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Monday, September 7, 2020

Short Takes: Rhode Island copes with the coronavirus

COVID at camp as the kids get ready to go back to school
By Will Collette

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We're getting into fall pollen season. This chart might help you decide
whether your symptoms indicate COVID or a seasonal allergy
Last week's big local pandemic headline was the discovery that one of the contract workers at Burlingame Park tested positive for COVID. Since we are in the middle of a barely contained pandemic, that’s not very shocking. Overall, Charlestown has had 36 confirmed cases.

But it did raise a question not discussed in the media coverage: why are Rhode Island taxpayers paying a Maine-based company to clean out trashcans and toilets in Burlingame? Why can’t DEM do it, perhaps with seasonal temps (preferably hired locally) or at least use a local company?

Last week, workers filed a record number of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims: just under 36,000. Charlestown unemployment in July was 11.3%, slightly higher than the statewide rate of 11.2%.

Why can’t our tax dollars – state and local - be used to employ Rhode Islanders?

Some relief for the unemployed, but not much

RI Department of Labor and Training announced it will send a lump-sum of up to $900 to recipients no later than September 12. The amount will be $300 each for the weeks ending on August 1, 8 and 15. If you don’t get your money by September 12, call the DLT call center at (401) 415-6772.

The money comes from the cash Donald Trump diverted from FEMA’s emergency fund by executive order. Since FEMA money is needed for things like catastrophic hurricanes, this amount is all that is available - roughly three week's worth and no more. 

Meanwhile, we are all waiting for Republican Senate Majority Leader Moscow Mitch McConnell to move his dead ass and act on the recovery legislation the House passed four months ago.

Teachers’ Union raises major concerns about school safety

I’m not a parent so I have no direct experience with having kids underfoot 24/7 for six months. I understand all the reasons why it would be good to have the kids back in school. But knowing what we know about COVID-19 and its occurrence and effect on kids, is it really such a good idea?

These are children, not paratroopers jumping behind the Normandy beaches.

Governor Gina Raimondo has been rolling out charts, graphics and promises that the plan to reopen schools has been meticulously thought through and every contingency has been covered by some aspect of the plan. Here is an example:
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However, the National Education Association of Rhode Island took issue with these plans pointing out a big defect. Every school is supposed to undergo a thorough inspection by health officials before reopening. NEARI found the “inspections” to be anything but.

NEARI Director Bob Walsh tweeted: “This is so frustrating and disappointing and will be called a coverup - EVERY room needs to be inspected, EVERY rule needs to be enforced.”

He said these were “walk-throughs” not inspections since they were done in minutes and only in a sampling of rooms.

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Gina Raimondo has already acknowledged that when schools open, they WILL find students and staff who test positive, but she and the Health Department have a plan for that....
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I’m sure they think this plan will work but as we’ve already seen, re-openings around the country have led to serious increases in cases and deaths. That’s because, as a nation, we have been the worst in the world at bringing COVID under control, despite what Dear Leader says.

And in Rhode Island, if Gina's aggressive campaign and pressure tactics on local school districts translates into child deaths and a big spike in infections, it will be on her head.

We’ve done comparatively well in Rhode Island – though not well enough to convince Massachusetts to lower its borders and allow Rhode Islanders to come for a visit. We will soon find out how Gina's plan affects our ability to control coronavirus.

Vaccinations

Make sure to get your free flu shot with your Marketplace coverage|  HealthCare.govThis broad topic has generated a lot of heat. I think most normal people are looking to a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine to come out sooner rather than later, and that it should be free and universally available.

We’re also being told that this year, it’s very important to get flu shots because you do not want to have the flu on top of the coronavirus, or get misdiagnosed.

Cathy and I got our senior-dose flu shots on August 26 at CVS. It was fast and efficient and practically painless. We always get flu shots but did it early this year because the vaccine is now available and it might not be later on. 

The day before we got the shots, GoLocal questioned whether the state ordered enough vaccine – the state says it ordered enough for 65% of the population - that information in itself seemed to make an early trip to CVS a sensible idea.

Then a few days later on August 29, GoLocal switched tracks and questioned whether CVS was driving people to get vaccinated too early to jack up their profits. They quoted former RI Health Director Michael Fine:
"Well, the question is do we want to have a healthcare system that's for people, that tries to reduce the incidence and prevalence of disease, or do we want to have a healthcare market and industry that creates profit -- getting a lot of flu shots out in August means we can tick the box, that said, we gave flu shots but that won't help us prevent disease very much…I’ve talked about it for many years -- I don't think the science supports giving flu shots in August.”
Well, OK. I have a lot of respect for Dr. Fine. Maybe CVS is a blood-sucking capitalist enterprise to start promoting flu shots in mid-August instead of waiting till Labor Day when it’s also time to put out xmas decorations.

But given that it takes about two weeks for the vaccine’s antibodies to reach an effective level – and just about every health guidance says to get your shots no later than October 31, I feel no regret for getting this important to-do item checked off on August 26.

Secretary Alex Azar on Twitter: "60 million Americans are on Medicare or  Medicare Advantage. They like what they have, and so @POTUS is going to  protect it. Yesterday he signed an executive
HHS Secretary Alex Azar, former CEO of Eli Lilly. 
This minor controversy is nothing compared to the issue of a COVID-19 vaccine. Chances are that between now and November 3, Donald Trump will be telling us that the vaccine is ready, thanks to his stable genius.

No matter that it might be hydroxychloroquine mixed with bleach, it’ll be ready to inject before you cast your vote.

It was heartening to hear Dr. Anthony Fauci say he’s now optimistic that (a) we WILL develop a safe and effective vaccine and (b) it will be ready either by year’s end or early next year. Fauci does not bullshit, so this was great news.

However, if you want bullshit, look at the CDC’s letter to the states telling them to be ready to start giving shots by November 1st. HHS Secretary Alex Azar says the date is only coincidentally just before the election and has nothing to do with politics.

There are around half a dozen promising vaccines being developed around the world at record speed. It would help if each nation actually collaborated to make the process faster and safer but Trump has pulled us out of the World Health Organization and has already made it clear that he does not share anything with anyone unless there’s something in it for him.

Insurance rates to rise next year

The RI Office of Health Insurance Commissioner has approved Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Neighborhood Health Plan health insurance rate hikes of up to 10% for next year. The actual amounts will vary according to plan and provider.

State Attorney General Peter Neronha strongly objects to the rate hikes, calling them “unnecessary and ill-advised” especially during this pandemic. 

Neronha says his experts say the plans have more than enough money in reserve to cover their costs. He labelled the rate setting process as “asking for the sun and getting the moon,” saying the carriers overstated their needs so they could then “settle” for the amount they really wanted.