Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania's newspapers:

As coronavirus spreads, we need to stay the course and stay home — difficult as it is

LNP

March 25

We can’t believe we even have to say this but here goes: Grandparents must not be sacrificed to save our economy.

That sentence seems ridiculous. But in an interview Monday night on Fox News, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asserted that it was time for Americans to return to work to stave off an economic collapse. He ventured: “No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”

Patrick’s assertion — that grandparents gladly will risk dying so their grandkids can resume normal life — set off a fierce debate online. As did the president’s suggestion that the well-being of the economy should be our foremost concern now.

These assertions are cavalier, to say the least.

We don’t see older people — or other individuals in high-risk categories — as expendable. They are vital to our families, to this country.

Some of our parents and grandparents went to war to fight for this nation. We can’t tough it out for a while to save them from a respiratory illness that could kill them in a particularly painful way? That could kill us in a particularly painful way?

COVID-19 is not the flu. As Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has explained, it’s deadlier than the flu. We don’t have a vaccine for it. And we have no immunity against it.

Fauci said Tuesday at the White House coronavirus briefing that while the president may want to open up businesses by Easter, “You can look at a date, but you’ve got to be very flexible.”

The data and ramped-up testing will help to determine the way to go, Fauci rightly said.

We know that small business owners and workers are suffering because of the economic slowdown. We’re hoping the stimulus bill before Congress offers them relief.

The economy will recover. But we will not be able to reclaim lives that are needlessly lost to COVID-19.

Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, theorized Tuesday that perhaps we “can target zones where the virus is less prevalent. ... There is a clamor to try to reopen the economy.”

If we knew the true extent of the spread of this novel coronavirus in every state, that eventually might be a possibility. But we don’t yet.

If only hospitals — in every state — had the intensive care unit beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment that will be needed when COVID-19 cases inevitably increase.

But hospitals don’t. We need to buy them some more time to prepare.

Fox News host Ed Henry noted Tuesday that the mortality rate of COVID-19 has been estimated (not universally) to be less than 1%. “Every life matters,” he mused, “and you don’t want to minimize any of them. But when the mortality rate is that low, what is the balance?”

Thomas Bossert, Trump’s former Homeland Security adviser, responded on Twitter: “The case fatality rate is the percentage of people infected that die. People saying it’s only 1% must acknowledge the total number goes up, in real lost lives, if we prematurely return to open society (without) controls. More infected people means more total deaths.”

Bossert is a Republican. So, too, are Sens. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Cheney tweeted this Tuesday morning: “There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus.”

Graham tweeted this Monday: “Try running an economy with major hospitals overflowing, doctors and nurses forced to stop treating some because they can’t help all, and every moment of gut-wrenching medical chaos being played out in our living rooms, on TV, on social media, and shown all around the world.”

“My mother is not expendable. And your mother is not expendable. And our brothers and sisters, they’re not expendable,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday. “We’re not going to put a dollar figure on human life. First order of business is save lives. Period.”

Cuomo, a Democrat, is trying to manage a terrible surge of COVID-19 cases in his state, where the contagion curve is rising alarmingly. He argues that we can develop an “economic startup strategy that is consistent with a public health strategy.”

“If you ask the American people to choose between public health and the economy then it’s no contest,” Cuomo said. “No American is going to say, ‘Accelerate the economy at the cost of human life.’ ”

We hope he’s right.

Because COVID-19 cases are increasing exponentially in other states, too, including our own.

On March 17, Pennsylvania had 96 cases. As of Tuesday, the commonwealth had 851 — and seven deaths. (That rose Wednesday to 1,127 confirmed cases and 11 deaths.)

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said cases are doubling “every two, or at most, three days.”

Thomas Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said this week on Twitter that “big social distancing measures take time to work. ... To drop all these measures now would be to accept that COVID (patients) will get sick in extraordinary numbers all over the country, far beyond what the US health care system could bear.”

Lancaster County ophthalmologist David Silbert asserts in a letter to the editor today that Pennsylvania actually needs to do more than close all but life-sustaining businesses — it needs a statewide stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (Gov. Tom Wolf has issued such an order only to eight counties so far.)

If we don’t slow the spread of this novel coronavirus, Silbert writes, “Many health workers will be infected; many will die. I will lose colleagues and friends to this crisis — a crisis that can be averted.”

He is right. We can try to keep the worst from happening, but that means mustering the resolve to do so.

It means heeding the infectious disease experts who are telling us to stay home — to save not just our grandparents but countless others.

And it means heeding this plea, issued Tuesday by the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association and American Nurses Association: “Staying at home in this urgent moment is our best defense to turn the tide against COVID-19. Physicians, nurses and health care workers are staying at work for you. Please stay at home for us.”

Online: https://bit.ly/2UHtNA6

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The coronavirus crisis is an education crisis

The Philadelphia Inquirer

March 25

The wholesale damage that the coronavirus is inflicting is enormous and indiscriminate. No corner of life is untouched, and virtually no system remains undamaged.

Our system of public education is especially vulnerable to long-term damage, especially in areas with large pockets of poverty like Philadelphia.

On Monday, Pennsylvania’s education secretary announced that statewide school closures would be extended to April 6. That means a giant hole not only in the education of our children but in the many other essential services the system provides. There is no age where that won’t have long-term repercussions — whether it’s high school juniors, or first graders learning to read, or students with special needs.

While many districts around the region were able to seamlessly move to online instruction, only about half of Philadelphia district students have access to technology. That translates to roughly 100,000 students who are not up to speed, and unable to partake in distance learning options.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. in a press briefing Tuesday said that the district is working on providing Chromebooks and internet access to all students. The district is still figuring out how many will have to be purchased to supplement its existing inventory. Along with distance learning plans, that will take weeks.

Equipment is one thing. Internet access is a separate issue, and potentially much more complicated. The district says it hopes Comcast will be a partner in that, but that’s not going to happen overnight. It’s maddening how much time it is going to take to fix this problem. More maddening still is how long we’ve already known the extent of the digital divide.

The district is also coping with the complications of a large student population — 14,000 students — with special education requirements. Early confusion over whether schools could offer these students equal education as required by law led some, including Philadelphia, to shut down prior to the widespread school closures. Rulings have since been clarified, but advocates are concerned that the federal response to the coronavirus will alter the rights of special education students to an equitable education.

Kids risk falling behind in their education — but the disruption of the system means they could also lose critical things like consistent meals, the community that schools provide, and the relationships they have with teachers and other adults.

The school system provides a vital scaffolding for many vulnerable lives. But that scaffolding itself is not built solidly. When that fails, the repercussions will be devastating.

That’s why Congress should take this seriously when considering the funds it will make available for public education. The initial proposal included $2 billion for all schools — and the latest proposals are still not nearly enough.

This crisis could provide an opportunity for changing the landscape of educational equity — and transforming public education. That not only means money but how the system itself operates. The Philadelphia School District will need to amp up the way it communicates and tap into teachers, parents, and other members of the community for solutions. The weaknesses in our educational system are not new. The coronavirus crisis is an urgent call to take them seriously.

Online: https://bit.ly/2xoGZBT

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Need for compromise: Stimulus bill shouldn’t be about political gain

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

March 25

Life in America has changed dramatically over the past two weeks.

A country that has long prided itself on freedom of movement is asking residents to stay inside and maintain social distancing.

Millions suddenly find themselves out of work as businesses have been ordered to close.

No one knows how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last and what our lives will be like when it ends.

The American people and the country’s economy need help, immediately. What they don’t need — or want — is partisan politicking from members of Congress as they work to approve an economic stimulus bill that is unprecedented in both its size and scope.

The bill stalled in the Senate Monday as Democrats blocked procedural votes on a $2 trillion package. That led to frustration and finger-pointing, with members of both parties lashing out at one another.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, though clearly displeased with the Democrats’ action, voiced what many Americans are likely feeling at the moment.

“We don’t have another day. We don’t have another hour. We don’t have another minute to delay acting,” Ms. Collins said. “How can any of us want to see millions of Americans lose their paychecks, their health insurance, their contributions to their retirement plans?”

Indeed.

Americans are being asked to make sacrifices and abrupt changes to their way of life in order to stop a worldwide deadly virus that has already killed thousands and threatens to infect many more before it is stopped. They need to know that their elected officials are working in their best interests to offer relief, to put aside the bitter political partisanship that has divided Washington for far too long.

The stimulus bill will not be perfect. It will have flaws that may become more obvious in the days and weeks ahead. But it is needed to begin a relief effort on a scale never before seen in this country.

There are plans for immediate one-time payments, likely in the amount of $1,200 per person or $3,000 for a family of four. It would also include expanded unemployment benefits, assistance for small businesses and about $500 billion for guaranteed loans to industries adversely affected by the economic slowdown.

It will also provide financial assistance for hospitals that could be easily overwhelmed if the virus is not contained.

All of these efforts, and much more, will be needed in the coming weeks and months. And while Republicans and Democrats argue over whether the bill provides too much for Wall Street and too little for Main Street, the fact is that neither one can succeed without the other.

With such a huge expenditure of public funds at stake, lawmakers must assure taxpayers that there will be oversight and transparency. For that, they can turn to relief efforts in the past to bail out the nation’s banks and the auto industry.

Above all, Americans demand that actions taken now be absent political advantages for either party. What they want is a cooperative agreement that shows congressional leaders understand the sacrifices asked of citizens.

As Ms. Collins said, lawmakers need to come together as they have in past crises.

“Never, never have I seen Republicans and Democrats fail to come together when confronted with a crisis,” she said. “We did so after 9/​11. We did so with the financial meltdown in 2008.”

The good news is that negotiations in the Senate have been ongoing and leaders of both parties say they expect there could be a compromise package agreed upon within a day and sent to the House for approval. Let’s hope so.

Compromise is the tool that has helped shape American democracy for nearly 250 years. It is needed now more than ever.

Online: https://bit.ly/2xl4NGO

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Store clerks man COVID front lines

Erie Times-News

March 25

For many of us the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic registers in awkward new work-from-home arrangements and the struggle to keep our cooped-up kids productively occupied.

The fact is, those on the front lines of this health crisis would likely switch roles if they could.

As of Tuesday, Erie County had registered five cases of COVID-19. Leaders of Erie’s two largest hospitals, UPMC Hamot and Saint Vincent Hospital, tell reporter David Bruce that unlike medical workers elsewhere in the country, they believe they have adequate protective gear and capacity should cases surge in northwestern Pennsylvania.

We are grateful for the preparedness and wish them continued safety.

Another group of people putting lives on the line to serve the rest of us amid this epidemiological war, however, don’t enjoy such reassurance. Those are the retail workers who man the registers and stock the shelves as panicked shoppers flock the aisles to lay in supplies. While public health experts tell us that social distancing is the best way to protect ourselves and halt the coronavirus spread, their work puts them daily face to face with strangers who carry no warning signs of where they might have traveled or whom they might have contacted.

These vulnerable workers, too often taken for granted, deserve our thanks and respect, always, but also our full support and care should their jobs make them sick.

For many, pay and benefits are likely not commensurate with the risk they face. An analysis recently published on politico.com found the nation’s approximately 3.6 million cashiers earn about $22,430 a year and top the list of most at-risk workers during the pandemic.

With so many small businesses shutting down under government order, large-scale grocery chains and retailers, deemed essential services, are hiring to meet a surge of demand.

It is only right and welcome to see such companies, including Walmart, Target and Amazon, boosting pay for workers who make their operations and profits possible.

Local companies are following suit. According to the Tribune-Review, Giant Eagle will offer $10 million in bonus pay to its employees, and western New York media outlets have reported that Wegmans is giving its workers a temporary $2 an hour raise amid the crisis. The company also said on its website that it has enhanced its disability pay policy and created a job-protected voluntary leave program.

Whether it is by company action or a congressional bailout, any gaps in the health care safety net for these workers must also be cinched given the dangers they face to serve others.

This experience throws into high relief the value of their labor to our economy and way of life.

Online: https://bit.ly/3dzGBRJ

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Too many people are out and about, while people are dying from the coronavirus

Harrisburg Patriot News/Pennlive.com

March 23

This is another plea to our community – young and old -- to take social distancing seriously.

Listen, there are people who have to work. We get that. They are essential. They are our healthcare workers, our police and firefighters, and, yes, those stocking the shelves at our supermarkets.

But too many people are out and about when they shouldn’t be. To put it bluntly, that’s immoral. That inhumane. That’s what’s killing people.

If you can stay home and work, you should do it. If you have to go out to get more toilet paper or milk, you should do it quickly, staying as far away from other people as possible. And wash, wash, wash your hands. You should also disinfect everything you bring into your house, and then you should wash, wash, wash your hands again.

You should not be going to gatherings of any kind with more than 50 people, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This means wedding, funerals, bingos or religious services.

The president has advised people to stay out of gatherings of 10 or more. That’s wise guidance. It’s up to us to heed it.

But too many of us are not heeding the guidance of health care professionals or even of the president. Too many of us are simply doing business as usual. We have seen teens on the beach, romping together through the sand, laughing with glee.

We have seeing daycare centers still open with little kids scurrying about, despite the governor’s warnings.

And we have seen churches continue to hold Sunday services, as if they aren’t getting clear guidance from God in COVID-19. They keep their doors open despite the fact that many of the people in the pews are elderly and the most likely to die from the coronavirus.

Where is the holiness in that?

We commend those businesses, educators, faith and community leaders who have taken the warnings about social distancing seriously. We commend those shops, schools, daycare centers, churches, temples, mosques and synagogues that have closed to protect the people they love – whether they were ordered to or not.

We realize the economic hardship the coronavirus restrictions are bringing to our community. Businesses of all sizes are facing steep losses; non-profit organizations are unable to provide vital community services, and every Sunday a church’s doors are closed means thousands of dollars no longer available for important ministries in our region, not to mention pastors’ salaries.

But this is truly a matter of life and death. If we don’t circle the wagons and keep enough people home to slow the virus’s spread, more people will die. Faith leaders as well as political and business leaders must show self-less leadership to protect the most vulnerable people, despite the clear economic toll.

And political leaders must have their backs. They must take immediate action to help distressed businesses and to support non-profits and faith groups that also are facing financial hardship. They must support workers who are facing layoffs or who get sick with the virus without health insurance. And they must move to stop the flagrant disregard of official guidance designed to save lives and limit the time we all have to live in isolation.

Congress needs to act. The governor needs to act. Legislators at the Capitol need to act. Partisan bickering needs to be set aside. This is an emergency. We all need to be using our tin cups to bail the water out of our dingy.

If we don’t do our part now, our boat is in danger of sinking. And we’ll all go down together.

Online: https://bit.ly/2QL1lMy

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