Lunches have been packed, sleep routines reset, and spelling words called out since students returned to classrooms across Georgia. Now parents, teachers, and students are reviewing progress reports and sizing up what happens during the next half of the grading period.
This point in the school year also gives school leaders an opportunity to review what is working and what might need to be adjusted. During a pandemic, the ability for schools to pivot on a pinhead may be the difference between lives saved and lost.
On the afternoon of Thursday, September 9, 2021, Washington County Public Schools sent out a survey using a Google platform tool asking for feedback from the school community. The survey tool is one I have used as both an executive director and board president of nonprofits.
The school system’s email with the link to the survey was sent to me by parents in the community. The form didn’t ask for any identifying information: no name, email, address, phone number. It did ask if the person responding is a school employee. It could be filled out by anyone anywhere who had the link. I filled it out and submitted it. Twice.
Friday morning when I returned to the link it said I had already submitted my answer. Fair enough. After poking around with it some during the second of many cups of coffee, I got this:
The survey showed my email address, but Google’s software told me it wasn’t collecting anything from my account.
This isn’t the first time the schools have sent out a survey without parameters set on who could fill out the survey, or requiring any identifying information, in order to submit the survey. Last school year I picked up the phone and ended up talking with Dr. Rickey Edmond, who assured me that they were able to collect identifying data even though none was require to submit answers. I told him having seen the backside of these surveys via my Google business account, I’d sure like to know how they were managing that, because it might help me in the future. All I got was, “We can.”
With the broad questions asked in last week’s survey, what can Dr. Edmond the Board of Education, and school principals really take away beyond how smooth car pick up and drop off are, and general satisfaction with instruction? Is a blind survey the only way for school leaders to know how parents and employees gauge the school year to date? How confident can school leaders, parents, teachers, and students be that the survey sent out on Thursday has the controls and parameters to collect accurate information?
It will be interesting to see what Dr. Edmond and the Board of Education members share with the community. Based on recent inquiries by myself and others concerned about the system’s Covid-19 record-keeping and reporting, my confidence in the quality of information collected and shared by the school system is low. Will the results of a survey available to anyone with email be used to guide judgement impacting not only the education of every student, but the health of the entire Washington County community?
With the return to classrooms across Georgia, I have been following the Covid-19 numbers in public schools in our state. Dismissing the recommended guidelines of the CDC, and the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, many superintendents and school boards are playing doctor with the health of their own communities. The outcome, with Georgia’s schools back in session for about a month, has resulted in schools opting to be online only, delaying the start of school, pausing all instruction after beginning the school year, and students, teachers, bus drivers, and bus monitors, dying of Covid-19.
Concerned families, school communities, medical providers, and epidemiologists wait on a weekly Friday report from the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) for Covid-19 cases and trends in their county. Friday afternoon is also when most school systems release their Covid-19 information to their community. Some school leaders choose full transparency and share all the data they send to DPH for its weekly report. Their communities know the number of confirmed cases, how many people are quarantined, and clusters in each school.* Other schools provide a scant report that often leaves community members in the dark while confirmed cases continue to break records in Georgia.
This data is supposed to help school leaders decide how safe, and effective, it is to keep students in classrooms. Some schools have opted for virtual and printed materials for entire grades, entire schools, or the whole system as a result of data and historic trends.
On Thursday, August 27th, during what Washington County’s school superintendent described as a “fireside chat,” Dr. Rickey Edmond told almost 100 people attending the online event that only confirmed cases matter. He dismissed the number of students and staff quarantined as”fluid.” I agree that number could be considered fluid, because it can change every day. The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases can also change every day. DPH has already elevated Washington County schools to “substantial spread” and “increasing” in its weekly report.
With the state ratcheting up the level of concern for everyone in Washington County’s public schools, and having looked at reports posted by other systems across Georgia, I wondered exactly what DPH requires for its weekly school report. Seeing the reporting form was the best way to know.
A friend once told me, “I love a good Open Records Act request.” Like them, I also love a good Georgia Open Records Act (GORA) request. On Monday, August 30th, I sent one to the Dr. Edmond, copying the Washington County Board of Education members. My request was, “The information I am requesting is for the information used for the Covid-19 information released to the public on August 13, 20, 27, 2021. I am requesting the Covid-19 reports and/or data Washington County public schools sent to the Georgia Department of Public Health for its weekly school report.” That’s a pretty straightforward request because DPH requires it, the school is supposed to compile and send it, so releasing all of it doesn’t require extra work.
What I got back from Edmond was, “Reasonable access provided with good faith:
1. In response to your request: Covid-19 information released to the public on August 13, 20, 27, 2021 is attached in a PDF Table.
2. We can’t provide you with “COVID-19 Reports and/or data sent to Georgia Department of Public Health because that information is submitted via electronic portal and the medical form used falls under 50-18-72(a). As a school entity, we must uphold HIPPA, FERPA, and privacy requirements.
3. We have provided you with additional information complied by DPH for your reference.”
A complete and thorough GORA response should always be done “in good faith,” to use Dr. Edmond’s choice of words. The information sent to me isn’t what I asked for, and doesn’t comply with the GORA request. Dr. Edmond insisted that what they send has lots of confidential information in it. I asked that he redact any sensitive information and send me the form so I could see what the state requires for its weekly report on schools in our state. Additionally, saying that the form is completed online and cannot be released otherwise just doesn’t hold water in a school system with an IT department and virtual teaching capacity. Do they not save a copy of what they submit?
At this point, I was even more concerned about what the school system didn’t want to freely provide to the community. Case numbers matter, but so do the number of students and staff out for quarantine, and the number of clusters occurring in school settings. It is possible a school could have a low case load but a very high number of absences due to quarantine, resulting in dwindling classroom numbers.
What are they reporting that they aren’t telling us, and why is it so important to keep that information from us? As North Central Health District Director Michael Hokanson told me on the afternoon of August 27th, the reporting from schools relies on a good faith effort on the schools’ part.
If schools are sloppy with the parameters for collecting data, the data can’t, and shouldn’t, be trusted. If a school system isn’t carefully tracking why students are absent, for example a dental appointment, strep throat, or a death in the family, what you get at the end of the day is a number that tells you nothing about why those students were out of school. Kids and staff out due to quarantine are going to miss a significant number of consecutive school days. That impacts how they are learning, how teachers must adjust, demand for substitutes, and ultimately, if a system should use online resources to keep students up to speed, and everyone healthy.
Edmond told me to contact DPH to get the form that I ask for in my GORA request. Trying to find the right person at DPH, and actually reach them, is a circle of Hell Dante didn’t know about centuries ago. The staffers I did reach are frustrated and exhausted with how their agency is combatting Covid-19. One told me, “the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”
I left messages at schools, emailed schools, and filled out GORA requests via forms school boards provided on their web sites. One school superintendent called me back eager to share blank copies of the weekly form schools send to DPH and volunteered to send the detailed form required for the district health office. I got the form from more than one system to verify I had the right one.
If a school isn’t committed to collecting accurate data, none of what they report can and should be trusted with full confidence by the state, or the people concerned about the health of every person in that school.
The responsibility of collecting good data falls on the Board of Education requiring it, and the schools led by Dr. Edmond following through. Thousands of families in Washington County are making life and death decisions for their children and themselves during this pandemic. For the Board of Education, Dr. Edmond, and school leaders to be satisfied with a refusal to collect good data and share it with families is not only a disservice to Washington County families. It shows a huge distain for the exhausted healthcare providers and DPH staffers working in the county and across our state.
*From GA DPH, “Laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 in two or more people [students or staff] with symptom onset/collection dates within a 14 day period who are epidemiologically linked, do not share a household, and were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting during standard case investigation or contact tracing”).
Throughout the pandemic, and now with the easy availability of life-saving vaccines to slow the spread of Covid-19, I have genuinely struggled with how people of faith, who are often in church or other places of worship multiple times a week, claiming that not wearing a mask, gathering shoulder to shoulder, and now not being fully vaccinated, is a personal choice.
In some regards it echos the philosophy of Ayn Rand. We have seen the tragic results in both Christian and Hasidic Jewish communities when members acted on the premise of personal choice. I know people who have gone this route and infected family and friends, some too young to be vaccinated.
Recently someone told me about a newsletter from St. Albans, a church just north of Charlotte, that addressed the challenges, and obligations, of being fully engaged in a faith community, where the health of the community, literally, is the responsibility of every member of that group.
“The on-going and polarizing debate about getting vaccinated during this time of pandemic calls to my mind Paul’s words about “freedom”, especially in his letter to the Galatians. I say this because many who are refusing to get vaccinated are appealing to the notion of individual freedom: “Nobody else should have any say in my personal decisions about my own health.” On the face of it, this seems perfectly reasonable and in keeping with the principles upon which our nation was founded.
Many Christians will point directly to Paul’s words in his letter to the Galatians to support their understanding of individual freedom: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). A mere twelve verses later, however, Paul contextualizes his understanding of Christ-enabled freedom with these words:
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “ ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Gal. 5:13).
This is a critically important caveat that we do well to remember. Paul is clear on this point: the freedom that we have in Christ is not meant to encourage a life of libertine self-interest. Quite the opposite! The freedom that we have in Christ calls us away from being enslaved to pure self-interest towards a life that is committed to mutual love and care for others. Paul hammers home this point with the rather shocking words to our 21st century ears, “…through love become slaves to one another.” Professor of Religion Bruce Longenecker says it this way: “Christians have been set free from the enslavement of chaos-inducing self-interestedness in order to allow the self-giving Christ to become incarnate within their own self-giving way of life.”
The decision about whether to get vaccinated, like many decisions in life, is undoubtedly a personal one, with various factors at play. That said, it is important that we, as Christ-followers, try to make such decisions from a place of neighborly love, and not from a place of unfettered self-interest. Instead of thinking only about how a decision is going to affect me personally, we are called to also give serious consideration to how a decision is going to impact the lives of others. Instead of, as Paul says, using our freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, we are called to use our freedom in the service of others and for the common good; that is, to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Yours in Christ,
I hope, as the Rector writes, others will feel called to be of service to others and act for the common good of those they know and love.
Watching the schools prepare to reopen in rural Washington County Georgia is like watching someone pour gasoline on top of an already burning fire. As Covid-19 rates soar in a county that stubbornly refused to access tested and proven vaccines when a state-run vaccination site was set up in the county, the Board of Education is choosing the path of least resistance on healthy safety requirements.
The highly contagious Delta variant will find multiple classrooms ripe for explosive spread. The risk of exposure could be easily reduced if school leaders were willing to take one necessary step to protect those who cannot be vaccinated and those who refuse to be vaccinated-require masks in all indoor situations.
How bad is it in Sandersville and other communities in the county? Bad. Very bad.
The CDC rates the risk of transmission as high. According to the CDC, the percentage of people in the county fully vaccinated is a dismal 7.7 percent despite the easy access to the vaccine provided by the state in the spring when eligibility was expanded. School age students between 12-18 years old are fully vaccinated at a rate of 9 percent. If teachers and staff are in the age group of 18-65, only 9.4 percent of that age cohort have chosen to be fully vaccinated before returning to the classroom, cafeterias, hallways, and buses.
Still, Superintendent Rickey Edmond and the Board of Education are confident that letting 1405 students in the primary and elementary schools, 760 in the middle school, and 880 in the high school, sit in classrooms and move through hallways without a mask on is OK (because let’s be honest, it will not be possible to keep every child in a hallway distanced or properly masked). There is a Virtual School option only offered to grades 5-12, with limited capacity and criteria for acceptance, that will have 20 students.
The reported cases of Covid-19 in the seven days preceding August 2 are up 161.54 percent. The percent of tests that are positive has climbed by 15.63 percent. Local hospital admissions are up a full 200 percent. Schools haven’t had the first student in a classroom and the caseload is soaring in a county with great doctors but limited hospital services.
Late yesterday, a news report posted on Georgia Public Radio’s site summed it for me. Amber Schmidtke, PhD., a microbiologist tracking and explaining Covid data for mere mortals like me, said, and I am adding emphasis to her statement”So when this starts to happen [children becoming sick and requiring hospitalization] in a bigger way in Georgia and kids who were previously healthy are on ventilators, I don’t want school superintendents to claim that there was no way this could have been predicted,” Schmidtke said. “We have plenty of warning that the situation in 2021 is more dangerous than a year ago for children.Willingly choosing to endanger children by not doing the bare minimum of disease control and prevention should be treated the same way as knowingly allowing someone drunk to drive a school bus and organizations that do so should be held to account.”
Teachers and staff are preparing now for open houses in Washington County schools, with classes starting Friday. In a community with a rising case load, doubled Covid hospitalizations, low vaccination rates, and school leaders willing to, as Dr. Schmidtke suggests, let a drunk drive the school bus, they are providing the ideal breeding ground for very sick children, families, teachers, and staff.
Governor Brian Kemp’s administration has excelled at how to not handle this year-long pandemic. The roll-out of vaccinations has not been an exception to their poor performance in the past year.
That a vaccine is available is a surprise to no one, but the state’s preparation for access to shots has put us last in the country for success. Citizens are frustrated, and rightly so.
Kemp chose to base scheduling on a website and understaffed phone lines. People without internet or computer access have been limited to spending hours on the phone trying fruitlessly to get an appointment. Kemp announced expanded eligibility for vaccines but the state’s website wasn’t updated to reflect that, which resulted in phone bank staffers turning away people trying to begin their vaccinations. What a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars and time.
Access to vaccine locations has been equally frustrating. The majority of vaccines have only been available in urban areas, leaving rural residents without reasonable access. Five state sites outside the perimeter of Atlanta, capable of serving thousands of people a day, will open today. Scheduling problems migrated to those sites as well.
Now that Kemp has opened up eligibility to more people, people in Atlanta are complaining that they can’t get vaccinated near their homes. Kemp is urging those people to drive to south Georgia for shots.
There are all kinds of reasons this isn’t helpful, particularly for rural Georgia.
With libraries closed, which often serve as the only point of access to the internet and computers for many small community residents, vaccine appointments remain a hurdle they cannot scale. Kemp should have ramped up phone capacity for appointments along with the addition of these new locations.
Most rural Georgia communities lack public transportation. Counties aren’t equipped to get people who lack transportation to vaccination sites. Shots in arms is critical to reducing case load, saving lives, and energizing our state economy, especially as the weather warms up and people think about vacations.
With newly expanded eligibility for vaccination, metro Atlanta residents are complaining about not being able to get their shot a few miles from home. Kemp ‘s best solution is to drive out of town for vaccines. Rightly so, people who don’t get paid time off from the one, two, or maybe three jobs they need to house, feed, and clothe their families, have every reason to be angry. But they aren’t the only ones complaining.
This is my suggestion to people who do have reliable transportation, and can afford to, but don’t want to, take sick or vacation time and miss two days of work to get their shots-quit bitching. Your privilege is offensive to every rural resident who has gone without medical care because they didn’t have the technology available in their home for telehealth, the means to drive a considerable distance to see a specialist, get prenatal care, or visit someone they love who was out of town for care.
Rural Georgians have done without the medical care urban residents have since urban areas developed across our state. Small town Georgians have watched our hospitals close, medical services shrink, and doctors choose urban over rural for decades.
That rural communities have managed to feed themselves for a year without the ease of Instacart or Door Dash is a testament to their abilities. There hasn’t been same day, or even next day, Amazon delivery for school and household supplies. Streaming anything on the web for entertainment, education, or work hasn’t been an option for too many families.
After all that we have managed to survive, having to drive out of town for a vaccine that will protect you, your family, neighbors, and coworkers, should be the last thing you complain about right now. Make an appointment, put gas in the car, choose some podcasts or audio books to listen to, and drive yourself to a place where people just as eager, but less privileged, have waited just as long as you have to get a vaccine.
The Georgia General Assembly convened three weeks ago. Twice-weekly Covid 19 tests are required for Senate and House members. The Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC), and other outlets, are reporting that House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, expelled fellow Republican David Clark of Buford today for refusing to be tested at all since the session began.
My math adds up to Speaker Ralston allowing Clark to skip five required tests since the General Assembly convened.
What part of a pandemic does Clark not understand requires every possible precaution from contracting or spreading? Just as troubling is Ralston’s failure to require every House member to adhere to the required testing. Ralston’s side of the state capitol doesn’t release test results, but the AJC reports that the Senate has had nine cases among Senate members, staff, aides, and interns since convening.
Shame on Ralston for not releasing House testing results. And shame on him for putting his fellow legislators, staff, aides, interns, custodians, security personnel, and anyone else working under the Gold Dome, at risk for contracting this deadly virus because a House member wouldn’t follow testing requirements.
A few thoughts on a week that should change our country forever-
A Capitol police officer, attacked with a fire extinguished by domestic terrorists who have also proclaimed themselves to be “blue lives matter” supporters, has died. The person/s who attacked him should be prosecuted for murder and sent away for life.
If you know someone who was involved in attacking our nation’s lawmakers, contact the FBI. They are criminals and should be prosecuted. If you aren’t mad enough to do that, take the United States flag off your front porch and turn in your voter registration card.
When members of Congress have to hide behind their desks to avoid bullets, it is time for Congress pass tougher gun laws. Any members of Congress who aren’t convinced of this should spend a week with teachers and students working through safety drills for potential gunmen in their schools. At the end of the day they should accompany families to visit the grave sites of the murdered children and teachers. If lying on the floor next to a kindergarten student, or standing with a young child at their sibling’s grave, doesn’t convince them we need tougher laws, vote them out. Run against them if you have to.
Let’s talk about gun culture and what is driving boys and men to attack our schools and slaughter students, teachers, and staff. Then we need to act.
Critical thinking is missing from our local, state, and national discussions. This is how cults of personality develop. The power-hungry will always tap into the fears of people who sense that they are losing their personal power and privilege.
The people who stormed the Capitol, murdered a law enforcement officer, and interrupted the confirmation of our legal and fair elections in November. Are criminals. In no way are they comparable to Black Lives Matter activists. Don’t waste time on people who want to argue that “the other side” behaves as foolishly, and dangerously, as Trump’s band of domestic terrorists and conspiracy theory champions.
A lot of time will pass between now and the 2022 gubernatorial race. Will Doug Collins and his supporters take on Brian Kemp claiming that if Collins had been appointed to Isakson’s seat, Collins would have kept the seat?
Kemp’s ability to manage the Covid-19 pandemic in Georgia is resulting in more cases and more deaths. Will the state’s funeral home owners be his biggest donor base?
Watch for floor fights in the Georgia legislature involving access to absentee ballots and early voting. Don’t let Republicans strip away access to the ballot. The same goes for discussions about changing the state constitution to allow the legislature to appoint the Secretary of State. Citizens must be able to directly hold the person responsible for overseeing elections accountable. That happens at the ballot box. Put your state representative and senator on speed dial.
On Thursday we were robbed of the newspaper headlines declaring Raphael Warnock as Georgia’s first black senator. I cannot wait to get the newspaper with his photo when he is sworn in. When he and Ossoff take their oath of office, whether she is there in person or not, Stacey Abrams will be in the photo. May all of us be the kind of citizen, and true patriot, that she is.
The lack of fast, affordable, reliable internet in rural Georgia has been laid bare during the pandemic. With teachers, students, and parents trying to work, teach, and learn from home, families and companies without adequate internet service have struggled. Some school systems provided hotspots if they could afford them, but without cell signal, the hotspot is worthless. Other systems send school buses out to park in areas so parents and students can sit in their vehicle nearby and get work done. This isn’t sustainable. Rural Georgias have lagged behind because elected state leaders, from Governor Kemp’s office to the state’s Public Service Commission, haven’t made rural internet access a priority.
Blackman posted specifically about expanding internet access across rural Georgia in a Facebook thread that merits consideration if you want to elect someone who understands how important affordable, fast, internet access is to the success of all businesses, schools, and families. Someone asked Blackman, “What’s your plan to get internet to those places?” Blackman responded and numbered his ideas:
(1) tap into the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund And encourage more women and minority owned businesses in these areas to subcontract the opportunity
(2) I want to work with the Georgia Legislature to consider legislation in the upcoming session to provide financial incentives to providers to bring broadband service to underserved areas statewide. This would allow broadband providers to apply for grants, and the Legislature could consider allowing the state’s investor-owned utilities to partner with a provider to use their existing infrastructure to provide broadband service as well.
(3) since it is a 6 year-term, I’d like to create a series of regional Utility Stakeholder Forums aimed at educating ratepayers, civic organizations, churches, and schools. This initiative would bring utility providers together with the community to inform citizens, add transparency to the rate-making process, and promote efficient governance of the providers of essential utility services – electricity, natural gas, water, and telecommunications. The goal would be to create a more effective utility policy community…
Blackman added, “to be fair, once elected, I will have a full staff to make recommendations so I would have to look at the industry and what is already being done in the areas that are regulated by the Public Service Commission. ”
The PSC could be more than a rubber stamp for Georgia Power rate increases passed on to its customers. Daniel Blackman is committed to making the commission better serve all Georgians. If you haven’t voted yet, look for Blackman’s name on the down ballot races to help balance the inequities of internet access, and other services, under the PSC’s jurisdiction.
Clearly South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham thinks there is no need to hide his racism any longer. Hear him for yourself. Support his opponent Jamie Harrison if you have no interest in returning to what Graham believes were better days.
If you are not familiar with Professor Heather Cox Richardson, she teaches at Boston College. Her Letters from an American are daily posts carefully crafted with links to sources. I am reposting what she posted on October 2, 2020 with my own emphasis added to some of her observations.
Today’s media was consumed with news of the spread of coronavirus to the president and First Lady, as well as concern over the degree to which it has spread to other people associated with the White House. A number of those who attended the Rose Garden announcement of Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court have tested positive. That number includes the Trumps, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), and Fr. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame. Also infected are Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, and at least three journalists who have attended White House events in the past week.
And tonight, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway reported that she, too, has tested positive.
As I write this, just before midnight, Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien has just announced he, too, has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Five minutes after midnight (sorry for breaking the midnight rule again), we learned that 11 staffers from the Cleveland debate also tested positive.
We will not learn of infections among the Secret Service.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tested negative, as have Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden.
This evening, medical professionals transferred the president to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center “out of an abundance of caution.” He walked from the helicopter under his own power, and posted a short video to his Twitter account assuring viewers that he is doing “very well.” He remains in charge; power has not transferred to Vice President Mike Pence.
Aside from the personal implications of the spread of this illness—and let’s remember that there are 46,459 other Americans who have contracted the coronavirus in the last day– this major news story has huge implications for the upcoming election. It also illustrates how the administration’s secrecy and lies take away our ability to make informed decisions about our own lives, as well as about the nation.
The Trump entourage has refused to wear masks, social distance, or follow the advice of public health experts for reducing the spread of the virus. Now it appears that White House officials deliberately withheld information about their condition, directly endangering other people who acted on the presumption that the Trump people weren’t infected.The Washington Post reported that Secret Service agents, who risk their lives to protect the president, are angry and frustrated: “He’s never cared about us.” The 30-50 Republican donors who met with Trump Thursday night at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, are “freaking out,” one report noted. Tickets had cost up to $250,000, and Trump met privately with about 19 people for 45 minutes. Trump knew his adviser Hope Hicks had tested positive when he left for the club, but he went anyway. He did not wear a mask.
Reporter Chris Wallace of the Fox News Channel, who moderated Tuesday’s debate and so was one of those the Trumps’ entourage endangered, revealed today that Trump arrived too late on Tuesday for a COVID-19 test, as the venue required. Instead, there was an “honor system.”Organizers assumed the people associated with the campaigns would not come unless they had tested negative. Trump’s people arrived wearing masks, which they had to have to enter the auditorium, but then removed them shortly after sitting down, and refused to put them back on. During the debate, Trump mocked Biden for his habit of wearing a mask.
The campaign did not tell the Biden camp that Hicks, who attended the debate, had tested positive for coronavirus the day after the event. The Biden organization learned it from the newspapers. The White House did not even tell former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who spent four days in close quarters with Hicks and Trump, helping the president prepare for the debate. He, too, learned the news from the media.
This crisis shows how the administration’s refusal to share information and its insistence on its own version of reality creates confusion that leaves Americans vulnerable and anxious. Its history of secrecy and lies means that few people actually trust anything its spokespeople say. It was striking how many people did not believe the Trumps were actually sick when the news broke; we are so accustomed to Trump’s lies that many people thought he was simply looking for a way out of future debates.
The constant lies—about coronavirus and virtually everything else—destabilize the nation because we cannot know what the truth really is. And if we don’t know what is actually happening, we cannot make good decisions. Today the editorial board of the Washington Post warned that the White House simply must let us know the truth about the president’s health so that we know who is actually running national security, the economy, and the election on our behalf.
That plea did not appear to make much of an impression on the White House: it did not bother to tell Pelosi, who is third in line for the presidency, that Trump was being helicoptered to Walter Reed Hospital.
And so we are facing a pandemic spreading through the upper ranks of the government just before an election with little faith that we will learn the truth about what is happening. That, just as much as the infections in the administration, is a crisis.
To its credit, the Biden campaign has identified this crisis and is doing its best to restore our sense of a shared reality, based in our history and our better principles. Rather than expressing outrage that the Trump camp exposed him and his wife and guests to coronavirus, Biden offered his best wishes for Trump and the First Lady, as did his running mate Kamala Harris. Biden’s campaign pulled all its negative ads out of respect for the president’s illness (the Trump campaign refused to follow suit).
Biden spoke in Michigan today, assuring the audience that “We can get this pandemic under control so we can get our economy working again for everyone.” But, he emphasized, “this cannot be a partisan moment. It must be an American moment. We have to come together as a nation.” He promised to get rid of the toxic partisanship that is keeping us all off balance. “I’m running as a Democrat,” he said, “but I will… govern as an American president. Whether you voted for me or against me, I will represent you… and those who see each other as fellow Americans who just don’t live in red states or blue states but who live in and love the United States of America. That’s who we are.”
To an increasingly weary country, he offered hope that we really can heal the nation’s ills. “There’s never been a single solitary thing America’s been unable to do. Think of this. Not once. Not a single thing we’ve not been able to overcome when we’ve done it together. So let’s get the heck up. Remember who in God’s name we are. This is the United States of America,” he said. “There’s nothing beyond our capacity.”
Earlier this week the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s article Families press schools to show virus data proved me wrong in thinking that I am the only person bothered by the lack of information being provided to parents, teachers, students, and taxpayers from their local school boards. The lead feature coverage focused on a rural county not too far from Washington County, Georgia, where I am invested in the success of the public schools as a taxpayer and grandparent.
Last month I emailed the Washington County School Board members and Superintendent about where they are providing updates to the community on exposure to the Coronavirus and any confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the schools. To date, all the board office has said is that they have “fluid” benchmarks and are working with the state’s Department of Community Health.
Among their responses to my questions about informing the community about virus exposure, the Board Chair, Chris Hutchings, asked if I might be able to identify and help secure funding for internet connectivity in the rural areas of the county. Currently the system is sending out buses with internet connectivity to serve as hot spots in rural parts of the county lacking broadband service.
I told Hutchings that while I am not well-connected to groups focused on education, I would think about where funding might be available. Having been connected to foundations through nonprofit healthcare and environmental justice work, I do know some funders who might consider a well-crafted request.
The following day I sent these questions to the Board and the Superintendent, Dr. Rickey Edmond, so that I would know where to start and best help. Options B and C encompass online learning options for families.
In making an ask, I think you need to have at hand:
Number of students total, and per school
Number of students learning remotely- Option B and Option C
Number of students who chose option
Number of students in class because they don’t have internet access
Number of students without internet who are doing options B or C
Number of students with internet
Number of teachers without internet
Number of computers loaned to students
Number of computers loaned to teachers
Number of students who didn’t turn in final packets in the spring
Number of students who simply disappeared in the spring
I received this reply from Dr. Edmond:
We have this data and monitor it yearly to assess functional levels, operations, and effectiveness. We are one-to-one with our devices for our students. We have a great IT Team and support staff to address parents’ needs when there is an issue with connectivity. I recommend you and your organization take on the task of helping the rural schools get state and federal funding for connectivity in rural America.
Thank you for sharing,
So to recap, the Superintendent, whose Board chair asked for my help to secure badly needed funding for internet access, gave me and my “organization” marching orders to secure what they said they need, but without any data. I belong to some environmental groups, and a homeowner’s association, but those aren’t the organizations that are going to pony up to help a rural school system provide web connectivity for the schools.
All of this data should be easily at hand if the system has such a solid grasp on all of its IT needs. I sent my questions to a journalist beyond the confines of Washington County who has covered issues in the area, and access to school data in other Georgia school systems, to see if they had difficulty securing information. My hunch was right-this data should be easy to compile and readily available.
A few weeks ago I sent a Georgia Open Records Act (GORA) with the same questions I had raised when I was asked to help, with data points from August 7, 2020, the first day of in-class instruction, and September 8, 2020 for comparison. If they wouldn’t voluntarily provide the data Edmond has assured me they have at hand since the pandemic began, I could press the issue with a GORA request.
Edmond replied, “The cost will be an hourly rate of $46.33, minus the first quarter hour. It will take 16 hours to complete all the requested task and total cost will be $729.70. We are requesting the payment be made in advance before the retrieval process is activated because the total amount will exceed $500.”
Do the custodial staff, cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals, and teachers make anything close to $46.33 an hour, even with benefits? And why would it take 16 hours to put this information together if they are consistently monitoring these things?
I’m steadily losing confidence in what the Washington County School Board knows about how their students are learning, how teachers can support students and parents if/when the schools have to be closed this year, and how they are going to ensure that students receive the materials and instruction they need to stay or exceed their grade level.
My property tax bill is on my desk now, $737.34 of which goes directly to the school system’s maintenance and operations funds. The data I am requesting should guide the system’s budgeting and expectations of taxpayers’ dollar. The system should be making a case for their funding by sharing the data without reservation.
LAST PROPOSED COAL PLANT ON FILE IN THE UNITED STATES IS CANCELLED
The Fall-Line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE) is proud to announce a permit extension for Plant Washington, a coal-fired power plant proposed to be built in rural Washington County Georgia, has been denied by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (Georgia EPD). The extension denial invalidates the construction permit and all amendments to the permit are revoked in their entirety. On April 6, 2020, Plant Washington was the only remaining proposed coal plant in the United States to be cancelled.
Announced in mid-January 2008, Plant Washington was heralded by local leaders and plant developer Dean Alford as a fossil-fueled benefit to the local economy. Alford, who is currently indicted for multiple felonies, said that he expected some opposition from environmental groups in Atlanta, which he believed would be tamped down easily. Alford, along with some local leaders, elected officials, and several Electric Membership Cooperatives (EMCs) across the state did not anticipate any opposition from local citizens.
Their assumptions were wrong. A small group of Washington County citizens quickly organized to establish FACE, and quickly began working with state, regional, and national organizations to hold community meetings, table at festivals, speak at state and federal hearings, and testify in court proceedings. FACE worked closely with the Southern Environmental Law Center, Georgia Sierra Club, Altamaha Riverkeeper, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, Justine Thompson Cowan, former director of GreenLaw, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
Together with its partners, FACE worked diligently for more than 12 years to protect the natural resources, community health, and budgets of Washington County families from the financial boondoggle Plant Washington posed. While the coal plant developer searched futilely for customers, other partner EMCs withdrew their funding and support. In the same time period Azalea Solar Project was constructed and began operating just a few miles from the proposed coal plant site. Cobb EMC, the electric co-op which once fully backed Plant Washington with $13M dollars of its owner’s money, purchases all of the solar project’s electricity.
Despite studies and analysis provided by financial and energy experts refuting the need for the plant, Washington County residents sold or signed away their homes and land rights. Earlier this year a Washington County bank placed legal ads concerning loan defaults for land where the coal plant was supposed to be built. Last year’s property taxes on the land are still unpaid.
The Georgia EPD’s cancellation of the permits is the final death-blow to this no-bid, antiquated project. On behalf of the FACE Board of Directors, Katherine Cummings said, “FACE is deeply appreciative of the critical work our partners contributed towards defeating the country’s last proposed coal plant on the books. The ability to produce clean renewable energy right here in Washington County is further proof that dirty, outdated power generation does not make fiscal or environmental sense. Together with our allies, FACE remains committed to protecting the natural resources and health of our community.”
What rural communities lack in infrastructure is becoming very clear to elected leaders at all levels. The question that must be answered is whether those needs will be addressed and when.
The lack of fast affordable internet service in rural communities is now holding back teachers, students, and parents. Teachers don’t have access to broadband in order to log on and hold sessions with students. Students often don’t have internet access or a computer.
If you are looking for some good stocks to consider, this might be a good time to invest in the paper industry. Schools are making printed packets of work for families because online education in rural America isn’t an option.
Rural communities don’t have the luxury of Instacart and similar shopping and delivery services. There is no option to have groceries delivered to your front door. If driving to a store is the only option for rural households, the urge to stock up beyond a week’s worth of groceries is understandable when frequently used items are on store shelves.
Businesses trying to shift to online work face the same challenges as schools. A technology company I have relied on emailed customers two weeks ago offering not only online platforms for remote work, but refurbished laptops for employees to use while they work from home. The question remains whether there is internet access at the employee’s home.
While social media and news outlets fill space with ideas for streaming movies and television programs, rural America remains on the sidelines. There is no streaming of entertainment options without high speed internet. Libraries are closed and ball fields are vacant. Choices are so limited now.
The bandaids offered to rural America have been pulled off. Lessons are being taught about how we can better serve rural communities across our country. If the lack of resources in rural America are not addressed when we are able to paddle less frantically, the failure of elected leaders to respond nimbly and effectively should direct every voter’s choices.
Earlier this week I contacted a friend who is a healthcare provider in an urban Northeastern city. They offered to share their personal experiences and perspective on the pandemic as time and energy allow. I am grateful for their insights and commitment to serving the public. I promised that they would not be identified.
March 19, 2020
Let me preface these reflections by stating that I am not truly on the “front lines” at this moment, but I do work with both inpatients and outpatients at a large hospital in the Northeast. My job brings me into direct contact with people who have infectious diseases, some of which may be undiagnosed, on a regular basis. In the past, I worked in EMS through the HIV/AIDs crisis, the Swine flu, SARS, H1N1 and was never as apprehensive as I am right now.
The anxiety and fear here are palpable. It’s like waiting for a predicted tsunami, but a tsunami scenario from which there is almost nowhere to escape. Most of my social circle (which includes medical and non-medical people) are experiencing this same feeling. If you aren’t concerned you should be. Those of us providing healthcare at any level have an increasing sense of dread and worry about what is happening. We wonder about tomorrow, next week, next month and what we will be doing – fear of the unknown. We hear the cries of our colleagues in Italy and other countries who have more sick patients than they can handle, making heart wrenching decisions over who can be saved, trying to allocate scarce equipment resources appropriately, and daily having to choose who will get the chance to live and who will be left to die. It’s a situation that medical providers face in any disaster, but this pandemic may last months. The weight of all of this is already taking a physiological and emotional toll.
As we reduce and eventually eliminate outpatient services and move towards telemedicine provider visits, it means that healthcare providers will most likely transition to other areas of the hospital to supplement staff. Imagine being told that instead of your marketing job, tomorrow you will be doing engineering. You know the product and its capabilities, but you don’t know its design or how to troubleshoot problems when it breaks down. Yes, some skills and knowledge can be carried over to another role, but there is a big learning curve…and in this case lives are at stake. This is a scary situation for care providers because we pride ourselves on providing safe, competent, efficient, and compassionate care. But as patient numbers increase and providers become sick, this situation is inevitable. Angst. Worry. The feeling of impending doom.
While much of the public is shielded from hourly updates on COVID-19, we are not. Our protocols, procedures, staffing, equipment, and communication with coworkers have all changed and continue to update throughout each workday. As the daily stress levels mount for us, we stare in disbelief and horror at the news watching thousands of people on the beach in Florida, or out in Spring Break mobs in bars, carelessly crowding each other and spreading this virus. We have difficult conversations with friends and loved ones who still may be amongst the “non-believers”. We know it is real. This is not the flu. This is not hysteria or the fault of the media. Get your head out of the sand before you infect your elderly parents or grandparents, your neighbor, your friends.
Some may not survive this. Some of my coworkers may not survive this. I don’t want to see your loved one die alone – yes, ALONE. Think on that for a bit. That thought terrifies me and it should terrify you. We have the benefit of learning from the experiences of China, South Korea, and Italy. They have told us to listen to their lessons, their mistakes. Let me tell you that I wept listening to health care providers talk about their dire situation. It’s the recipe for career ending post-traumatic stress disorder. I have already experienced enough sadness in the healthcare field in my prior role as a street EMS provider. I don’t need to take on more. But that is what the healthcare providers need to do, and what we are expected to do. I am willing to do my part, to go where I am needed, to do anything I can to help you or your loved ones in this pandemic. Please do your part and stay home. My life may depend on important action.
Last Friday Governor Brian Kemp took the unprecedented step of declaring a statewide public health emergency as the number of Covid-19 (coronavirus) cases began to increase on national and state levels. The Georgia General Assembly suspended its calendar last Thursday and returned for on Monday for a special session called by the Governor to approve his actions. Yesterday the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) confirmed 197 cases of Covid-19 and three deaths. The number of reported cases are updated daily at noon.
Whether the changes we are adopting come from business, civic, or elected leaders, the chorus in this choir is to avoid being closer than six feet from other people. I prefer the phrase physical distancing instead of social distancing. We need our social connections now more than ever, just not the close physical ones.
Last weekend I was supposed to be with about 12 other Life Is A Verb Campers for a house party filled with making art, cooking Pi Day themed meals, walking, yoga, and sharing stories. Instead of being together physically, we gathered at 11:00 in the morning via Zoom for coffee and everyone’s choice of pie. I made a roasted mushroom and asparagus quiche. It wasn’t the same as being in a room together, but it was good to see much-loved faces and talk.
Having done that on Saturday, the next morning I did a quick FaceBook search of five large churches in rural Washington County to see how they were adapting to the six foot wingspan way of living now. All five opened their doors to congregation members. One of the five churches was St James Christian Fellowship. This congregation is led by Georgia State House Representative Mack Jackson. He did not reply to my email with questions about opening the church last week.
Last Thursday Jackson worked with other state representatives to suspend their work and return home out of an abundance of caution due to Covid-19. On Friday some members stood closer than six feet to Kemp while he announce the public health emergency. Despite the cautions taken by the state, Jackson and other faith leaders invited people to gather together, perhaps more than once, last Sunday.
Everyone in those churches knows that the local hospital, like those in other rural counties, is not equipped to handle a large number of Covid-19 patients. The capacity just isn’t there, no matter how caring and well=trained the health providers are. With all of the free and easy-to-use technology available for streaming a service, why any church leaders thought that unlocking the doors last Sunday was a good idea, is enough to test one’s faith.
Real data and solid research matter. Read it. Share it. Use it. The information below is taken directly from the link in this post.
Results from Survey 4 (administered March 9-10, 2020)
Experts predict a four-fold rise in reported cases in the US over the next week. They predict 1819 total cases (80% uncertainty interval: 823-6204 cases) of COVID-19 will be reported by the CDC on Monday March 16th, more than 4 times the CDC reported number of cases as of Monday, March 9th.
The majority of experts (20/21, 95%) expect COVID-19 will reach community-level spread in the US
Experts expect that community-level spread will occur in the US within 3 weeks (80% uncertainty interval: 0-10 weeks).
Experts anticipate 44 US states will report cases of COVID-19 within one week (80% uncertainty interval: 39-48 states).
Experts believe that only 13% (80% uncertainty interval: 4-30%) of all COVID-19 infections (symptomatic and asymptomatic) in the US were reported to the CDC as of Monday, March 9th.
This implies that as of the beginning of this week there were between 1410 and 10575 undiagnosed infections with COVID-19 in the US. 6. Experts believe that nationwide hospitalizations for COVID-19 will peak in May. 7.
The above results include answers from 21 experts.
Georgia General Assembly members are considering legislation to improve safety on our state’s roads and streets. Sponsored by Marietta Republican John Carson , HB113 is making its way through House committees as Crossover Day on March 12 approaches.
Current legislation requires that drivers using a smart-phone or other electronic device do that without holding it in their hand or resting it in their lap. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that since the law was put into force on July 1, 2018, Georgia State Patrol officers have written 25,000 citations for violations of this law.
Carson and four co-sponsors proposed increasing the fines for breaking this law. Currently fines range from $50 to a first offense to $150 for a third offense. The bill, in its current version , also includes striking what is referred to as a “get out of jail free card” for first time violations.
David Wickert at the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that close to 7,500 citations were dismissed in Atlanta’s Municipal Court after many of the defendants appeared before the court with a receipt for a phone holder or a hands-free device. The current law requires that violators put in writing that they haven’t used this provision in the past.
Wickert recounts that Cobb County Solicitor General Barry Morgan told a House committee that the absence of tracking the “get out of jail free card” provision means that people can violate the law any number of times in different counties and get away with it simply by not being honest. The inability to enforce this part of the the law begs for correction making it more effective to enforce.
That leaves the increase of fines as a means of reducing violations. Would a higher fine discourage drivers from violating the law? If you look around while you motor on city streets and highways, you’ll still see drivers holding a phone as if the law doesn’t apply to them.
State legislators say higher fines may be a hardship for some people to pay. They want the fines to range from $25-$100 for every offense, with the fine imposed being at a judge’s discretion. That reason doesn’t hold water for me.
Putting the phone down while driving is not something impacted by income. Period.
Increase the fines and remove the “get out of jail free” provision. The Hands-Free law is a common sense, easy-to-follow law that has already demonstrated its benefits for anyone on Georgia’s roads. It’s time to put some bigger teeth in it.
The February 19th edition of Washington County’s weekly newspaper The Sandersville Georgian, which is not available online, included an article about a presentation made to two of the county’s commissioners. Lynda Brown, a board member of Ten Commandments Georgia, Inc., which was founded by the county’s Congressional District Representative Jody Hice, requested that the county consider spending $1,200 of taxpayer dollars for a display of documents related to the history and background of our country.
According to the newspaper, Ms. Brown said, “These documents tell the story of men striving for and his [sic] attainment of freedom…” Among the nine documents Ms. Brown says best represent freedom, she includes the first ten rights of the United States Bill of Rights.
What Ms. Brown’s organization does not consider essential for the display are these Amendments to the Bill of Rights: abolition of slavery (13th Amendment, adopted 1865), protection of civil rights (14th Amendment, 1868), the right to vote regardless of race or previous servitude (15th Amendment, 1870), voting rights for women (19th Amendment, 1920), abolition of poll taxes as a requirement for voting (Amendment 24, 1964) and the right for 18 year old citizens to vote in elections (26th Amendment, 1971).
Ms. Brown’s organization excludes the Emancipation Proclamation as a document reflective of our country’s history and commitment to freedom. While not perfect, this document stands as a marker in our government’s history recognizing that enslaved people should be free.
How can an organization professing to be committed to teaching civics and our country’s history fail to include documents written expressly to extend and protect civil and human rights to people of color and all women?
The Washington County Commissioners have agreed to allow the display in the county courthouse if it is funded by donations. Local citizens who chip in for the display should consider going further than the documents Ms. Brown’s group offers. If county leaders are concerned that residents don’t know Georgia or our country’s history, they have an opportunity, and obligation, to look more broadly than Ms. Brown’s proposal.
Because coal ash and its toxins are forever, the work to protect the health of communities, water and air, natural resources, and recreational places, is never done. The Georgia Recorder has an op/ed I wrote about the challenges we face in Georgia concerning coal ash waste clean up and storage. Spoiler alert- ratepayers shouldn’t have to pay for it.