Sunday, May 9, 2021

Last Call For Jab And A Brewski

The idea of getting vaccinated had been rolling around in the back of Tyler Morsch's mind for weeks. As a 28-year-old, he didn't feel in any particular danger, but he finally decided he should start looking for a Covid-19 vaccination clinic this week. Then he heard the magic words. 
"Free beer," he said.

Saturday was the first day that Erie County worked with a local microbrewery to host its Shot and a Chaser program, offering individuals who got their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at Resurgence Brewing Company a free pint glass and coupon for the vaccinated person's drink of choice.

Under normal circumstances, it would be beyond strange for a brewery to host a vaccination clinic in the shadow of 1,000-gallon fermentation tanks, with a brick wall separating a bustling bar service from health care professionals handling syringes filled with the Moderna vaccine. But these are not normal times.

"Given the world we live in right now, it's not so weird," said Ben Kestner, Resurgence Brewing's director of taproom operations.

County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who was nursing his own drink in one hand while directing vaccine recipients to open table with the other, was happy to see the county's first Shot and a Chaser effort going so well. Before the vaccinations started at 11 a.m., there was a line out the door.

Programs like the Shot and a Chaser program are among the more creative outreach efforts to try and attract individuals who would otherwise not consider vaccination a priority, especially younger adults. New Jersey and Suffolk County have picked up on the idea, offering free drink vouchers at participating breweries for those who agree to get vaccinated.

Poloncarz said he's happy to see others pick up the idea.

"We're going to do more people today at our first-dose clinics than most of our first-dose clinics in the last week combined," Poloncarz said. "It's been a success. We figured it would be pretty good, but now we're seeing the results."

That's not a very high bar, given that many of the county's first-dose clinics have had less than two dozen people show up. At one site, only one person showed up, Poloncarz said. Comparatively, more than 100 people had been vaccinated at Resurgence by mid-afternoon, including some walk-ups and restaurant patrons who decided to get the vaccine at the spur of the moment
We've heard a lot about the stick end of the approach to incentivizing vaccinations and making it mandatory to return to the office or to in-person classes, for example. But there's a lot to the carrot approach too. 

Besides, you can always use another pint glass.

Generation COVID, Con't

Schools are reopening for kids across the nation for in-person learning, but not everyone wants to go back. High schoolers in large cities picked up jobs to help out their families, and day care arrangements are in place now for families. Whether we turn this into a new normal or fight it like vaccine hesitancy, a major debate is raging right now about whether or not kids should return to in-person learning later this fall, and it will affect an entire generation of kids for decades to come.

Pauline Rojas’s high school in San Antonio is open. But like many of her classmates, she has not returned, and has little interest in doing so.

During the coronavirus pandemic, she started working 20 to 40 hours per week at Raising Cane’s, a fast-food restaurant, and has used the money to help pay her family’s internet bill, buy clothes and save for a car.

Ms. Rojas, 18, has no doubt that a year of online school, squeezed between work shifts that end at midnight, has affected her learning. Still, she has embraced her new role as a breadwinner, sharing responsibilities with her mother who works at a hardware store.

“I wanted to take the stress off my mom,” she said. “I’m no longer a kid. I’m capable of having a job, holding a job and making my own money.”

Only a small slice of American schools remain fully closed: 12 percent of elementary and middle schools, according to a federal survey, as well as a minority of high schools. But the percentage of students learning fully remotely is much greater: more than a third of fourth and eighth graders, and an even larger group of high school students. A majority of Black, Hispanic and Asian-American students remain out of school.

These disparities have put district leaders and policymakers in a tough position as they end this school year and plan for the next one. Even though the pandemic appears to be coming under control in the United States as vaccinations continue, many superintendents say fear of the coronavirus itself is no longer the primary reason their students are opting out. Nor are many families expressing a strong preference for remote learning.

Rather, for every child and parent who has leaped at the opportunity to return to the classroom, others changed their lives over the past year in ways that make going back to school difficult. The consequences are likely to reverberate through the education system for years, especially if states and districts continue to give students the choice to attend school remotely.

Teenagers from low-income families have taken on heavy loads of paid work, especially because so many parents lost jobs. Parents made new child care arrangements to get through the long months of school closures and part-time hours, and are now loath to disrupt established routines. Some families do not know that local public schools have reopened, because of language barriers or lack of effective communication from districts.

Experts have coined the term “school hesitancy” to describe the remarkably durable resistance to a return to traditional learning. Some wonder whether the pandemic has simply upended people’s choices about how to live, with the location of schooling — like the location of office work — now up for grabs. But others see the phenomenon as a social and educational crisis for children that must be combated — a challenge akin to vaccine hesitancy.

“There are so many stories, and they are all stories that break your heart,” said Pedro Martinez, the San Antonio schools superintendent, who said it was most challenging to draw teenagers back to classrooms in his overwhelmingly Hispanic, low-income district. Half of high school students are eligible to return to school five days a week, but only 30 percent have opted in. Concerned about flagging grades and the risk of students dropping out, he plans to greatly restrict access to remote learning next school year


The conventional wisdom for the last 14 months has been "We have to get kids back into school ASAP."  But as usual with conventional wisdom, the actual reality on the ground is a lot more complex, and it always has been, especially for low-income Black and brown families. Money is a lot bigger issue than people think.

Not everyone is going to go back, folks.  Maybe we should find ways to provide education for them, rather than punishing them.

Just an idea.

Sunday Long Read: The Maine Problem With Sharks

There's still a hell of a lot we don't know about great whites and sharks in general, but in the era of climate change and ocean acidification, it's important to remeber that sharks have survived for millions of years by staying on the move, as this week's Sunday Long read from Down East reminds us, even to places like Maine's coast.

Monday, July 27, 2020, dawned sultry and bright on Bailey Island, a village of about 400 full-time residents in the midcoast town of Harpswell. Early that morning, lobsterboats sputtered out of picturesque Mackerel Cove. A lone harbor seal appeared, then ducked back underwater. A handful of summer visitors watched from their docks, sipping coffee. On the cove’s east side, at a small and shallow inlet off the bridged island’s main road, Charlie Wemyss-Dunn and his wife, Katy, walked from the water’s edge back to the small cottage they and Charlie’s parents had rented for the month. There, they began a day of remote work at their computers.

By early afternoon, the temperature had topped 90 degrees. Katy was settled onto an outdoor sofa on the house’s back deck. Charlie sat with his laptop at the kitchen table, near a picture window. They both remember looking up as Julie Dimperio Holowach and her daughter, Alex, wandered down to the water from their house, a few doors down. Julie and her husband, Al, had purchased the summer property some 20 years earlier, the culmination of a long-standing love affair with Maine’s islands. After both retiring from careers in the New York fashion world, the couple had begun spending more and more of each year there. During that time, Julie had become known for her community work: she served on boards, mentored young women, and volunteered for several nonprofits. Alex, a physical-education teacher at a private school in New York City, visited for holidays and long summer vacations. Over the years, the entire Holowach clan had become much-loved community members on Bailey Island, where residents — summer and year-round — tend to treat one another like family.

Julie and Alex descended a neighbor’s sloping yard, walked out onto a dock, and slid off it with the ease of swimmers who spend a good deal of time in the water. Although the ocean was temperate by Maine standards, Julie wore her usual wetsuit. A high tide filled the inlet. As the pair bobbed around, their chatter and laughter floated up and into the nearby rental houses. The Wemyss-Dunns took a momentary break from their work, both thinking how nice it was to hear a mother and daughter enjoying their time together. They listened as the two women took turns diving below the surface and marveled at how clear the water seemed.

For an hour, the Holowaches swam easy circles, gradually making their way some 50 feet from shore. Then, at about 3:20 p.m., Julie Holowach let out a terrified scream. Katy Wemyss-Dunn looked up just in time to see the swimmer thrown into the air, then dragged below the surface. Both she and Charlie heard Alex cry for help. Still in the kitchen, Charlie assumed someone had experienced a medical crisis — a heart attack, maybe. He ran outside, where Katy was already struggling to launch a tandem kayak. By then, Alex had clamored onto the inlet’s one exposed rock. Nearby, Julie floated on her back, unmoving. The water around her had turned red.

As Charlie and Katy tumbled into the kayak and started paddling, Charlie suggested that Julie had been struck by a boat propeller. Katy, in a state of shock, shook her head. She was having trouble speaking, but she knew what she had just witnessed was no boating accident. It was a deadly shark attack.

By the time the Wemyss-Dunns got out beyond their long dock, Alex had swum back to shore, near where she and Julie had entered the water. She was still shouting for someone to help her mom. A man renting the house next door dialed 911 to report the attack.

When Charlie saw Katy struggling to catch her breath, he paddled her back to shore, where neighbors had begun comforting Alex. Charlie’s mother took Katy’s spot in the kayak, and the duo paddled back out to the rock, where Julie Holowach still floated on her back, not moving. Charlie’s mother grabbed the swimmer’s hand and supported Julie’s head with her kayak paddle as Charlie slowly ferried them back to shore. By the time they arrived, police and ambulance crews were pulling into the house’s circular drive, along with several other members of the Holowach family who also live on Bailey Island. They dragged Julie out of the water and laid her on the lawn. Emergency medical technicians pronounced the 63-year-old dead at the scene.

Maine didn't even bother tagging or tracking sharks, because sharks aren't on Maine's coast.

Sharks are on Maine's coast.

More things will change as climate does.

Laboring Under A Misconception, Con't

 Like Montana, South Carolina is also cutting off federal COVID-19 benefits in order to make people suffer, because there's nothing more American than making the least among us miserable.

Gov. Henry McMaster is ordering the state’s Department of Employment and Workforce to withdraw from the federal government’s federal pandemic unemployment programs.

Starting on June 30, the state will no longer participate in the expanded unemployment benefits put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“South Carolina’s businesses have borne the brunt of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those businesses that have survived — both large and small, and including those in the hospitality, tourism, manufacturing, and healthcare sectors — now face an unprecedented labor shortage,” McMaster wrote in a letter to DEW Executive Director Dan Ellzey.

South Carolina’s unemployment rate reached 12.8% in April of last year. In March, the unemployment rate was down to 5.1%, below the national rate of 6%.

McMaster said South Carolina has more than 81,000 available job openings as the economy has reopened and as restrictions have been lifted and the COVID-19 vaccine is being distributed.

Nothing says GOP policy quite like "Get back to flipping burgers for $8 an hour during a pandemic that we're prolonging on purpose, peons."

No two ways about it: The April jobs report was extremely disappointing. And it’s likely to heat up the debate, now preoccupying the White House, over whether government policy might be subtly discouraging unemployed people from returning to work.

Economists and analysts had been expecting around a million jobs to be added on net in April, given the rising share of vaccinated Americans and relaxation of restrictions on business. Instead, employers created a measly 266,000 positions, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. Job growth for March was revised downward, too.

The size of the jobs deficit — the difference between how many jobs there are today vs. pre-pandemic — remains quite large, with employment in April still 8.2 million jobs, or 5.4 percent, below the peak from February 2020. If April’s hiring pace were to continue indefinitely, it would take 2½ more years before we regained all the jobs we had pre-covid (and we actually want more jobs than that, given population growth).

The disappointing numbers are almost certain to strengthen the narrative that there’s a labor shortage.

What do I mean by that? Unemployment is still elevated, at 6.1 percent in April compared with 3.5 percent in February 2020. So at first blush, that would suggest that there are still a lot of excess workers needing jobs. For about a month, though, a debate has been raging about whether there are too few workers willing to accept the jobs on offer. Restaurants and other small businesses have complained about their inability to hire, which is being disproportionately blamed on (depending on your politics) either Big Government’s too-generous unemployment benefits, or stingy employers’ reluctance to raise wages.

The industry that has been complaining the loudest about an inability to find workers, accommodation and food services (think hotels, restaurants, bars, etc.), accounted for nearly all of the hiring in April — 241,400 new jobs. This might suggest that their complaints are much ado about nothing.

Whether you think there's a labor shortage or not, the reality is more red states are going to "solve" the problem by hurting the unemployed rather than treating the root cause: getting enough of us vaccinated so that we can open schools, offices, and public buildings and do it safely. 
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