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What’s it all about? / November 11, 2020

Look, no one likes being the nag or the bearer of bad news or the five-alarm fire guy, but folks, we need to talk.

Yes, this is about the pandemic. Please don’t avert your eyes even though every one of us is sick of the subject. Not literally sick, I hope, but sick in the same way you’d probably sooner scrub the toilet than carry on about COVID-19 for another second.

This is a request -— a plea — to set those feelings aside, and do all the things we’re all supposed to do: wear breathing masks, maintain social distance, limit our personal interactions, especially in interior spaces for extended periods of time. Why do we keep asking this of you? Just selfishly speaking, it’s because even the guy who sells newspapers in 50 cent increments gets tired of having the deliver the latest shocking news of how this virus sickens and kills.

This week, the awfulness is everywhere: in the Towns of South Boston and La Crosse, group homes operated by Southside Behavioral Health (formerly Southside Community Services Board) have been hit hard by COVID-19 outbreaks. Our regional mental health agency had to shut down its Brandon House facility on Poplar Creek Street and transfer the residents there to a sister home in La Crosse, exposing this second group to the virus. You can catch the terrible details on today’s front page. Meanwhile and unrelatedly, Town of South Hill residents have been warned by the health department of possible coronavirus exposure stemming from a murder mystery performance at The Dogwood event center (see page B8). These are instances of the virus’ spread that we know of. There are more episodes currently in development which we’ll hear about next week.

The most fearsome developments right now are unfolding at the former Woodview nursing home, renamed South Boston Health and Rehab by its new owners, Saber Healthcare. The facility is besieged by some 150 cases of COVID-19, the largest nursing home outbreak reported so far in the Southside Health District of Halifax, Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties. A small sliver of hopeful news comes with the improved therapies for COVID-19; even among our most vulnerable populations (i.e., nursing home residents), patient deaths have slowed. Yet this is small comfort for the families of elderly and frail inhabitants at The Woodview, to say nothing of the employees and residents working and living inside the facility. On a strictly personal note, before my mother passed away nearly two years ago, she checked into The Woodview as she attempted to rehabilitate from progressive respiratory failure. That didn’t happen, but it wasn’t due to anything on the part of The Woodview — to the contrary, the staff and medical team there were excellent. That’s how matters stood when Sentara was running the facility; it now has been taken over by Ohio-based Saber. I hope the new owners have kept the workforce intact because the many good and capable employees there two years ago were the heart and soul of the place. Pray for them all.

Fatigue. This miserable year has been lousy with it. Yet if there were ever a time to muster the fighting spirit, a stubborn refusal to give in to one’s enemies, this would be the time and the pandemic would be the foe -— why fight among ourselves when a hidden killer is preying on our elderly loved ones? (And not so elderly in many cases.) The politicization of the pandemic, aside from being a crime against humanity, is also objectively idiotic. What’s it all about, really? Can we dial down the contentiousness and the conspiracy mongering and simply do as the public health experts ask? I don’t think Dr. Anthony Fauci is much interested in deriving personal amusement from encouraging people to wear masks in public. It’s just that he’s ascertained the situation calls for an SOS, not an LOL.

So yes, to make the point one more time, safeguarding against COVID-19 is an ever-present inconvenience, a burden that pales in comparison to the human suffering of those who contract the virus. Simple measures, such as wearing a mask and not getting too close to others, require diligence and some effort, but nothing earth-shaking. Unlike getting sick with this horrible disease.

Besides, if the news to be believed, our research community is getting close to rolling out an effective vaccine. The hurdles from here (no preventative pharmaceutical treatment) to there (a universally available vaccine) are considerable and cannot be taken lightly, but hope is on the horizon that this plague may someday be vanquished, sooner hopefully than later. Can everyone maintain their guard until then? It’s worth trying.


A blasé mindset has been our undoing with the coronavirus pandemic. Will the same be true of our democracy? Last week, Joe Biden won a clear and convincing victory in the presidential election, swinging five states that Donald Trump captured in 2016 (Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and, barring massive counting errors, Georgia and Arizona) to oust the incumbent. (Fun fact: Biden is the first candidate to beat an incumbent president with 51 percent of the vote since FDR.) Our elections system is designed to allow for a full accounting of the votes, which is why the hesitation to declare a winner in Georgia and Arizona is somewhat understandable. Yet the totality of the results -— comfortable margins of victory in Michigan and Pennsylvania, the sheer improbability of a system meltdown everywhere else -— leaves no doubt that Biden has won the White House.

Against this reality, Republicans are crying foul, alleging a rigged vote with zero evidence and bottomless bad faith. (If you’re going to accuse someone of felony election fraud, it’s generally a good idea to offer some proof to back up your claim.) Watching this nonsense, one might reasonably conclude that Republicans believe the opposition should never be allowed to assume power, even when an opponent such as Biden has won the popular vote (likely by around six million votes above what Trump got) and a solid Electoral College majority (306 is the best guess number). What gives?

Simply this: the GOP is trying to bamboozle the United States of America with a ginned-up, phony fog-of-war strategy that only will fail in the sense it can’t possibly work. What it is designed to do, and could succeed unless we’re careful, is to make it harder to run the country over the next four years. With all the problems on our plate, that’s a luxury Americans cannot afford. This is only the latest demonstration of how it’s long past time to usher in competent government and send the clowns packing.

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