may have dropped from about 120-130 in 2006 to as few as 14 now.

Last year, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to commit to a deadline for a new recovery plan after efforts seemed to have slacked off. Gov. Roy Cooper also sent the Fish and Wildlife Service a sternly worded letter urging the department to become more responsive to the animals’ needs.

The Fish and Wildlife Service issued a statement in November saying it plans to begin updating the recovery plan in 2020 by appointing a panel of scientists to advise them on the process.

As with so many issues today, there are competing views on the value of protecting red wolves. Some see the pretty fur and bright eyes; some see the wolves’ role as an essential part of a balanced environment; some see a displeasing drain of tax dollars; others yet see a nuisance to their industries.

Among other erosions of animal protections, the Trump administration last year changed the way the Endangered Species Act is applied, making it easier to remove a species from the endangered list and weakening protections for threatened species.

For now, conservationists and animal-rights activists are winning the fight to keep the red wolves alive and thriving, to the delight of many who would prefer we humans be stewards rather than exploiters of the world that’s been placed at our feet. But it’s a constant struggle.



May 11

The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer on a language change in the state's reporting of virus data:

If you’re an avid follower of North Carolina’s coronavirus data — we know you’re out there — you may have noticed a critical change in language involving one of the benchmarks the Department of Health and Human Services uses to measure how well our state is slowing the spread of COVID-19.

If you’re a conspiracy lover who thinks that change might be nefarious, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

The language change involves hospitalizations — specifically the number of people currently hospitalized in North Carolina with COVID-19. It’s a metric that raised at least a few eyebrows last week when N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper announced that the state would move to Phase 1 of his three-part reopening plan. At that announcement, DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen laid out the data behind the decision, including that the number of current hospitalizations had “leveled.”

That may have been a surprise to those who frequent the DHHS COVID-19 dashboard, which says the criteria for progress on hospitalizations is as follows: “Is North Carolina seeing a 14-day downward trajectory in the number of people currently hospitalized?“ Nothing about leveling there. State lawmakers and NC counties providing regular COVID-19 updates to constituents have used the same language, with no reference to leveling, or linked to the DHHS dashboard.

But as of late last week, DHHS added a new clause to the end of the “14-day downward trajectory” sentence - “or sustained leveling in the number of people currently hospitalized.” Was someone sneaking in new language that helps justify the move to Phase 1 or future phases?

Sorry conspiracists, but no. Neither the language nor the criteria is new. The governor cited it last month when he announced his reopening plan, a spokesperson told the Editorial Board in an email; the “sustained leveling” language on hospitalizations is explicitly stated in an April 23 press release. The DHHS dashboard now has it, too, for hospitalizations and other metrics.

There’s still some dispute, however, over whether North Carolina had achieved sustained leveling in hospitalizations when the governor announced the move to Phase 1 last week. The DHHS chart on hospitalizations that day showed a steady increase over time, not a leveling, but that may be moot now. In the week since the governor’s announcement, the trajectory of current hospitalizations has not only leveled, but gone down.

Also encouraging: North Carolina is seeing a downward trajectory in two other benchmarks - COVID-like illnesses and percentage of positive COVID-19 tests. The state hasn’t yet seen a downward trajectory in new cases as of May 11, but the other metrics suggest that could be coming in the near future, so long as the move to Phase 1 doesn’t lead to a regression. Whatever language you use, we hope North Carolina is finally turning a corner.




May 9

The Fayetteville Observer on the easing of coronavirus lockdowns:

Fayetteville and Cumberland County residents, with the rest of the state, are enjoying a loosening of the coronavirus lockdown. Eased restrictions on what businesses can open, where people can shop and how they can conduct worship services are part of the Phase 1 reopening that started at 5 p.m. on May 8.

Many additional businesses are allowed to open — as long as they maintain 50 percent capacity and enforce social distancing. These would include popular retail destinations like the Skibo Road stores, Cross Creek Mall and downtown Fayetteville. The state guidance also shifts from allowing local discretion in allowing parks to open (excluding playgrounds) to encouraging them to open. Fortunately in Cumberland County, the parks have already been open, giving residents many good (and appropriately distant) options for exercise, ranging from Lake Rim Park to the Cape Fear River Trail.

In Phase 1, we residents who had been encouraged to stay at home except to get food or medicine or other essential items or services can now venture out for commercial activity. This will feel more like what we consider normal.

All this news comes as welcome relief for desperate retailers and the officially stir-crazy customers who patronize them. However, we would urge everyone that as we venture out, proceed with caution, wear a cloth mask in public when distancing is not possible, and use sound judgment.

We were able to move into Phase 1 based on meeting certain benchmarks in our state’s response to the virus, including a leveling-off or decline in the number of COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals and the percentage of positive tests. But that does not mean everything is hunky-dory; during the first week of May, the state moved past 500 deaths.

The head nurse in the unit that treats COVID-19 patients at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center told a TV reporter on May 7 that her unit is bracing for cases to rise in Phase 1. She said there were 34 patients under treatment by the unit at the time. The unit had been running between 17 and 19 patients, according to remarks made April 28 by Dr. Michael Zappa, who is Cape Fear Valley’s associate chief medical officer for acute care and emergency services.

These figures have broad implications not just for retailers but for churches and people of faith, who comprise a large segment of our community. Under Phase 1 guidance, churches can hold worship services outside with more than 10 people. The state says social distancing — i.e. 6 feet between worshipers — and other safety measures should be observed, but it does not place a limit on numbers of people.

Many congregations will be limited by the size of their property and other limitations. But even at churches where there is the space, leaders may decide it is better to continue to meet online or through other virtual means for now. The North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, which includes Fayetteville churches, is recommending churches continue to meet online through Phase 3, although it leaves the final decision to individual congregations.

Church membership skews older and senior citizens are in a category more at-risk for the worst outcomes of COVID-19, the mainly respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus. But as we have pointed out before, seniors are not the only ones at risk. Fifty-one percent of state residents fall into that category because of age or underlying health conditions like diabetes, obesity, heart disease and other chronic illnesses, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

That means every household, every individual will have to decide the degree to which they feel comfortable venturing out and enjoying the increased freedoms of Phase 1. Each of us should keep in mind that safety should be first — for ourselves and for our community.