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Sunday, June 21, 2020

Short Takes: how Charlestown and South County is coping with the end of the world as we know it

Charlestown unemployment stands at 16.0%
By Will Collette

When the RI Department of Labor and Training (DLT) released Charlestown's unemployment numbers for the month of April, it was a mind-boggling 18.9% - the highest level EVER recorded in the DLT database.

The numbers for May have just been released and they show good news and bad news. The good news is the May rate fell to 16.0%, a drop that reflects a similar point drop in state and national rates. 

The bad news is our unemployment rate is the second highest it's ever been and is at Great Depression levels.

When April’s numbers came out, I challenged the Charlestown CitizensAlliance (CCA Party) which controls every policy-making body in town from the Town Council to Parks and Recreation to come up with SOMETHING to address the needs of suffering families.

Council President Virginia Lee (CCA Party) says we all have to work together in this crisis but doesn’t have a lot to offer. She says the town has made some donations to area non-profits and she “encourage[s] any Charlestown resident in need to reach out to these groups.”

Lee also says that if any resident is “struggling to pay property tax,” they should call the town Tax Collector for relief. However, if you look at the official statement about paying taxes on the tax collector’s web page, there is no sign of any mercy or forbearance.

Council member Julie Carroccia (CCA Party) says everything in town is running smoothly thanks to the stalwart leadership of town administrator Mark Stankiewicz. No problem.

But one of the secrets to that “smooth” operation was Stankiewicz’s refusal to allow staff who could work from home to work from home. 

Even though Governor Raimondo recommended early on that people should work from home if they can, Stankiewicz told town staff that if they were afraid to come to work because of coronavirus, they could use their leave time to stay home but may not work from home.

So the CCA Party and town administration have nothing despite the fact that Charlestown’s unemployment is at Depression levels.

The New Deal: 1933 - The Journal Entries of Evelyn Taylor
I’ve made suggestions before about ways the town can boost the local economy and deal with town unemployment (Click HERE and HERE) but as far as the CCA was concerned, those ideas were dead on arrival. 

Here’s another one: since we are in a Depression level crisis, let’s think about a WPA/CCC approach - Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps.

The WPA left its lasting mark on Charlestown (e.g. the stone bridge over the Pawcatuck on Route 91). 

We have public lands as well as lots of roads and bridges that could use lots of work, beyond the scope of the town’s current employees. Planning Commissar Ruth Platner (CCA Party) has her eye on at least two more open space parcels where the town has filed matching grant proposals.  

We have a big surplus, plus we could probably get additional state and federal funding, that could be applied to hiring unemployed town residents. In addition to construction and conservation workers, we could also employ people with a talent for writing, design and the arts to create enhance our town properties and help to preserve town history.

Charlestown does list a lot of jobs HERE but these are all seasonal and it’s not known how many actual hires the town has made.

We have to think outside the box about what WE can do.

The Pandemic is NOT gone

Despite the words and deeds of the Chump in Chief and his shadow Mike Pence, the coronavirus pandemic is not over. In fact, we have not really finished the first wave and we’re seeing spikes in cases in half the country.

The US has had over 120,000 confirmed dead out of two and a quarter million confirmed cases – that translates into a “case fatality rate” of 5.3%. That’s pretty much the worst in the world. For comparison, the case fatality rate for the seasonal flu is 0.1% in the US.

Rhode Island has done a pretty good job so far in containing the virus as we see the number of confirmed cases, deaths and hospitalizations drop. Lest we forget, nearly 900 Rhode Islanders have died despite these efforts. Click HERE for official statistics.

Our statistics are good enough to convince the Governor to move the state into “Phase 3” of re-opening. Hopefully, we won’t see a huge jump in cases as some other states have seen after re-opening. Here’s the Governor’s Phase 3 plan.

Unveiling the mystery number

Because the US was so slow to ramp up testing, we missed a lot in the first few months of the pandemic, specifically how many people actually caught the virus but were never diagnosed. 

Mostly that was due to the limits of our testing infrastructure but part of it was that people can get the virus and not know it because they don’t develop symptoms.

We can now test the blood for antibodies against COVID-19. If you test positive, it means you had the virus and now have antibodies that give you some measure of immunity.

The initial trial run of antibody tests indicates that 2.2% of Rhode Islanders are carrying those antibodies.

Carrying those antibodies is good news. Scientists are currently trying to determine how good – i.e. does it give you full immunity, how long does that immunity last, can plasma from people with antibodies transfer immunity to other people?

COVID-19 and your pets

Photo by Will Collette
Rhode Island State Veterinarian Scott Marshall, DVM assures us that there is a nearly zero risk that you can catch coronavirus from your pets. 

However, there is a higher chance you might give your cat or dog the virus.

He said that the number of cases worldwide of transmission from humans to pets has been only 14. 

From what few cases have been reported, COVID-19 does not seem to hit cats and dogs as hard as it can hit humans.

If you are unable to get your dog or cat (ha!) to wear a mask, the best advice is to resist hugging, kissing and snuggling your companion animal if YOU have the virus.

Click HERE for an FDA video and Q&A on coronavirus and pets.

School's in?

While the Governor is calling for schools to re-open on August 31, it’s not as simple as just saying it’s so.

Following the CDC guidance for schools will be daunting since it calls for pretty dramatic changes in classroom configuration among many other things. Click HERE for those guidelines.

The Boston Globe’s Dan McGowan reports that school districts that are highly dependent on busing students (like Chariho) could be in a real jam since the CDC recommended spacing students out on buses, potentially by having one child per row, or skipping rows. And that doesn’t include all the sanitizing that will need to happen.”

This leads to questions about whether there will be enough buses and drivers to get kids to school safely and on time. McGowan says the answer is “no” according to the school superintendents he has interviewed.

Possible solution?

The federal government has assembled a stockpile of 63 million doses of Donald Trump’s coronavirus cure-all hydroxychloroquine which is no longer approved by the FDA for use against COVID-19.

Federal agencies showed an extraordinary level of zest so they could please their tangerine master. 

Too bad they didn’t put that much effort into getting masks, gowns, PPE in general and respirators that are still greatly needed.

Stockpiling hydroxychloroquine created shortages for patients with conditions like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and malaria who desperately needed the drug.

But if Trump is still convinced hydroxychloroquine – and as he has told us time and again, he is NEVER wrong – maybe he can order the drug be given to school kids to prevent the virus. He could get them to sign a waiver of responsibility like he did for his Tulsa, OK rally-goers. All 6,200 of them.

After all, Trump himself took hydroxychloroquine for prevention and, to quote our Dear Leader “Whatdaya got to lose?”

Washington County Fair will be on-line

barnum and bailey circus GIFThe actual 2020 Washington County Fair is cancelled like just about every other major event and festival. But Fair organizers are hoping people will log in to experience the Fair virtually.

From August 12-16, they promise on-line music and games, including live-streamed musical acts each night.

I wish them lots of luck with this. I hope they can figure out a way to convey the aromas of pig shit and greasy dough boys on-line to really make you feel like you’re really there.


TravelJohn Disposable Urinal for Men, Women & Children | Walgreens
Every challenge brings out creative entrepreneurs (and charlatans) with new solutions to problems you never thought you had before.

During this pandemic, one of the most dreaded but necessary experiences is having to urinate when you are away from home and are faced with public restrooms as the only polite or legal options.

My thanks to Dave Barry for bringing attention to Travel John®. 

Available on Amazon and elsewhere, Travel John® is a portable, disposable UNISEX urinal.

This is not a joke. This is a real product.