Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:


April 20

The Johnson City Press on continuing health and safety practices as the pandemic enters a new phase:

Once again, COVID is filling regional hospital beds to the point Ballad Health is warning it “cannot sustain” another surge.

COVID vaccinations nationwide are ramping up and 36% of the U.S. population have received one shot, with more than one in five fully vaccinated. Yet, infections are also increasing to the point federal officials worry about a fourth surge, saying America is on a path to follow some European countries where lockdowns are once again a crippling reality.

Why have infections increased for at least four weeks in-a-row despite more Americans being vaccinated? Epidemiologists and public-health officials across the country are finding common themes.

They cite an increase in infections among younger people, pandemic fatigue, mixed messaging on public-health measures with the rollback of restrictions such as on indoor dining, and the spread of more contagious variants. State leaders are prematurely pulling back on mitigation measures and large social interactions, like spring break gatherings at beaches.

We all very much want to be done with all of this, but this isn’t the time to be careless. It’s putting more of us at risk.

The number of hospitalizations at Ballad facilities is above 100 inpatients for the first time since February. Ballad Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton says modeling shows the system could be facing a worst-case scenario of 150 inpatients. The system has seen the number of cases in its 21-county service area increase by 60 percent, from 897 the week ending March 6 to 1,443 in the second week of April.

The average age of coronavirus inpatients has also decreased, from 70 to 58. And the percentage of COVID-19 patients on ventilators has increased. Jamie Swift, the system’s chief infection prevention officer, said those data points seem to indicate that there are variant strains of the virus spreading in the region. Deaton said hospital officials are also concerned they will have to again pause elective procedures if hospitalizations and cases continue to increase.

Deaton said the system is starting to see fewer and fewer people taking vaccines. About 30 percent of people across the Ballad Health service area have received at least one dose of a vaccine. “We still have quite a ways to go,” he said. Sullivan and Washington counties are leading the region in infection rates.

What can we do? The first priority is to get vaccinated. Meantime, keep the mask on, maintain distancing and avoid large crowds. And if you think you’re sick, have it checked out so you don’t spread disease.

We’re almost there. Don’t let your guard down.



April 15

The Kingsport Times-News on a Tennessee county's efforts to expand high-speed internet access:

America needs a national, comprehensive broadband strategy to connect as much as the nation as possible to the internet. Wise County’s Starlink internet demonstration project won rave reviews at a recent meeting of state and local officials, but it was the stories of students without high-speed internet access that captured attention.

Starlink is a satellite internet constellation being constructed by SpaceX consisting of thousands of mass-produced small satellites in low-Earth orbit, working in combination with ground transceivers. An area of Wise County was one of the first demonstration projects for the system and was in place for some 45 families when the pandemic struck.

Students in those families had no problem with remote learning, unlike others who had to go to extreme lengths, Wise County Schools Technology Director Scott Kiser told 9th District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith and representatives of state Delegate Terry Kilgore and state Sens. Todd Pillion and Travis Hackworth.

The extent of inadequate internet service in Wise County and Southwest Virginia became apparent as schools moved into full and then hybrid remote and limited in-person classes in the 2021 school year, Kiser said.

“We didn’t send devices home with students before the pandemic because of the lack of internet to use them,” Kiser told the legislative group.

Kiser said one high school student found himself in the position of having to drive to the Wise Fire Department station house to access the internet so he could download and return assignments. A preliminary survey of parents indicated that 25% of student homes did not have adequate internet. As those households began using internet connections, the real percentage of homes with poor or no internet service climbed to 40%.

Kiser said many student households found themselves facing service use overage charges or service limits into the first week or two of each month. While service providers including Verizon and Comcast later provided measures like internet hotspots or service vouchers, some households found themselves in areas where fiber line or usable commercial satellite broadband service were not available.

Billy Martin, an information technology specialist with Ballad Health, said his son spent Sundays in the library parking lot to catch up on homework. “It’s 2021. I think broadband is a necessity like water and electricity,” said Martin.

Likewise, Brandon Short said his wife had tried to use her cellphone as a hotspot for their two children to do remote school assignments. Attempts to download school assignments often stopped because the phone could not handle their children’s separate connections. “I don’t understand how in the 21st century why not everybody has broadband,” said Short.

As with the rural electrification and telephone projects of the 1930s and 1940s to extend those necessary services, the nation needs a hard and immediate focus on broadband distribution. High-speed internet access is no longer a luxury.

“If it wasn’t clear before (the pandemic) it is crystal clear now that broadband is a necessity for every aspect of modern civic and commercial life. U.S. policymakers need to treat it that way,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel says.

She’s absolutely correct.