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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Short Takes #10 on Rhode Island’s struggle against COVID-19

Our Plague Year just gets weirder and weirder
By Will Collette
ImageThis week, we mark three significant anniversaries of events that were supposed to change America, but are hardly even noticed because we are all so focused on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ten years ago, on April 20, 2010, much of the Gulf of Mexico was devastated by the fire and massive oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform. Here’s what we learned. Spoiler alert: not much.

Twenty-five years ago, on April 19, 1995, a couple of right-wing nuts blew up the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 169 and wounding hundreds. Many were toddlers in the building’s day care center. We didn’t learn much from that either since the same kind of right-wing nuts elected and prop up Donald Trump and are now demonstrating in favor of ending successful measures we have taken against COVID-19. I just hope natural selection will thin that herd.

Fifty years ago, on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was held involving millions of people worldwide. It started out pretty focused on corporate polluters, but now those same polluters are the corporate sponsors for the yearly feel-good affair.

Now we are in the middle of a global pandemic from a virus that spreads quickly and can make you feel like you are drowning. It kills at a far higher rate than many other illnesses we have heard about. Our health care system is stressed to near breaking and our economy is in shambles.

There is no proven treatment, cure or vaccine.

As a nation, we are at the mercy of a guy who doesn’t believe in mercy. Or empathy. Or science.

He has lived by the words “I take no responsibility for that” and left it to state and local officials to handle what would “normally” be a federally-coordinated national campaign.

Lucky for us in Rhode Island that like most of the northeastern states, we are seeing governors step up to fill the national leadership void.

Which brings us to this group of “Short Takes.”

Rhode Island is the ONLY state almost ready to begin re-opening

ImageAccording to Harvard researchers, Rhode Island is the ONLY state in the Union that has sufficiently ramped up testing to allow a phased re-opening of the economy. These findings were published by The New York Times reported. 

At first, we lagged behind our New England neighbors, but stepped it up to the point where we are now in pretty good shape in that part of the fight against the pandemic with drive-thru and now walk-thru testing centers.

Gina Raimondo’s strict measures did indeed flatten the curve so our hospitals are not overwhelmed, though the death toll continues to mount – especially among frail elderly nursing home patients.

Charlestown now has seven confirmed cases

Like most rural South County towns, we have not seen the high number of cases and deaths suffered by other municipalities across the state, but we are not unscathed. North Kingstown has South County’s highest total with 81 confirmed cases (as of this writing). While our 7 cases in Charlestown aren’t much, we were at zero for weeks and then at <5, so our curve is on the upswing.

Out shopping

ImageI ventured out to pick up an Rx and do some shopping after three weeks indoors. As I reported in Short Takes #7, traffic was light as were the number of people in the stores. 

I saw lots of good behavior – everyone masked, everyone maintaining proper distance and in decent spirits.

Job Lot was well stocked including paper products in contrast to Stop & Shop which was pretty much wiped out of frozen vegetables and dairy products, especially cheeses. There were gaping holes in the meats department and up and down the aisles for non-perishables.

Aldi’s was a pleasant surprise: instead of having to pull out a quarter to get a shopping cart, you are greeted by a staff member who rolls over to you a just-sanitized cart at no cost.

Inside, the shelves are well-stocked (exception: cleaners and paper goods, chicken and frozen vegetables). But their produce was especially well stocked with plenty of bargains. 

Eggs were $1 a dozen the day I was there (Monday). In contrast to Stop & Shop, Aldi’s had plenty of dairy from milk to cheeses. Check-out was slightly longer than their lightning-quick standard, but people followed the floor markings to maintain social distancing.

As I did in my last shopping foray three weeks ago, I thanked each store employee for being there.
On my way home, I saw the Staties bust two Connecticut drivers who blew through the checkpoint for non-RI cars. Good.

Whitehouse picked for Trump advisory panel

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse accepted an invitation from Donald Trump to join a 97-member “bi-partisan” panel of members of Congress who will “advise” Trump on how to re-open the economy.
Whitehouse said:
“I hope this panel will be a good-faith bipartisan effort informed by science and best practices. Ignoring public health experts and governors to prematurely end stay-at-home orders would lead to more infections and could further hurt our economy. With that in mind, I look forward to working with my colleagues and the White House to determine how to guide our nation through this challenging time.”
I am a big fan of Whitehouse’s and usually agree with his decisions. On this, I’m not so sure.
First, how is a 97-member panel of Ds & Rs from Congress going to agree on anything useful. Second, assuming they do, why would Trump take their advice?

Finally, why would a smart guy like Whitehouse lend his good name to a sham set up by a demented malignant narcissist? Trump only listens to Fox TV and only when he hears whatever lines up with his “gut” and his self-interests.

Sure, he’ll take Whitehouse’s advice

OK, maybe I’m just laying it on thick, but this past week, we saw loud though small protests from right-wing nuts, especially gun nuts and anti-vaxxers, instigated by Donald Trump, who want the economy reopened regardless of the death toll.

This is what Trump had to say about these nice people:
“I’ve seen the people, I’ve seen the interviews of people. These are great people. Look they want to get ― they call cabin fever, you’ve heard the term ― they’ve got cabin fever. They wanna get back. They want their life back. Their life was taken away from them. And you know, they learned a lot during this period. They learned to do things differently than they have in the past. And you know, they’ll do it hopefully until the virus has passed. I think these people are ― I’ve never seen so many American flags.”
Rhode Island versus the world

ImageThough we have lost our #1 ranking in WalletHub’s ranking of states for most aggressive measures against COVID-19, we are still ranked a respectable sixth place.

A newly ramped up testing program, strong social-distancing, shelter-in-place orders and quarantining non-resident visitors have keep RI’s pandemic relatively under control, except of course for the carnage in our state’s nursing and group homes.

I mentioned earlier about seeing two Connecticut vehicles being pulled over for running the Westerly checkpoint. Now there’s also grousing in Connecticut about Rhode Island’s strict rules on bringing out of state boats into Rhode Island harbors.

The New London Day headline read: Rhode Island to out-of-state boaters: Shove off.

Yellow flag (contagion) - WikipediaThe complaint is that Rhode Island is applying the two-week mandatory quarantine not just to visitors arriving by plane, train and automobile, but also to boaters. So CT boaters accustomed to mooring in Watch Hill or Newport and then strolling to restaurants and shops are being told to stay on their boats for two weeks.

The article says the rule is being enforced by local “sentries.” Jamestown Police are patrolling their moorings looking for out-of-state boats. Boats under the two-week order need to fly the international quarantine flag (the “plague” flag?).

How sad to impose the same rules on their poor rich people that apply to the rest of us. I’m adding this to my long list of reasons why I can’t stand summer people.  

Condolences to Barbara Morse

Barbara Morse was one of my favorite Channel 10 news people (until I started boycotting WJAR over the editorial practices of their owner, Sinclair Broadcasting). I especially appreciated Ms. Morse’s non-stop community service activities.

Her father Stan Morse, 88, died of coronavirus a week ago while a resident in an Alzheimer’s care unit of an Ohio nursing home. His family could not be with him due to COVID-19 restrictions on visitation.

Did any “small” businesses get any “Paycheck Protection Program” money?
By John ColeThe Times-Tribune

Lots of small businesses desperately need help and saw hope in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. PPP offered forgivable loans to small businesses to continue to keep workers on their payrolls and maybe even do some business.

I reported in the last “Short Takes” that PPP got off to a slow start in Rhode Island as most banks were confused about the guidelines. Initial reports were that only community banks like Washington Trust and Centreville were taking applications. Citizens Bank balked.

Then, in short order, the PPP shut down, out of money. Reports filtered out that nearly all of the money went to banks’ existing large clients and to hotel and restaurant chains who used a loophole in the law to qualify as “small businesses.”

I’d like to hear from business owners in South County about their experiences, good or bad, with PPP’s first round.  Please e-mail me through Progressive Charlestown. Congress is currently considering a second round of funding.

Electric Boat and COVID-19

Electric Boat facilities in Connecticut and Rhode Island are one of our largest employers so there’s a lot riding on keeping those facilities safe from the coronavirus.

In my last “Short Takes,” I reported that their CEO tested positive for COVID-19. Senior vice-president Kurt Hesch has also tested positive.

But it’s not just the bosses. In a local public radio report a week ago, at least two dozen EB workers tested positive and there are almost certainly going to be a lot more.

Workers told The Public’s Radio that EB is generally safety conscious, but that workers are often in very close contact because of the nature of the work.

EB officials told The Public’s Radio they are instituting practices to try to give workers more space to work and are acting swiftly whenever someone shows signs of illness.

But the sad truth is that we are now seeing outbreaks in workplaces in critical parts of our economy (e.g. meat-packing plants) and EB is no different.

Kelp farming crisis resolved

Ocean Resources - Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Quarantine restrictions prevented routine delivery of seaweed harvested on Block Island from being shipped to customers in Brooklyn that could have led to the loss of a major harvest.

Instead, a jerry-rigged supply chain got put together to come to the rescue.

The kelp was shipped to Stone Acres Farm in Stonington where it will be blanched, hung and dried before being sent to The Crop Project, a Brooklyn-based non-profit that promotes sustainable agriculture.

To avoid having to put workers into quarantine, Block Island Shellfish Farm and Block Island Kelp owner Catherine Puckett bagged the kelp and put it on the ferry to Point Judith. It was off-loaded onto a waiting U-Haul and driven to Stonington. (Undoubtedly they passed right through Charleston.)

Stone Acres Farm will process the kelp and then send it on to Brooklyn in the same U-Haul.

No McGyver solution for Theatre By the Sea

It’s no longer news when a popular entertainment venue is going to be closed for the season due to COVID-19 and Theatre by the Sea is no exception. Except their fate was sealed by the deaths of two of their associates from the coronavirus.

The ProJo reports:
“Steven Richard, a Massachusetts resident who was a photographer for the theater and its affiliates in Massachusetts, died of COVID-19 in March. His wife, Karen Nascembeni, the theater’s director of corporate and community relations, is also hospitalized with the disease… Eileen Day, a longtime usher at the North Shore Music Theatre, also died of COVID-19, the report said.”
Our condolences to their friends and families.