Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Oct. 19

The Greensboro News & Record on a decision to delay in-person classes for some public school students in North Carolina's Guilford County:

After initially tapping the brake on school reopenings in Guilford County, Superintendent Sharon Contreras rightly slammed the pedal to the floor on Monday.

First- and second-grade students won’t be returning to in-person classes Tuesday after all, as originally planned.

Grades 3-8 already had been put on hold, following the guidance of the county health director.

Now the phased resumption of in-person instruction by grade levels has been halted in light of even worsening levels of COVID infections in Guilford County.

With a positive-test rate of 11% last week, Guilford has now moved into the “red” — or highest-risk — category as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Harvard University.

Pre-K and kindergarten students, who already have been attending in-person classes voluntarily, may continue. But the incremental phase-in of in-person classes for older students, who are at greater risk of catching and spreading the virus, will not, at least for now.

The delays are based on five measures the school board adopted as a guide to its reopening policy. Those metrics include COVID-19 case numbers, the percentage of positive test results in the county, school district’s ability to stop the spread of the disease, hospitalization rates and intensive care unit space.

The pause in a return to actual classrooms obviously disappoints students and teachers, most of whom prefer schooling in classrooms as opposed to at home, in front of a computer or tablet screen.

So do the experts.

To the degree that it’s safe and practical, “it should be a priority for districts to reopen for in-person learning, especially for younger ages,” said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University and a member of a panel that authored a report on school reopenings for the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also has vigorously recommended that students be “physically present in school” as much as possible, citing major health, social and educational benefits.

Then there are the ongoing technological hurdles posed by some students’ lack of reliable internet access, which disproportionately affects lower-income and minority students.

Many parents, meanwhile, have had to shoulder the added stress of juggling the supervision of children at home all day with their jobs, which may also require remote access. Other parents have been unable to work, for lack of daycare.

So the yearning for a return to the way things were — or something like it — is perfectly understandable.

But both the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics also say reopening must take into account public health conditions in each community.

Unfortunately, those conditions reflect a surge of COVID infections in North Carolina, the nation and much of the world.

The hard lessons in these on-again, off-again spasms of hope and frustration should be clear by now: Beating the coronavirus demands commitment by communities to resist what comes naturally: gathering closely in large groups, venturing into public spaces without wearing a mask and dismissing the seriousness of the pandemic.

The delicate tension between the benefits of reopening and the hazards often makes this a lose-lose proposition for school leaders. Either way someone will not be happy.

So the best Contreras and the school board can do is what is right: Reopen carefully, based on what medical science says, not our emotions. Or our politics.

What happens next is, for all intents and purposes, up to the community.

“It’s a combination of, I guess, disappointment and motivation at the same time,” the county’s health director, Iulia Vann, told the News & Record’s Jessie Pounds last week, even before the latest setback on Monday.

Wear masks. Socially distance. Wash your hands.

“There’s not one geographical area or industry to blame,” Gov. Roy Cooper said last week of the statewide spike in COVID cases.

“I know we’re all tired of this. It’s frustrating to feel confined and to do the things we need to do to slow the spread of the virus. But we can’t let weariness and frustration win out.”

We know. This isn’t what the public wants to hear.

But it is what the public needs to hear.

Want schools reopened? Want to be able maintain and increase the number of newly reopened businesses and sports and entertainment venues?

Then, please, act like it and be part of the solution.

Or we will pass this way again. And again.

Online: https://www.greensboro.com/

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Oct. 18

The Salisbury Post on voter turnout at a county in North Carolina:

Get ready for some more records.

Rowan County in 2016 saw a record number of ballots cast during early voting — 38,233. In fact, the number was a majority of ballots cast during the entire election. It was proof of a voter preference for the convenience of early voting. Between absentee by-mail, early voting and enthusiasm shown by the long lines during the first few days of early voting, however, it’s likely that a majority of votes will be cast by Election Day. And the majority could be as high as 80%.

When the first day of early voting closed Thursday, 9,694 Rowan County voters had cast their ballots in person or absentee as compared to just 2,205 ballots cast by the same day in 2016.

But when voting closed on Saturday, the same number had topped 15,000. Turnout has reached nearly 16%, and there are still 15 days of early voting and plenty of time for absentee by mail ballots.

Catawba College politics professor Michael Bitzer said it’s possible that 70% or, as the State Board of Elections suspects, 80% of voters could cast their ballots before Nov. 3.

Because of the enthusiasm shown in the first three days of early voting, with long lines already stretching around parts of West End Plaza, it’s worth wondering whether turnout records are within reach, too.

Recent presidential election turnouts, according to the Rowan County Board of Elections, are as follows:

• 2016: 67.91%

• 2012: 66.81%

• 2008: 68.61%

• 2004: 63.51%

• 2000: 54.53%

• 1996: 57.46%

• 1992: 70.94%

• 1988: 71.07%

• 1984: 75.28%

• 1980: 74%

Elections Director Brenda McCubbins says she thinks that turnout percentage in 2020 will top 2016 because of absentee by mail and early voting. It will be difficult to top turnout percentages from the early 1980s, but there are more registered voters now — 96,768 — than ever before. So, it’s possible to set a record for total ballots cast.

Bitzer says a record for total votes cast is possible statewide for the same reason.

“With the numerical increase in the registered voter pool over the past four years, and the fact that we should see the same turnout based on past presidential elections from that pool … that would automatically increase the number of prospective ballots from the 7.2 million registered voters,” Bitzer said. “My estimation is at least 5 million ballots cast, but I could see more than that as well.”

Helping propel efforts toward record turnouts will be Rowan County’s significantly expanded number of hours for early voting this year and a vote by the N.C. Board of Elections to choose the most generous option proposed on the local level.

During the first week of voting in 2016, there was only one early voting site in Rowan County. This year, all five sites are open during the entirety of early voting.

Voters can visit any one of the five sites to cast their ballot as long as they are registered in Rowan County.

The N.C. Board of Elections says there are tens of thousands more early voting hours across the state and 18 more early voting sites.

Today also marks the first time there will be early voting on Sunday, which makes it much easier for churches to ensure their congregations cast ballots and provides ample opportunity to vote for people who might otherwise have to work on weekdays and Saturdays.

As of Saturday evening, here’s how early voting is shaping up at each of Rowan County’s five voting sites:

• West End Plaza: 2,790 ballots cast

• Spencer Municipal Building: 924 ballots cast

• South Rowan Public Library: 2,360 ballots cast

• Rockwell American Legion Building: 2,074 ballots cast

• Cleveland Town Hall: 815 ballots cast

Online: https://www.salisburypost.com

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Oct. 17

Winston Salem-Journal on the upcoming presidential election and recent comments by President Donald Trump:

It’s entirely possible that Joe Biden will win the 2020 presidential election.

We’re not saying he will or even that he should. Just that it’s possible. Any reasonable person should be able to acknowledge that.

If anyone knows that elections don’t always go as expected, it should be President Trump.

So while his claim that “the only way Biden can win is if he cheats” is typically boisterous and self-aggrandizing, it’s also dangerous.

Some are so determined that Trump continue his regime that they’re at least claiming to be preparing to fight for it, ready to start the “civil war” that has been boiling over in the festered swamps of the internet.

Among them are members of the white supremacist fight club Proud Boys, who reportedly took Trump’s suggestion earlier this month to “stand back and stand by” to heart.

During a Trump rally in Staten Island last week, a Proud Boy member was recorded saying, “If Trump doesn’t get reelected, there’s going to be a riot. If he doesn’t get elected, this is when you’re going to see a civil war. My recommendations to anyone, stock up on ammo, get your guns.”

Members of other right-wing groups like Oath Keepers and Three Percenters have expressed their willingness to pull out their weapons if Trump doesn’t score a clear victory. They portray themselves as patriots and their opponents as traitors — but, like Trump, they fail to produce any evidence of the voter fraud they claim.

Close cousins to these groups are the 14 suspects who have been charged by the FBI with scheming to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and possibly Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. They’re associated with the Wolverine Watchmen, an anti-government paramilitary group. It’s not hard to draw a line to them from Trump’s “liberate” tweets in April, in which he urged his followers to rebel against those governors’ coronavirus responses.

In the follow-up, Trump seems angrier with Whitmer than the alleged kidnappers.

It’s irresponsible for Trump to make outrageous claims about Biden cheating when he knows that outliers like these will hear his message — and he knows that many of them have access to weapons.

It’s also irresponsible for Trump to encourage his supporters to go to the polls and “watch very carefully.” Some will be tempted to make a ruckus anytime they see a voter who doesn’t look like they think he or she should.

We’re not suggesting that all Trump supporters are violent. The vast majority are peaceful — and some of them fear violence from the left.

Left-wing violence does occurs, as well. But as former assistant secretary of Homeland Security Elizabeth Neumann told CNN during an interview earlier this month, “The statistics just do not support that left-wing violence is that lethal.”

And both FBI director Christopher Wray and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf have testified to Congress that right-wing white supremacist violence is the most persistent and deadly domestic terror threat facing the country.

And it’s undeniable that Trump, with his anti-immigrant rhetoric, has garnered a high degree of loyalty and support from them.

We realize that many will read this and think we’re overreacting. We hope we are. We hope to find, on Nov. 4, that the results of the election are clear and everybody remains calm and our readers point fingers our way and laugh.

We also like to think that we’ve all been raised better than that in North Carolina. We expect everyone at the polls to be respectful of each other and to respect the rules of conduct. The lines are likely to be long and passions could be high.

If violence occurs, here or elsewhere, some here may be tempted to panic.

Please don’t. Let’s remain calm through this whole process. After the election, wait. We may not see the last shoe drop on Nov. 3. Just wait.

And to those who are listening to Trump’s divisive and dangerous rhetoric and giving it any credence: At this point, you should really know better.

Online: https://www.journalnow.com/