Charlotte Observer. Nov. 29, 2021.
Editorial: How North Carolina can prepare for the COVID omicron variant
There’s yet another coronavirus variant out there that could pose a new threat.
The World Health Organization has designated the B.1.1.529, or omicron, variant as a “variant of concern,” its most serious designation for a COVID-19 variant. Officials say the variant, which was first detected in South Africa, hasn’t reached the United States yet, but it’s already in Canada and could reach the U.S. soon.
It’s not time to panic, but it is time to prepare. Scientists aren’t quite sure how transmissible — or how severe — omicron is just yet. Even ahead of the variant’s arrival, COVID cases are rising again throughout the state and are predicted to increase further as people gather for the holidays.
“We need to pay attention to those mitigation strategies that people are just really sick of, like wearing masks when you’re indoors with other people who might not be vaccinated, and keeping that social distance,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told CNN. “I know, America, you’re really tired of hearing those things. But the virus is not tired of us. And it’s shapeshifting itself.”
After fighting this pandemic for nearly two years, we know what North Carolina can do to brace for this variant and mitigate what could very well be a winter spike in cases. That starts, of course, with getting North Carolinians vaccinated. Unlike with the delta variant, children ages 5 to 11 can now get a COVID vaccine, and anyone 18 and older can get a booster shot for an additional layer of protection against the virus. Still, the state’s vaccination rates aren’t where they should be — just 57% of the total population is fully vaccinated, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services dashboard.
“If ever there was a reason for the people who were vaccinated to get boosted, and for those who were unvaccinated to get vaccinated, it’s now,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told NBC News.
At some point, North Carolina may want to consider re-implementing cash incentives for vaccinations, which slowed the decline in vaccine rates by half at the clinics they were offered, a study found. (The vaccine lottery, on the other hand, had virtually no impact.) But we can’t fight this pandemic with vaccines alone — especially if not everyone is vaccinated. North Carolina and its cities and towns should be prepared to enact measures to contain the spread of the omicron variant if need be, just as they’ve done in the past.
In addition to flexibility and responsiveness, transparency should be a top priority. People are tired of following the rules and will likely be wary of new ones. That means tying things like face mask mandates to local coronavirus metrics, such as the positivity rate, rather than issuing a blanket mandate for an indefinite period of time. In Mecklenburg County, for example, the mask mandate will be lifted if the daily COVID-19 positivity rate remains below 5% for seven days.
Gathering restrictions and stay-at-home orders should be considered only as a last resort. In the meantime, cities should discourage indoor gatherings by providing reasonable alternatives. Earlier in the pandemic, many cities allowed restaurants to convert sidewalks and dedicated parking spaces into temporary outdoor dining. It may be getting colder, but outdoor dining can still be an option — well-ventilated, tented spaces with heat lamps can offer a safe, yet comfortable, solution.
It’s also possible that the omicron variant could affect our schools. The delta variant arose over the summer, when the traditional school calendar wasn’t yet in session. Now, the school year is in full swing, and every school system should have a plan to keep students in classrooms learning safely. It may be time to consider regular testing or vaccine mandates for both students and teachers, and once again require masks in the 39 districts that have voted to make them optional.
The pandemic is not over, and now is not the time to give up on trying to curb it. Strong preventative and mitigation measures can help us get ahead of this variant. North Carolina should start preparing for omicron now, rather than waiting for it to strike.
Fayetteville Observer. Nov.27, 2021.
Editorial: : Fayetteville City Council shows civility in censuring one of its own
On Monday, the Fayetteville City Council addressed an ugly incident that happened at a committee meeting earlier in November. Necessary awkwardness notwithstanding, the council handled the matter swiftly and professionally.
On Nov. 9, City Councilman Johnny Dawkins blew up at Councilwoman Yvonne Kinston during an appointments committee meeting. During what he himself later called a “tirade,” Dawkins swore at Kinston.
He apologized to her at the council’s regular meeting on Monday.
“I want to apologize to you for losing my cool in the appointments committee meeting,” Dawkins said. “Very respectfully, I ask for your forgiveness.”
Later, Mayor Mitch Colvin, who was also present at the appointments meeting, issued his own apology to Kinston.
“Although I was not in charge of the meeting, I was in the room and allowed the environment to get to a point that it did,” he said.
He said he supported the right of council members to express themselves, but “we’re not going to tolerate any type of disrespect or profanity.”
Kinston said in an interview a couple of days after the appointments meeting that an apology from Dawkins should have come at the same meeting in which he blew up, or immediately afterward.
At Monday’s meeting, she made a motion that he be censured. It was seconded by Councilwoman Shakeyla Ingram.
“I do accept council member Dawkins’ apology, and yes council member Dawkins I have already forgiven you for that,” she said.
But she said she sought the censure on grounds of professionalism and accountability.
We agree with Kinston.
It is important for city leaders to model the concept of respectful debate. Fewer leaders these days are willing to take on that role, but it is as vitally important as ever. We are in an era where civility among political leaders can no longer be taken for granted. Kinston’s actions are important in reminding us that civility and professionalism still matter.
The council voted in favor of the censure at the meeting’s end. Dawkins, who had voted against adding the item to the agenda, did not vote as the issue concerned him.
Just prior to the Nov. 9 blowup, the appointments committee had been discussing the nomination of Carl Manning to the Fayetteville-Cumberland Economic Development Board. Dawkins inquired whether Manning was African-American; he said in an interview later he asked the question so he could make sure diversity was included in the names sent forward to the full council.
Kinston, who is African-American, appeared to scoff at the question. After the meeting, she wrote in an email to council members that Dawkins, who is white, has made comments before that were racial, biased and disrespectful and said his behavior had “progressively gotten worse.”
After the censure vote, Colvin complimented both Kinston and Dawkins for how the matter was handled.
“This was a tough conversation to have tonight,” the mayor said. “I think both of you handled it like professionals and adults. Appreciate it. I look forward to us working together. Thank you, council member Kinston.”
We agree that it was handled well and brushed up the image of a City Council that is looking somewhat frayed at the edges. The exchange between Dawkins and Kinston happened to occur on the same day that Tisha Waddell, the District 3 representative, chose to resign from council on unrelated matters.
It was important to see those acts of civility at Monday’s meeting.
Also on Monday: The full council voted to approve Manning and William Hedgepeth to the Fayetteville-Cumberland Economic Development Board.
Winston-Salem Journal. Nov. 29, 2021.
Editorial: Observing the Pilot Mountain fire
It’s the kind of spectacle that people will talk about for decades: They saw the mountain on fire.
As we write, about 30 firefighters from the N.C. Forest Service and the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation are at Pilot Mountain State Park. They’re fighting a blaze that began on Saturday, the Journal’s Lisa O’Donnell reported on Monday. The fire has since grown to 500 acres — fortunately, confined to state-owned property. All areas of the park have been closed, including sections by the Yadkin River and parts of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, and firefighters have built containment lines and are taking steps to prevent damage to the park’s visitors center, which opened in 2020, as well as other structures in the park.
The fire’s power has been exacerbated by dry and windy conditions, the Journal reported.
Fortunately, no nearby residents have had to be evacuated.
“We plan on holding the fire to the mountain,” Jimmy Holt, the Guilford County ranger for the N.C. Forest Service, told the Journal. The firefighters seem to know what they’re doing.
“Right now there’s pretty much fire all around the top of the mountain basically,” Holt said.
Many observed from a safe distance as the fire spread, leaping from tree to tree and across hiking trails and roads. Fire, such a destructive force, can be beautifully mesmerizing.
But aside from the spectacle, there’s a serious and even melancholy aspect to the burn.
Pilot Mountain is a popular park; in 2020, it received 1,045,160 visitors. The number increased from the previous year’s 844,858, to some degree, as a reaction to COVID sequestration. But that just shows how much we appreciate our parks as places of respite and refreshment.
Many residents have a deep attachment to this natural treasure. Many who live nearby have expressed a sense of sadness, seeing the forest consumed by fire. There’s also been a loss of wildlife as well as wildlife habitat.
So word to the wise: The fire has doubtlessly led to a panicked migration. Deer, foxes and other animals will be fleeing for days yet. Drivers on local roads and U.S. 52, which passes by the park, should exert all proper caution to avoid deadly and costly collisions with fleeing animals.
Wildfire is always a danger to forests; over the years, firefighters have conducted prescribed, limited burns and established fire lines in our state parks to reduce the threat of raging, out-of-control conflagrations. One was established at Pilot Mountain following a wildfire that burned nearly 800 acres in 2012.
But nature is resilient and will spring again from the ashes.
“Fire can rejuvenate a natural landscape and improve native habitat,” the state forest service says in educational material. “Many species in the Southeast depend on fire for survival, such as the chestnut oak, red-cockaded woodpecker and pine snakes, to name a few.
“Fires break down organic material much faster than decomposition, thus renewing soil nutrients more quickly. This triggers a rebirth of forest, helping to maintain native plant species. It provides more fertile soil and opens up the forest canopy, promoting vitality and the luscious growth of grasses and forbs.”
When it’s safe to open the gates again, we’re sure that visitors will flock to Pilot Mountain to assess the damage and recovery for themselves.
In the meantime, monetary donations to supply firefighters with food and drink, to help them stay energized and hydrated, can be made in person at Town Hall in Pilot Mountain, over the phone at 336-368-2247, Ext. 0, or at pilotmountainnc.org.