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Trump and DeVos Push to Reopen Schools Amid Coronavirus!

Betsy DeVos defends Trump's plan to slash education spending by 14 ...

Dear Commons Community,

Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos launched a media blitz yesterday designed to push schools and colleges to reopen in the fall regardless of the coronavirus pandemic.  Earlier in the day, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos assailed plans by some local districts to offer in-person instruction only a few days a week and said schools must be “fully operational” even amid the coronavirus pandemic.  Anything less, she says, would fail students and taxpayers.

DeVos made the comments during a call with governors as the Trump administration launched an all-out effort to get schools and colleges to reopen. Audio of the call was obtained by The Associated Press.

“Ultimately, it’s not a matter of if schools need to open, it’s a matter of how. School must reopen, they must be fully operational. And how that happens is best left to education and community leaders,” DeVos told governors.

Later, President Donald Trump insisted that schools and colleges return to in-person instruction as soon as possible. Trump said that Democrats want to keep schools closed “for political reasons, not for health reasons.”

“They think it will help them in November. Wrong, the people get it!” Trump tweeted.  As reported by the Associated Press.

In making its case to reopen schools, the Trump administration has argued that keeping students at home carries greater risks than any tied to the coronavirus. Health officials say students need to be in school to continue their educational development and to access meal programs and services for mental and behavioral health.

But some are calling for greater caution as schools plan for the fall. Arne Duncan, who served as Education Secretary under former President Barack Obama, has said the focus should be on making sure students can return safely.

“We all want children to go back to school,” Duncan said on Twitter. “The question is whether we care enough about our children to ALLOW them to go to school safely. Our behavior, our commitment to shared sacrifice — or our selfishness — will determine what happens this fall for kids.”

Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, a prominent education union, decried Trump’s promise to pressure local leaders to open schools and called for safer measures in an interview with The Associated Press.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out guidance for schools last month, including staggering schedules, spreading out desks, having meals in classrooms instead of the cafeteria, adding physical barriers between bathroom sinks and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.

In the call with governors, DeVos slammed districts that plan to offer in-person instruction only a few days a week. She called out Fairfax County Public Schools, which is asking families to decide between fully remote instruction or two days a week in the classroom.

“A choice of two days per week in the classroom is not a choice at all,” DeVos said, contending that the district’s distance learning last spring was a “disaster.”

Her criticism of schools’ distance education efforts extended across the country. DeVos said she was disappointed in schools that “didn’t figure out how to serve students or who just gave up and didn’t try.” She said more than one state education chief told her that they also were disappointed in districts that did “next to nothing to serve their students.”

The same thing can’t happen again this fall, she said, urging governors to play a role in getting schools to reopen.

“Students across the country have already fallen behind. We need to make sure that they catch up,” DeVos said. “It’s expected that it will look different depending on where you are, but what’s clear is that students and their families need more options.”

At a later panel discussion, DeVos acknowledged that outbreaks may temporarily disrupt in-person instruction, but she said schools should be expected to provide five days of classroom instruction a week.”

This is a most difficult decision.  School administrations are caught trying to offer an education and at the same time provide an environment safe from the coronavirus.  Not an easy task.  I find it amazing that Trump cannot decide on requiring American citizens to wear masks – a simple but effective way to control coronavirus – but would require schools to reopen exposing tens of millions of students to the illness.

Tony

Colleges Finding New Ways to Support Students of Color!

Dear Commons Community,

Just about every survey conducted since the beginning of March indicates that student distress is only going to get worse this fall. Those mental-health concerns will be exacerbated for Black and Hispanic students, whose populations are disproportionately harmed by Covid-19 and by the police violence gripping the nation’s consciousness. Asian American students, meanwhile, are dealing with racial slurs and jokes stemming from the pandemic’s origins in China.

What’s more, students of color often don’t get the help they need. About 45 percent of white students with mental-health challenges seek treatment, according to a 2018 study, but only a third of Latinx students do so. For Black and Asian students, the proportion is even lower — about 25 and 22 percent, respectively (see table above).

And this fall, they will return to colleges that look and feel very different. The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article this morning describing the plans of some colleges in dealing with supporting students of color.  Here is an excerpt.

“In the throes of dual national crises, students of color will need quick access to mental-health-care options that reflect their experiences, recreate their support systems remotely, and acknowledge the physical and emotional tolls the past few months have taken.

As Alexa Sass, a junior at the University of California at Los Angeles, was finishing up the spring term, George Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis, and protests against racial injustice exploded nationwide. Processing the news was overwhelming and exhausting for Sass, who identifies as Black and Filipino.

She tried to get through her final exams as best she could. She turned to books on spirituality. She leaned on her communities within UCLA and back home in the Bay Area — virtually, of course. She has tried out some of the university’s online mental-health resources, but they’re not what she really needs.

Without much in-person interaction, she’s struggling emotionally. “The way that I process my mental health is through support systems,” said Sass, a leader in the campus chapter of Active Minds, a national mental-health advocacy group.

The pandemic and the racial-injustice crisis have caused fear, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness in Black students, said Kayla Johnson, a staff psychologist at Prairie View A&M University, a historically Black institution in Texas. But those students don’t often use mental-health services, because of stigma.

For some Black people, Johnson said, going to a therapist means that something must be wrong with you, or that you don’t have enough faith in God. There’s also pressure to keep problems to yourself, she said: “There’s kind of a level of secrecy about things that happen.”

Not only are there cultural barriers that discourage many students of color from talking openly about mental health, but they also encounter a staff of campus therapists many of whom don’t look like them, said Annelle Primm, a senior medical adviser at the Steve Fund, a mental-health-support organization for young people of color. Some students, she said, make the calculation that “it’s best not to seek help if they can’t seek help from someone with whom they feel comfortable sharing such personal feelings.”

At predominantly white institutions, counseling-staff members often don’t know how to talk with Black students, Johnson added. Sometimes, she said, students end up taking time out of their therapy sessions to explain social, economic, and cultural problems affecting Black families to their white therapists.

“Of course, when that happens, you don’t want to come back,” she said.

This fall, making sure students of color can connect with culturally competent mental-health providers will be key, mental-health experts say.

Before Stacia Alexander arrived at Paul Quinn College, in 2018, the historically black institution in Texas had a mental-health provider on campus for only a few hours each week, from the nearby University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Once Alexander took over as the college’s first mental-health-clinic coordinator, she tried a direct form of outreach: She handed out her cellphone number to students at orientation and told them to text her when they were having a bad day. One of the biggest barriers to accessing care, she said, is that students don’t know where to go.

It worked. And many students told her how excited they were to have a Black therapist to talk with.

But students were texting her all night, she said. So, earlier this year, Paul Quinn joined with TimelyMD, a teletherapy company, to ease the burden. Now students can reach a therapist 24/7 through the TimelyMD app, which offers access to providers from a wide range of cultural backgrounds.

Accessibility, experts say, should be another top priority for colleges trying to better reach students of color with mental-health resources.

Dozens of colleges, including George Washington University, Texas A&M University, and Mississippi State University, are offering quick drop-in consultations with therapists meant for students of color. The program, known as “Let’s Talk,” typically is set up at different locations across campus during a given week, often in student unions or cultural centers. For now, the drop-in sessions are happening virtually.

Brown University’s counseling center uses a flexible-care model, in which most students are served through 25-30-minute sessions that they can schedule just once, or as often as they want. Continuing 50-minute counseling appointments reflect a Western-centric care approach that doesn’t appeal to many students of color, said Will Meek, director of counseling and psychological services.

Since March, he said, no Brown student has waited more than a day to see one of the university’s campus therapists, a staff that Meek describes as culturally diverse. The university uses a third party to further expand access…

…Some colleges are turning to online platforms to try to reach students before they spiral into anxiety or depression. More than 120 institutions are offering You at College, which compiles mental-health and well-being resources tailored to campuses.

Nathaan Demers, a former campus psychologist who’s now vice president and director of clinical programs at Grit Digital Health, which worked with Colorado State University to develop You at College three years ago, said students’ use of the platform increased by 153 percent in the first five weeks of the pandemic compared with the previous three months.

The platform recently added resources that address the racial-injustice crisis, on how to make one’s voice heard effectively and how to maintain self-care as an activist. California State University at Fullerton conducted a study this spring and found that students of color used the You at College platform at a higher rate than white students did, Demers said.

Students can use You at College on their phones, and they can do so privately, which is especially important for students who are staying with their families and wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking with a therapist in that environment, he said.”

As colleges prepare for how they will re-open in the fall and strengthen support services for students, this article has a number of timely suggestions.

Tony

 

 

Donald Trump’s Campaign Slogan – “Vote for me if I haven’t managed to kill you yet!

Eager to Opine on the Toughest Calls in Medical Ethics - The New ...

Dr. Arthur Caplan

Dear Commons Community,

Dr. Arthur Caplan, Director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU School of Medicine in New York City, was on a panel yesterday on CNN discussing the uncontrolled spread of coronavirus in a number of states in our country.  The panelists including Dr. Caplan came to the same conclusion that President Trump has said and done everything wrong in dealing with the pandemic:  “It will go away;”  “You don’t have to wear masks;”  “99% of coronavirus cases are totally harmless;” etc.  As the segment drew to a close, the panelists were asked for their closing comments.  Caplan gave a beaut.  He said Trump should have as his presidential campaign slogan:  “Vote for me if I haven’t managed to kill you yet!”

Tony

Facebook Facing Growing Boycott by Corporate America!

Dear Commons Community,

Facebook is seeing a growing boycott by corporate advertisers unhappy with its handling of misinformation and hate speech, including its laissez-faire attitude toward recent posts from President Trump.

The effort gained traction earlier in June amid pressure from civil rights organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Anti-Defamation League. Color of Change, one of the groups backing the boycott, said that nearly 100 advertisers have joined.

Many of the participants are small businesses, which make up the bulk of Facebook’s eight million advertisers. But recently, several large companies that spend millions of dollars a year on the platform have also distanced themselves. Some are also halting their advertising from Twitter and other social media sites, along with Facebook’s platforms.

Facebook spends billions of dollars a year to keep its platforms safe and works with outside experts to review and update its policies, the company said in a statement on Friday. But it added that “we know we have more work to do.”

Below is a sample of major advertisers that are limiting or stopping their advertising on Facebook, with estimates of what they spent last year, courtesy of the New York Times.

Facebook stock has had a bad couple of weeks as the boycott spreads. It will be interesting to see how Mark Zuckerberg responds.

Tony

————————————————————————

The brands, which have the same parent company, said on Monday that it would stop advertising on Facebook and Instagram globally for the month of July and would also develop guidelines for holding “ourselves and every one of our partners accountable for creating and maintaining safe environments.”

On Monday, the electronics retailer said it would join the boycott for the month of July, pulling ads from both Facebook and Instagram.

The processed food company, known for its brands including Campbell’s Soup, Pepperidge Farm and Goldfish, said  that it would suspend content, including paid advertising and brand and corporate posts, on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for at least 60 days beginning on July 1. “The consumer experience on these social platforms has become increasingly divisive, and we will use this time to re-evaluate our advertising standards and association with these platforms to ensure that our brands are not in environments that promote bias, racism or hatred of any kind,” the company said in a statement.

The company’s chief marketing officer, Chris Brandt said, on Wednesday that the restaurant chain was temporarily pausing paid advertising on Facebook and Instagram but would continue to post unpaid content.

Getting Close to Decisions on How K-12 Schools Will Re-Open in the Fall!

France reports 70 coronavirus cases in schools after partial ...

Dear Commons Community,

It is July and schools districts around the country are now facing decisions about how to re-open in the fall.  The decisions are being made at the state and local school district levels and there is little consensus.  Here in New York, while some local officials such as NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has suggested that schools might re-open with at least some form of in-person classes, Governor Andrew Cuomo has stated “not so fast’ and that the decision will be made at the state level. The Associated Press has an article this morning examining how some school districts are facing this decision. Here is an excerpt.

“School districts across America are in the midst of making wrenching decisions over how to resume classes in settings radically altered by the coronavirus pandemic, with school buses running below capacity, virtual learning, outdoor classrooms and quarantine protocols for infected children the new norm.

The plans for the upcoming school year are taking shape by the day, and vary district to district, state to state. The debates have been highly emotional, with tempers flaring among parents and administrators, and have been made all the more vexing by record numbers of COVID-19 cases being reported each day.

In Florida, some school districts want students back in the classroom in early August, even though the virus is surging through communities. On average, Florida has reported more than 7,000 new cases each day recently — more than seven times what it was reporting a month ago.

New Mexico, which has been largely spared major outbreaks, plans a hybrid model of virtual and in-person learning. Parents in New York have demanded schools reopen in the fall. And in Maine, more outdoor learning is planned. Districts nationwide are coming up with various rules for wearing masks. Some want all students to wear them. Others, such as Marion County, Indiana, plan to limit the requirement to older children.

Each of these decisions is fraught, trying to balance health concerns with clawing back as much normalcy as possible. Parents, wrung out after months of juggling full-time work and full-time home schooling, are desperate for help. Children, isolated from their peers, are yearning for social interaction. And everyone, including teachers, is concerned about stepping into the unknown, with so much still uncertain about the virus.

Districts are worried about being able to afford added supplies — including masks and more buses. And school officials said the resurgence of virus cases underway could shatter reopening plans before they’re even put in place.

“If we see large outbreaks happening across communities, it’s going to be very hard to keep schools open,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, on “Fox News Sunday.” “The good news is we think kids transmit less. They are certainly less likely to get sick, but … imagine Arizona right now. If schools were open right now, they would not be able to stay open.”

Aimee Rodriguez Webb, a special education teacher in Cobb County, Georgia, is wrestling with her own health concerns while waiting to hear her district’s plans. She also has a 3 year old.

“I love being in the classroom. And this year I get my own classroom, so I was looking forward to decorating it and all that,” she said. “But then the flip side is … I don’t know that I’m mentally ready to step into the unknown like that.”

Schools around the U.S. shut down suddenly this year as coronavirus cases first began rising. That led to a hodgepodge of distance learning, on-the-fly homeschooling and, for some families, a lack of any school at all. Districts are now turning their focus to how to create more structured environments.

But the debates have been filled with tension. Near Rochester, New York, parents rallied in favor of fully opening schools, holding signs outside an administration building June 29 saying: “No normal school? No school taxes!”

Christina Higley, a parent in the Rochester suburb of Webster, said she started a Facebook group initially to demand answers and have a say in what school would look like, but the discussions there sparked a movement for reopening schools.

“There’s a lot of parents that are saying, `Open our schools, let us have the decision if we feel comfortable sending the children in to them,’” said Higley, whose children just finished kindergarten, third and fifth grade.

The decisions are even more complicated in districts where the case count is rising. In Manatee County, Florida, the working plan is for all elementary students to return to school full time on Aug. 10. Older students would rely on virtual learning while they are phased back into brick-and-mortar schools.

But that proposal isn’t set in stone amid a surge in infections. The county recorded its highest number of new cases in a single day in late June.

If a student tests positive for the virus in the new school year, classrooms or whole buildings would need to be disinfected, said Mike Barber, a district spokesman. Students and staff with confirmed infections wouldn’t be able to return until they had tested negative twice.

Meanwhile, medical experts have expressed concerns for children’s development and mental health. The American Academy of Pediatrics said it “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”

In Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Shael Norris said she’s particularly concerned about children who could face abuse at home and parents who risk losing their jobs to care for their kids. Norris has two children set to attend high school in the fall and runs a nonprofit that combats sexual assault.

“There are so many equally important risks, and we’re focused entirely on COVID,” she said. “But I get it. It’s scary.”

Maine never saw a major outbreak, and it is now reporting, on average, a few dozen cases each day. Still, the state’s largest school district of Portland has left all the options on the table: a full reopening, a partial reopening or fully remote learning.

The district sent a letter to parents that said it plans to use outdoor space when possible — a solution for only a few months a year, given Maine’s weather.

In order to keep kids a safe distance apart on school buses, districts will need more vehicles — an especially thorny issue for rural districts, where students travel vast distances. New Mexico has issued guidelines that buses should be run at 50% capacity, according to Nancy Martira, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

Many districts plan to lean heavily on federal bailout money to pay for their extra transportation needs.

It’s all adding up to an anxious start to the school year.”

To complicate the issue further, while decisions have to be made about how the schools will open in the fall, those that do re-open with in-person classes, have to develop plans for how the schools might have to close again should the coronavirus spread a second wave of infections.

Tony  

Trump Stokes Divisiveness on a Day Meant for Unity and Celebration!

Trump thinks his face belongs on Mount Rushmore. No, seriously

Dear Commons Community,

President Donald Trump vowed to “safeguard our values” from enemies within — leftists, looters, agitators, he said — in a Fourth of July speech packed with all the grievances and combativeness of his political rallies.  His odious remarks were a reflection of his political standing: trailing in the polls, lacking a booming economy or a positive message to campaign on, and leaning on culture wars to buoy his loyalists. Here is an excerpt from an Associated Press article describing his speech last night. 

“Trump watched paratroopers float to the ground in a tribute to America, greeted his audience of front-line medical workers and others central in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, and opened up on those who “slander” him and disrespect the country’s past.

“We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters, and the people who, in many instances, have absolutely no clue what they are doing,” he said. “We will never allow an angry mob to tear down our statues, erase our history, indoctrinate our children.

“And we will defend, protect and preserve (the) American way of life, which began in 1492 when Columbus discovered America.”

He did not mention the dead from the pandemic. Nearly 130,000 are known to have died from COVID-19 in the U.S.

Even as officials across the country pleaded with Americans to curb their enthusiasm for large Fourth of July crowds, Trump enticed the masses with a “special evening” of tribute and fireworks staged with new U.S. coronavirus infections on the rise.

But the crowds wandering the National Mall for the night’s air show and fireworks were strikingly thinner than the gathering for last year’s jammed celebration on the Mall.

Many who showed up wore masks, unlike those seated close together for Trump’s South Lawn event, and distancing was easy to do for those scattered across the sprawling space.

Trump did not hesitate to use the country’s birthday as an occasion to assail segments of the country that do not support him.

Carrying on a theme he pounded on a day earlier against the backdrop of the Mount Rushmore monuments, he went after those who have torn down statues or think some of them, particularly those of Confederate figures, should be removed. Support has been growing among Republicans to remove Confederate memorials.”

Hopefully this will be the last time we have to hear this boor on the 4th of July!

Tony

Susan Dynarski Op-Ed:  College Is Worth It, but Campus Isn’t!

Photo Credit:  Ellen Weinstein

Dear Commons Community,

Susan Dynarski, professor of education, public policy and economics at the University of Michigan, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times which makes the point that bringing millions of students back to campus would create enormous risks for society but comparatively little educational benefit.  She recommends that colleges offer their courses online and not bring the students to campus for fear of coronavirus spread.

I agree with her position and as I have said in a previous posting  on this blog:   “With students back on campus, we are only one keg party away from a health catastrophe.”

Dynarski’s entire op-ed is below.

Tony


New York Times

Susan Dynarski

07/05/20

College Is Worth It, but Campus Isn’t

Each fall, millions of students head to college campuses. Most stay close to home, but many crisscross the country to study in a different state.

Students typically move into crowded housing and reconnect with friends at parties, mixers and bars. When classes start, they customarily file into large lecture halls and small seminar rooms, sitting close together, heads bent over books and laptops.

This is a joyful scene in most years. In a pandemic it would be an epidemiological nightmare.

Colleges will have to look very different this fall if they are to avoid accelerating the pandemic. But financial and political pressures are forcing many schools to make choices involving difficult trade-offs between their students’ education, public health and their own economic well-being.

Colleges were among the first institutions to respond when much of the world went into lockdown this spring: Campuses closed, and students finished their interrupted semesters online. Now, college administrators are pondering how they will reboot this fall.

Here’s a scarily plausible chain of events. Colleges bring students back to campus — where they act like college students. They meet over coffee, go to parties and bars, pair off on dates and congregate in crowded dorms. The virus quickly spreads among students, who mostly recover quickly or are entirely asymptomatic.

But soon the virus reaches the older, more vulnerable members of the faculty and staff, as well as local residents. Infections surge. Teaching hospitals care for the ill at the larger universities, but small, regional hospitals near rural colleges are quickly overwhelmed.

No one wants to see this happen. Unfortunately, the choices that minimize contagion tend to undermine the broader college experience, which is built on intense social interaction in classrooms and at cultural events, political activities and sporting events.

The California State University system plans to keep the education of its nearly half a million students online. So does California’s community college system, which enrolls two million students. These campuses will remain shut down.

But many four-year colleges plan a mix of online and face-to-face learning. Boston University is allowing its students to choose between learning exclusively online and taking some classes in person, as is Northeastern University, also in Boston. Stanford will allow just half of its students on campus each quarter.

To minimize student travel, many schools are compressing the academic calendar and eliminating breaks. The University of Michigan will send students home at Thanksgiving to complete the semester online.

Throughout the country, students who do return will find a transformed campus. At many colleges, students will live alone in dorm rooms, eating boxed meals or going to dining halls in staggered shifts. There will be few, if any, college-sanctioned parties or sports events. Students will wear masks, as will their teachers and campus workers — though mask policies will vary by school, just as they differ across states and cities.

Classes will largely be online, even at the many colleges that are bringing students back to campus. There simply isn’t enough classroom space to do otherwise: Once students are spread six feet apart — the standard requirement for social distancing — classrooms can hold only a small fraction of their usual capacity. Huge lecture halls built for hundreds can safely hold a few dozen, scattered among rows of empty seats.

Many students struggle with the online format, but that is a moot point. The operative question is where students will do their largely online learning: from their homes or on campus.

Colleges can plausibly influence how students behave in classroom buildings, but they have a far weaker position outside class. After all, colleges have struggled for years to prevent alcohol abuse and other risky behaviors on campus. Keeping college students from getting physically close to one another is, many fear, an impossible task.

Recent coronavirus outbreaks in Florida and South Carolina have been linked to fraternity parties and bars popular with students. Evidence from Japan indicates that young people seeded many of that country’s outbreaks by gathering at karaoke clubs and bars.

Consider the problems in Fort Benning, Ga., where the Army trains recruits. Just four of 640 recruits tested positive for the coronavirus when they arrived this spring — but within a few weeks, more than a hundred were infected. It is unlikely that colleges will be more effective than the Army in enforcing strict social distancing and safety protocols.

Yet some students must return to campus to continue their education, for many reasons. Their families may not have a quiet or safe place where they can study, or there’s no reliable internet. And some classes, such as a nursing internship or a chemistry lab, simply can’t be taught online. Many colleges are putting a priority on finding space in housing and classrooms for these exceptions. But for the typical student, whose courses will largely be online, learning this fall does not require being on or near campus.

Given the enormous health risks involved in bringing students back, why are so many colleges promising to open their campuses? The answer is simple: Their financial survival depends on it. Many four-year colleges, especially the most selective schools, provide not just classroom learning but also the social experience of clubs, athletics, culture, politics and professional networking.

Without the promise of a campus experience, some students may opt to take a year off or enroll in a cheaper school. In addition, public colleges are facing sharp cuts from state governments coping with plunging tax receipts. If these colleges also lose revenue from tuition, fees, room and board, they will be forced to shutter programs and lay off large numbers of employees and faculty. At best, it would take decades for higher education to recover from such losses and disruption.

With no indication that the federal government is prepared to step in quickly with a financial rescue plan for higher education, colleges and universities are being forced to choose between bad alternatives.

But a toll will be paid, and it will largely not fall on students. Dining-hall workers, custodians, secretaries, librarians, medical personnel — as well as older faculty members — are far more vulnerable.

As an economist, I’m frequently asked, “Is college still worth it?” My answer is almost invariably yes: The lifetime payoff to earning a college degree is so very large, in health and wealth, that it dwarfs even high tuition costs. College is an especially smart choice during a terrible job market.

But in this pandemic, the college experience has to change. Gathering students on campus is a gamble that could generate outsize risks for society and only modest benefits for students.

Happy 4th of July – Stay Safe!

DHS urges Wisconsin residents to stay home ahead of 4th of July

Dear Commons Community,

We cannot let our guard down as we celebrate our country’s birthday today during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Spend time with family and friends but in very small gatherings. Wear masks, practice social distancing, and wash your hands.

A Happy and Safe 4th of July!

Tony

Texas Governor Greg Abbot Orders Masks in Most of the State!

Texas Governor Greg Abbott Donning a Face Mask

Dear Commons Community,

In a dramatic reversal of his messaging over the past several months, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott yesterday ordered that face coverings must be worn in public across most of the state, in an effort to control spiking numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

Abbott, who had pushed Texas’ aggressive reopening of the state economy in May, had previously said the government could not order individuals to wear masks. His prior virus-related orders had undercut efforts by local governments to enforce mask requirements.

But faced with rising numbers of both newly confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus and the number of patients so sick they needed to be hospitalized, Abbott changed course with yesterday’s mask order. It requires “all Texans to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth in public spaces in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases, with few exceptions,” the governor’s office said.  As reported by the Associated Press.

“We are now at a point where the virus is spreading so fast, there is little margin for error,” Abbott said.

Texas reported 7,915 newly confirmed cases, a slight dip after zooming past the 8,000 mark for the first time on Wednesday. The 7,382 hospitalizations means the state has more than quadrupled its numbers in that category since the end of May.

The true number of cases is likely much higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest that people can be infected and not feel sick.

Abbott’s action comes as Texans approach the Fourth of July weekend, a time usually marked by gatherings and parties. Along the coast, local officials have said that access to many beaches will be restricted. And a lakeside concert by 1990s rapper Vanilla Ice that was set to take place outside of Austin on Friday was postponed after being criticized for planning to gather hundreds of fans in one of the nation’s coronavirus hot spots.

The mask order takes effect today and the minimum case count would cover most of the state’s 254 counties and most of the population. Counties with fewer than 20 cases cover mostly rural areas and will be allowed to apply with the governor’s office for an exemption.

The order also applies to the Texas GOP Convention in Houston in two weeks — which is still pressing forward after party leaders late Thursday voted against switching to a virtual gathering. The convention typically draws thousands of attendees, and some party activists criticized Abbott’s mandate while backing a three-day, in-person event starting July 16.

Mask order violators can be fined up to $250. There are exceptions for people who have a medical condition or disability, who are exercising outdoors, or who are participating in a religious service or voting. Texas this week began its monthlong early voting period for its primary elections.

Abbott also gave mayors and county authorities the ability to ban outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people.

In his order and a statement, Abbott said wearing a mask is a proven method to slowing down the virus’ spread and said if Texans comply “more extreme measures may be avoided.”

Abbott has said he doesn’t want to roll back his previous orders to reopen the economy. But last week he moved to reclose bars and limit dine-in capacity in restaurants to 50%.

“We have the ability to keep businesses open and move our economy forward so that Texans can continue to earn a paycheck, but it requires each of us to do our part to protect one another — and that means wearing a face covering in public spaces,” Abbott said.

Abbott has been under extreme pressure from both Democrats and Republicans on his reopening plans.

Democrats, most notably the leadership of the state’s largest cities, have complained Abbott reopened Texas too quickly and have pointed to the record numbers of confirmed new cases and hospitalizations.

Conservative lawmakers battered Abbott’s early moves to combat the virus, including business, school and child-care closures and a stay-at-home order that expired in May.

In April, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called attempts by local governments in the Houston area to enforce mask orders with fines the “ultimate government overreach.”

“The move to mandate facemasks comes far too little, far too late for Governor Abbott,” Texas Democratic Party Communications Director Abhi Rahman said. “Texans are still getting sick. Families are still suffering … All of this could have been prevented if Governor Abbott had listened to experts and medical professionals in the first place.”

The Texas Medical Association applauded the mask order.

“There is no question about it, face masks reduce the spread of COVID-19. They help protect the people wearing masks, and they help protect the people around them,” said the association’s president, Dr. Diana L. Fite.”

Governor Abbot finally got the message!

Tony

Video: Vote for Our Lives – America Has One Last Chance!

Dear Commons Community,

A new video entitled, America Has One Last Chance (see above)  shows what’s on the line in the next four  months in the presidential election contest between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

“This November, America has one last chance to save this country,” the text on the screen reads. 

The footage contrasts Trump’s words to current events, including the administration’s flawed response to the coronavirus pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests, and includes comments from fed-up voters along with the hashtag #VoteForOurLives.

The video was made by Eleven Films, an Oregon-based media company, and is set to a song called “The Dangerous Ones” by Kasey Anderson.

As we get ready to commemorate the 4th of July tomorrow, we might take a moment to think about the message in this video.

Tony