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More shots given as virus rages in Halifax

Coworking space at Innovation Hub offered to public beginning in February

Virus gets in way of Mecklenburg classroom return plan


Games tentatively scheduled as Comets seek to start play





Pre-game analysis / November 18, 2020
Odds ‘n’ ends for a pre-Thanksgiving week:

In the category of “Doesn’t anyone know how to play this game?” Vox (an excellent news site that specializes in explanatory reporting) has published a new piece on the failures on all fronts to safely return kids to school in the U.S. First, a spoiler alert: the article (“Blue states and red states are both doing school reopenings wrong”) partly validates the approach taken by neighboring Mecklenburg County, which so far has managed to send its elementary students back in class without touching off a COVID-19 outbreak. Bottom line, though? No one anywhere really seems to be succeeding with this entire back-to-school pandemic project.

The full article is well worth the read, but a quick takeaway is this: the collective failure to drive down virus transmission rates makes it just about impossible for schools to operate safely. States and communities have chosen different pathways to getting around (or ignoring) this basic concept, which is why the thrust of the article, about red and blue state areas, holds bad news for both. School districts in liberal-leaning communities that keep their schools closed really are doing incalculable damage to their students, while districts in rural and conservative areas are exposing kids to illness once the virus begins to spread rapidly in the surrounding area. In Utah, for instance, a suburban Salt Lake City high school was hit hard by COVID-19, with nearly 80 students and staff testing positive and a teacher put on a ventilator after becoming seriously sick. And that’s just one example among many of how red state school districts don’t have not much to brag about with their open-and-operational schools.

This is a bipartisan botch, though not for bipartisan reasons. Look, folks, 85 percent or so of our problem can be controlled by wearing masks, social distancing and exercising a modicum of government competence, especially at the federal level — and we’ll spare everyone the reminder of which of our two major parties has steadfastly ignored all of these principles. (In Virginia, the government response has been okay, better than the mean but still nothing to brag about.) Halifax's school board may err in its hesitation to open county schools, but it has erred on the side of caution, and personally I find it very hard to second-guess, much less condemn, anyone tasked with having to make such agonizing choices.

In Mecklenburg County, the four-day daily schedule for elementary students is more than most school divisions have attempted, and it’s worked out better than critics (like me) predicted. There’s no question children have benefited as a result. But as daring as the MCPS division has been on this matter, there are limits to how aggressive anyone should be in trying to return to a semblance of normal school life. We saw this Monday night as school boards in both Mecklenburg and Halifax convened for their regular monthly meetings.

Appearing before the trustees at Halifax County Middle School on Monday night was a sizeable contingent that pleaded for the continuation of winter and fall sports (in that order). So far, the School Board is sticking to plans to go forward with sports, although we’ll see if conditions this winter allow it to happen. Meanwhile, Mecklenburg school trustees also met Monday and went in the exact opposite direction, canceling the fall and winter sports seasons and accepting a recommendation by Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols to delay the return of students in grades 6-12 until at least February (same as Halifax). So much for the Mecklenburg County school division pushing envelopes that others won’t. Placing a strong emphasis on in-person instruction is one thing, testing one’s luck is another. Kudos to those who recognize the difference.

In the aforementioned Salt Lake City school district where hundreds of students and staff have been infected, the rate of the surrounding community transmission was 187 people per 100,000 prior to the outbreaks; in the aftermath, that rate exploded to 617 people per 100,000. By way of comparison, Halifax County — suddenly a covid hot spot with the frightening nursing home outbreak — is averaging 521.7 cases per 100,000 over the recent 14-day period, which is why Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mark Lineburg made the decision this week to shutter school facilities until Dec. 7 and send the small group of students attending in-person classes home. This virus can flare up anywhere at anytime, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool. Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s been a long and trying year.

And the long winter lies ahead. Mask up, people.


I’m curious to see if any newspaper in the area carries this week’s constituent newsletter by Senator Frank Ruff, in which the veteran lawmaker competes with QAnon for the honor of Chief Superspreader of conspiratorial falsehooods. (If you really want to read Ruff’s rantings, I’m sure you can find them somewhere.) Our state senator from Clarksville has more than a few things to say about the election returns which handed Joe Biden the presidency, and his column is quite the mishmash of non sequiturs, half-truths, false equivalencies, historical nonsense and racially-tinged allegations that votes were fabricated out of thin air in urban and majority Black Detroit and Philadelphia. None of it is true, of course, and attempts to press the same evidence-free case that Ruff mindlessly mouths keep getting bounced out of courts across the land. Sad as it is to say, Southside Virginia’s senior lawmaker has turned into a dime-store Rudy Giuliani, with a tinier bullhorn but better choices for local landscaping companies.

Speaking of Rudy, it’s now being reported that he wants to be paid $20,000 a day for his special brand of “legal representation.” At least America’s Mayor seems to understand that Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election is a ripe opportunity for never-ending grift. (Although good luck to Rudy getting paid for his services by this president.) All of this raises the question: What does Frank Ruff expect to get for his phony complaints of a stolen election? An invitation to the White House?

Joe Biden is the president-elect of the United States. Any newspaper that runs Ruff’s column straight up without acknowledging this fact is actively misleading its readership, which is not what newspapers are supposed to be in the business of doing unless they’re owned by Rupert Murdoch. Shame on any publication that deigns to publish Ruff’s whackadoodle nonsense.

On another subject, Gov. Ralph Northam came out in favor this week of legalizing recreational marijuana, which would make Virginia the 16th state in the nation to do so. Northam’s recommendation, which is supported by Attorney General Mark Herring, was accompanied by various projections for the economic possibilities of a home-state cannabis industry. Perhaps not coincidentally, Northam traveled to South Boston recently to take part in the grand opening of Golden Piedmont Labs, the new hemp processing facility that is working with farmers across Southside Virginia to extract CBD oil from the area’s hemp crop. I got the distinct sense from talking to people at the event that plans are already afoot to establish marijuana growing as a significant part of our regional farm economy. Money is lining up behind the proposition, regardless of how it might rub people in general.

Just think — casino gambling is headed to Danville, and pot cultivation could be next for the farms of the former tobacco Old Belt. What’s the world coming to? I will admit to being ambivalent about the gaming industry (it seems to boost local economies in the short term, until everyone gets in on the action) but pot legalization is a reform that is long overdue, and one that could yield lasting benefits for Southside’s farm economy. Yes to ganja and no to gambling -— that seems like a fair trade-off to me.

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