The Delta Variant Is a Grave Danger to the Unvaccinated
One half of America is protected. The other is approaching a perilous moment in the pandemic.
by Dhruv Khullar, a contributing writer at The New Yorker, is a practicing physician and an assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College.
Experts believe that the Delta variant is 60% more transmissible than Alpha, or the UK variant.
The variant now represents more than 20% of coronavirus infections in the U.S. in the last two weeks, or double what it was when the CDC last reported on the variant’s prevalence. [USA Today]
“The good news is that we have vaccines that can squash the Delta variant,” Eric Topol, the director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told me. “The bad news is that not nearly enough people have been vaccinated. A substantial share of Americans are sitting ducks.” He went on, “We haven’t built a strong enough vaccination wall yet. We need a Delta wall”—a level of vaccination that will prevent the new variant from spreading. “There are still large unvaccinated pockets in the country where this could get ugly,” Topol added. Because about half of Americans are vaccinated, and millions more have some immunity from prior infection, the Delta variant “won’t cause monster spikes that overwhelm the health system,” Topol said. But Delta spreads so easily among the unvaccinated that some communities could experience meaningful increases in death and disease this summer and fall.
In a recent piece, I likened a society that’s reopening while partially vaccinated to a ship approaching an iceberg. The ship is the return to normal life and the viral exposure that it brings; the iceberg is the population of unvaccinated people. Precautions such as social distancing can slow the speed of the ship, and vaccination can shrink the size of the iceberg. But, in any reopening society that’s failed to vaccinate everyone, a collision between the virus and the vulnerable is inevitable.
Because of its exceptional transmissibility, the Delta variant is almost certain to intensify the force of the collision. The U.K., by postponing a full reopening, is trying to soften the blow. But the U.S. is pressing ahead—perhaps out of hubris, or because officials hope that our vaccination campaign can outrun the spread of Delta. Last week, New York and California, among the pandemic’s hardest-hit states, did away with virtually all restrictions. Meanwhile, states with half the vaccination rates of New York or California have been open for weeks. A lot depends on where, and how fast, Delta is spreading.
The rapid spread of the B.1.617 (Delta) variant first discovered in India is making the second dose “more important now than ever before,” state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy said Monday.
Colorado has the second-highest proportion of the variant in the nation and the fifth-highest overall positivity rate.
‘Two Americas’ may emerge as Delta variant spreads and vaccination rates drop
Biden’s 70% vaccination target by Fourth of July likely to fall short as efforts to entice people to get shots have lost their initial impact
“I certainly don’t see things getting any better if we don’t increase our vaccination rate,” Scott Allen of the county health unit in Webster, Missouri, told Politico. The state has seen daily infections and hospitalizations to nearly double over the last two weeks.
Only 52% of Republicans said they were partially or fully vaccinated, and 29% said they have no intention of getting a vaccine, according to a CBS News/YouGov poll. 77% of Democrats said they were already vaccinated, with just 5% responding that were resisting the vaccine.
“I call it two Covid nations,” Peter Hotez, a vaccine researcher at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told BuzzFeed News.
Bette Korber, a computational biologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said she expected variant Delta to become the most common variant in the US within weeks. “It’s really moving quickly,” Korber told Buzzfeed.
We can not, we must not, return to what we were before.
Let us embrace and dissolve into a global shift as we begin to settle into what it is we are needed to become.
P T S E
‘For the inequities this pandemic has exposed, kindle in our ♡’s a new commitment to justice. For the ways in which our ♡’s have been broken & put back together differently, be softer & more attuned to the needs of the vulnerable, mindful of those most in need.’ [Salt Project]
I have held many things in my hands, and have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”
S U R R E N D E R
“TO DEDICATE YOURSELF…AND SURRENDER…THE ALL-PERVADING CONSCIOUSNESS, OR DIVINE ESSENCE, IS THE IDEAL OF ISHVARA PRANIDHANA. SURRENDER DOES NOT MEAN GIVING UP OR FEELING DEFEATED. IT MEANS GIVING YOURSELF OVER TO A HIGH PURPOSE, SEEING THE ‘BIGGER PICTURE,’ GETTING OUT OF THE WAY IN ORER FOR THE SOUL TO EVOLVE. IT REQUIRES THAT YOU SURRENDER TO THE MYSTERY AND TRUST THAT THE UNIVERSE WILL PRESENT WHAT YOU NEED, WHEN YOU NEED IT. IT MEANS THAT YOU MUST DEDICATE THEIR MERITS OF YOUR ATIONS TO SOMETHING BIGGGER THAN YOURSELF. EVERYTHING YOU DO MUST IN SOME SMALL WAY TO BENEFIT ALL LIFE.” -Seane Corn
As individuals and communities, we can respond with justice and compassion, or we can double down on the pursuit of accumulation and power, with no more than a return to business as usual.
-Father Richard Rohr
Center for Action & Contemplation
‘The pandemic has severely attacked vulnerable communities of color, including tribal communities whose members may not have access to adequate health care nor clean water, we turn to a young voice from the Navajo Nation.’
Aware that the pandemic has severely attacked vulnerable communities of color, including tribal communities whose members may not have access to adequate health care nor clean water, we turn to a young voice from the Navajo Nation (Diné), Alastair Lee Bitsóí, relayed from the pages of the Navajo Times. Excerpts below, with images from the studio of Tony Abeyta.
‘Life expectancy gap between black & white Chicagoans, largest in the country: Structural racism, concentrated poverty, economic exploitation & chronic stress cause what’s known as biological weathering.’
ProPublica is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.
THE FIRST 100
COVID-19 Took Black Lives First. It Didn't Have To.
“We’re not going to reverse this in a moment, overnight, but we have to say it for what it is and move forward decisively as a city, and that’s what we will do,” she said. “This is about health care accessibility, life expectancy, joblessness and hunger.”
ProPublica’s reporting also revealed other patterns, factors that could — and should — have been addressed and which almost certainly exist in other communities experiencing similar disparities. Even though many of these victims had medical conditions that made them particularly susceptible to the virus, they didn’t always get clear or appropriate guidance about seeking treatment. They lived near hospitals that they didn’t trust and that weren’t adequately prepared to treat COVID-19 cases. And perhaps most poignantly, the social connections that gave their lives richness and meaning — and that played a vital role in helping them to navigate this segregated city that can at times feel hostile to black residents — made them more likely to be exposed to the virus before its deadly power became apparent.
The city [Chicago] announced the Racial Equity Rapid Response Team in partnership with West Side United, with a goal to “bring a hyper local public health strategy to targeted communities.” In the weeks since, the team has held tele-town halls, delivered thousands of door hangers and postcards with targeted information, and distributed 60,000 masks for residents in the predominantly black communities of Austin, Auburn Gresham and South Shore.
So much new & good is going to come from this. We can stop deluding ourselves that our current way of organizing our society is either sane or even survivable! That had to come first in order to rock us to our core, to humble us. Now we’ll be open to new ideas in a whole new way.
What history can tell us about the long-term effects of the coronavirus
Just a few decades after the pandemic, American-history textbooks by the distinguished likes of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Richard Hofstadter, Henry Steele Commager, and Samuel Eliot Morison said not a word about it. The first history of the 1918 flu wasn’t published until 1976—I drew some of the above from it. Written by the late Alfred W. Crosby, the book is called America’s Forgotten Pandemic.
Americans may have forgotten the 1918 pandemic, but it did not forget them. Garthwaite matched NHIS respondents’ health conditions to the dates when their mothers were probably exposed to the flu. Mothers who got sick in the first months of pregnancy, he discovered, had babies who, 60 or 70 years later, were unusually likely to have diabetes; mothers afflicted at the end of pregnancy tended to bear children prone to kidney disease. The middle months were associated with heart disease.
The convulsive social changes of the 1920s—the frenzy of financial speculation, the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, the explosion of Dionysian popular culture (jazz, flappers, speakeasies)—were easily attributed to the war, an initiative directed and conducted by humans, rather than to the blind actions of microorganisms. But the microorganisms likely killed more people than the war did. And their effects weren’t confined to European battlefields, but spread across the globe, emptying city streets and filling cemeteries on six continents.
Unlike the war, the flu was incomprehensible—the influenza virus wasn’t even identified until 1931. It inspired fear of immigrants and foreigners, and anger toward the politicians who played down the virus. Like the war, influenza (and tuberculosis, which subsequently hit many flu sufferers) killed more men than women, skewing sex ratios for years afterward. Can one be sure that the ensuing, abrupt changes in gender roles had nothing to do with the virus?
To save themselves from the disease, scared Europeans sought favor from the heavens, most famously taking off their clothes in groups and striking one another with whips and sticks. Images of half-nude flagellants have, since Monty Python, become a comic staple. Far less comical was the accompanying flood of anti-Semitic violence. As it spread through Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, and the Low Countries, it left behind a trail of beaten cadavers and burned homes.
Absent the diseases, it is difficult to imagine how small groups of poorly equipped Europeans at the end of very long supply chains could have survived and even thrived in the alien ecosystems of the Americas. “I fully support banning travel from Europe to prevent the spread of infectious disease,” the Cherokee journalist Rebecca Nagle remarked after President Trump announced his plan to do this. “I just think it’s 528 years too late.”
For Native Americans, the epidemic era lasted for centuries, as did its repercussions. Isolated Hawaii had almost no bacterial or viral disease until 1778, when the islands were “discovered” by Captain James Cook. Islanders learned the cruel facts of contagion so rapidly that by 1806, local leaders were refusing to allow European ships to dock if they had sick people on board. Nonetheless, Hawaii’s king and queen traveled from their clean islands to London, that cesspool of disease, arriving in May 1824. By July they were dead—measles.
Later it occurred to me that a possible legacy of Hong Kong’s success with SARS is that its citizens seem to put more faith in collective action than they used to. I’ve met plenty of people there who believe that the members of their community can work together for the greater good—as they did in suppressing SARS and will, with luck, keep doing with COVID-19. It’s probably naive of me to hope that successfully containing the coronavirus would impart some of the same faith in the United States, but I do anyway.
The worst could be yet to come. ‘According to a leaked internal Trump administration report that predicts 3,000 coronavirus deaths a day by June 1.
Why it matters: That’s nearly double the status quo. The report published by the N.Y. Times shows the possibility of 200,000 new cases a day by the end of May. In April, new daily cases hovered around 30,000. [The model was created by Johns Hopkins professor Justin Lessler.] @axios
[Kropotkin criticizes the State for destroying mutual aid institutions.]
‘Social Darwinists began to argue that evolutionary theory should inform politics, too. The whole effort of nature is to get rid of such, to clear the world of them, and make room for better.’
Reading this piece by a brilliant writer while knowing who is part of this current administration and knowing who are most COVID vulnerable this social Darwinism frame seems to aligned with the decisions being made during this pandemic. -dayle
“Social Darwinists” began to argue that evolutionary theory should inform politics, too. Like the billionaire Andrew Carnegie, who swore his wealth was a product of natural law: “We accept and welcome (…) great inequality,” he pronounced.
The philosopher Herbert Spencer sold hundreds of thousands of books in which he characterised life as an eternal battle. Regarding people living in poverty, he wrote: “The whole effort of nature is to get rid of such, to clear the world of them, and make room for better.”
Economic and biological theories began to converge. Where biologists said existence revolved around survival and reproduction, economists believed that we exist to consume and produce.
Humankind has risen to great heights by fighting each other and crushing its weak…what’s we need is a complete overhaul of assumptions about human nature…implications for how we design our democracies, schools and workplaces…the biggest questions we can ask. What is it to be human? How should we organise ourselves? And, can we trust one another?
A MAN WITH A DANGEROUS IDEA: TRUST EACH OTHER
But what if it’s not survival of the fittest, but survival of the kindest, most cooperative?
In 19th-century Russia there lived a man who believed that mutual aid, cooperation, and friendship were how humankind truly thrives.
Today, Progress correspondent Rutger Bregman tells the extraordinary story of Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin and the important lesson we can take from him.
Journalist and radio host Kai Ryssdal: “History matters.” @kairyssdal
Ah, here’s a bleak new study from the NY Fed: In the wake of the 1918-1920 influenza, German cities that got hit harder saw: A) Lower spending on education in the post-crisis period B) More support for the Nazi party
We’re Being Too Optimistic About What Post-Pandemic America Will Look Like
The coronavirus has revealed so many of our institutions to be vulnerable or broken. But that doesn’t mean they will change.
In March, when Politico surveyed “more than 30 smart, macro thinkers” on what will likely change when the pandemic is over, the predictions were heartening, for the most part. They included: a decrease in toxic partisanship, a renewed trust in experts and science, greater government involvement in pharmaceutical production and transformations to elections that could include widespread voting by mail and electronic voting. VICE’s tech desk did a similar exercise, pointing out that the coronavirus has exposed a lot of weaknesses and problems in the U.S. that could be alleviated by progressive policies ranging from universal health care to abolishing ICE. The online magazine Yale Environment 360 wrote that Bill Gates and other optimists have speculated that “the sudden transformation of our lives by COVID-19 will teach us about the virtues of mutual aid, and that it will shock policymakers into being more precautionary in the face of future risks,” most notably the existential danger of climate change.
There’s no denying that this kind of positive thinking about the future is attractive, and has undoubtedly served as a coping mechanism. And some coronavirus predictions seem much more likely than others (for instance, that those who can do their jobs from home may not return to offices for months). But there are already signs that in many ways, the world will snap back to normal at the first available opportunity. The notion that COVID-19 will shock us into being more responsible about climate change or will lead us to reform our institutions underrates the sheer force of inertia that made us so vulnerable to the virus in the first place.
Sure, coronavirus should be a wake-up call, on so many fronts. But leaders, particularly in the U.S., are likely to just hit the snooze button.
If the coronavirus pandemic follows the path of the 1918 flu and the 2008 economic crisis, the world’s political energies will largely be devoted to restoring what we had, rather than using the opportunity to change things for the better. Whenever this strange, long moment in history ends, we might be surprised by how much things resemble our old world order. And that will be a disaster.
For the past forty years, Republicans have been seeking to starve, strangle, and sabotage the U.S. Postal Service, hoping to privatize one of the oldest and most important public goods in American history.Photograph by Dan Brouillette / Bloomberg / Getty
Annals of Communications
We Can’t Afford to Lose the Postal Service
Republican leaders have long tried to kill the U.S.P.S. Now the coronavirus is helping.
By Casey Cep
May 2, 2020
Being a rural letter carrier suits my mother, and it enabled her to provide for a family like ours: it is a union job with protections and benefits, insurance and vacation days, only modest raises but occasional overtime and reliable, transparent wages. It isn’t all wonderful; I was an adult before I noticed that the official vehicles she and her fellow-carriers drive do not have air-conditioning, and that her joints are already arthritic, her knees busted, her shoulders and back chronically sore, her gait wobbled by the wear and tear caused by hefting fifty-pound packages of dog food and forty-pound boxes of cat litter that are supposedly cheaper on Amazon than they are at the local store. Still, it is a better job than she thought she would ever have, and it allowed her to keep us in braces, allergy shots, X-rays, books, clothes, and movies. Eventually, it got her credit good enough to get us savings accounts and credit cards and loans.
My father, who is older and had been working longer than my mother had, was a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers; my mother joined the National Rural Letter Carriers’ union as soon as she was eligible. They knew that whatever they hoped for their children, they themselves would always be labor, not management. So we were a union family: my parents spent a few nights a year at local meetings, and if we went on vacation it was to wherever the annual union convention was held that year—usually the beach near where we lived, in Maryland, although one year we drove all the way to Maine. While we three watched the miracle that was cable television or played mini-golf with Dad, my mother put on her Sunday best and spent her days doing what I later learned a lot of other people’s parents did all the time: attend meetings. To me, my mother suddenly seemed like an executive.
Unions are the most powerful advocate people like my parents have. That power is one of the reasons that, although the U.S.P.S. is by far the most popular government agency, it is the one most often threatened with extinction. My mother is about to retire, and I worry that the agency she has spent her life serving will be retired soon, too. The coronavirus, which has decimated the global economy, has not spared the Postal Service—and while shipping and package volume are on the rise, standard and bulk mail have plummeted, leaving the U.S.P.S. with increasing deficits. But if the coronavirus kills the Postal Service, its death will have been hastened, as so many deaths are right now, by an underlying condition: for the past forty years, Republicans have been seeking to starve, strangle, and sabotage it, hoping to privatize one of the oldest and most important public goods in American history.
Before they declared their independence, the American colonists decided that they needed a better way to communicate with one another. In the summer of 1775, at the Second Continental Congress, they created the Postal Service and named Benjamin Franklin its first Postmaster General. Where before letters or packages had to be carried between inns and taverns or directly from house to house, now there was a way for Americans to safely, discreetly, and reliably correspond across long distances. After the Revolution, when Congress ratified the Articles of Confederation, legislators included the Post Office in the ninth of those articles, and later enshrined it in the first article of the Constitution.
The Founders saw the Postal Service as an essential vehicle for other rights, especially the freedom of the press: one of the first postal laws set a special discounted rate for newspapers. But they also understood that a national post unifies a nation, allowing its citizens to stay connected and connecting them with their federal government. When Alexis de Tocqueville toured the young country several decades after its founding, he travelled partly by mail coach, noting in “Democracy in America” how “the mail, that great link between minds, today penetrates into the heart of the wilderness.”
But the mail didn’t just follow American settlers into the wilderness—it also led to the transformation of the frontier. The constitutional authority that created the Postal Service allowed for the construction of post roads to link faraway cities; eventually, these ran all the way from Florida to Maine. A few of those essential byways survive, some of them obvious in their names, like the Old Albany Post Road and the Boston Post Road. Later, that authority was interpreted more broadly to justify federal investment in railroads and highways. During its long history, the Postal Service has delivered the mail by pony express, mule train, float planes, ferry boats, motorcycles, skis, hovercrafts, and pneumatic tubes. There were only seventy-five post offices at the nation’s founding, but by the time the Civil War started there were more than twenty-eight thousand spread around the country.
‘Without empathy, journalism is lost.’ -Glen Scanlon
‘We were looking the wrong way. We had failed and were starting from scratch – trying to build relationships in the most awful circumstances.
All great journalism is about connecting with people, telling their stories with due respect and care. Great journalism and leadership needs empathy.’
‘This is the first, and incredibly important, place to help set the tone of our coverage, to talk about respect for the victims, supporting our teams and ensuring they are safe. To emphasise what I expect from our senior leaders, how they work together and with our people. You can’t show empathy without taking the time to understand what others are going through.
In these situations, leaders need to bring calm and consistency when all feels unstable.
Leaders need to ensure people have the support and room to do their work. Forget about what other media outlets are doing. Tell your staff this too. Have the strength to focus on what your people need and the stories you are trying to tell. If you’re slipping into the habits of ‘journalism at any cost’ you, the victims and their stories all lose.
This kind of coverage has an impact on everyone. You should be encouraging the sharing of emotion. Don’t be scared of people’s vulnerability – embrace it and your own. We took the practical step of immediately setting up counselling for staff. At times like this, trust comes from being empathetic.
Ultimately, you need to talk about values, not just the nuts and bolts of coverage. They give shape to everything. Our mantra was clear – it’s about the people. They are us.’
So everyday we split our resources into different groups – people are given time to build relationships and follow unique angles; some are on the daily round of important official announcements; others research deeper angles at a national level and build new material.
“What worked really well was the relentless focus on reporters’ welfare and that constant focus on telling the stories of the victims. It was like a mantra when people were tired; tell the stories of people involved. It was simple and true and decent and right. And we all tried to follow it.”
“For about a month we were regularly reminded to get support and sing out if we were struggling, but then people started moving on.
“The main thing companies can do for reporters covering trauma is to foster a safe environment for open kōrero [to tell, say, speak, read, talk, address] about how they’re feeling. It’s isolating enough having to report on such an event (you return to your normal life and no one quite understands what you’re up against) so it’s important to feel like it’s safe to reach out to your colleagues, speak about your mental health and ask for help when you need it.’
‘A famous journalism quote says our work is about speaking truth to power. I don’t believe this is enough.
We need to better represent the under-represented. We also need people from these communities to be encouraged into journalism.
The current Covid-19 crisis is a perfect example. Those with the least voice will suffer the most.’
“She tried to do her job, and it killed her,” said the father of Dr. Lorna M. Breen, who worked at a Manhattan hospital hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak.
A top emergency room doctor at a Manhattan hospital that treated many coronavirus patients died by suicide on Sunday, her father and the police said.
Dr. Lorna M. Breen, the medical director of the emergency department at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, died in Charlottesville, Va., where she was staying with family, her father said in an interview.
Tyler Hawn, a spokesman for the Charlottesville Police Department, said in an email that officers on Sunday responded to a call seeking medical assistance.
“The victim was taken to U.V.A. Hospital for treatment, but later succumbed to self-inflicted injuries,” Mr. Hawn said.
Dr. Breen’s father, Dr. Philip C. Breen, said she had described devastating scenes of the toll the coronavirus took on patients.
“She tried to do her job, and it killed her,” he said.
The elder Dr. Breen said his daughter had contracted the coronavirus but had gone back to work after recuperating for about a week and a half. The hospital sent her home again, before her family intervened to bring her to Charlottesville, he said.
Dr. Breen, 49, did not have a history of mental illness, her father said. But he said that when he last spoke with her, she seemed detached, and he could tell something was wrong. She had described to him an onslaught of patients who were dying before they could even be taken out of ambulances.
“She was truly in the trenches of the front line,” he said.
He added: “Make sure she’s praised as a hero, because she was. She’s a casualty just as much as anyone else who has died.”
In a statement, NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia used that language to describe her. “Dr. Breen is a hero who brought the highest ideals of medicine to the challenging front lines of the emergency department,” the statement said. “Our focus today is to provide support to her family, friends and colleagues as they cope with this news during what is already an extraordinarily difficult time.”
Dr. Angela Mills, head of emergency medical services for several NewYork-Presbyterian campuses, including Allen, sent an email to hospital staffers on Sunday night informing them of Dr. Breen’s death. The email, which was reviewed by The New York Times, did not mention a cause of death. Dr. Mills, who could not be reached for comment, said in the email that the hospital was deferring to the family’s request for privacy.
“A death presents us with many questions that we may not be able to answer,” the email read.
Aside from work, Dr. Breen filled her time with friends, hobbies and sports, friends said. She was an avid member of a New York ski club and traveled regularly out west to ski and snowboard. She was also a deeply religious Christian who volunteered at a home for older people once a week, friends said. Once a year, she threw a large party on the roof deck of her Manhattan home.
She was very close with her sisters and mother, who lived in Virginia.
One colleague said he had spent dozens of hours talking to Dr. Breen not only about medicine but about their lives and the hobbies she enjoyed, which also included salsa dancing. She was a lively presence, outgoing and extroverted, at work events, the colleague said.
NewYork-Presbyterian Allen is a 200-bed hospital at the northern tip of Manhattan that at times had as many as 170 patients with Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. As of April 7, there had been 59 patient deaths at the hospital, according to an internal document.
Dr. Lawrence A. Melniker, the vice chair for quality care at the NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, said that Dr. Breen was a well-respected and well-liked doctor in the NewYork-Presbyterian system, a network of hospitals that includes the Columbia University Irving Medical Center and the Weill Cornell Medical Center.
“You don’t get to a position like that at Allen without being very talented,” he said.
Dr. Melniker said the coronavirus had presented unusual mental health challenges for emergency physicians throughout New York, the epicenter of the crisis in the United States.
Doctors are accustomed to responding to all sorts of grisly tragedies, he said. But rarely do they have to worry about getting sick themselves, or about infecting their colleagues, friends and family members.
And rarely do they have to treat their own co-workers.
Another colleague said that Dr. Breen was always looking out for others, making sure her doctors had protective equipment or whatever else they needed. Even when she was home recovering from Covid-19, she texted her co-workers to check in and see how they were doing, the colleague said.
[If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources. Here’s what you can do when a loved one is severely depressed.]
Benjamin Weiser and Joseph Goldstein contributed reporting.
Amanda Gorman is an American poet and activist from Los Angeles, California. Gorman’s work focuses on issues of oppression, feminism, race, and marginalization, as well as the African diaspora. Gorman is the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate.
“Amanda Gorman, the U.S.’s inaugural youth poet laureate, is offering Americans some words of inspiration to help get through this stressful time. In a performance for “CBS This Morning,” Gorman recites one of her poems at the Los Angeles Central Public Library.”
She’s spoken around the country from the UN to the Library of Congress, alongside the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hillary Clinton Her first poetry book, “The One For Whom Food Is Not Enough”, was published in 2015 by Pemanship Books. She is Founder and Executive Director of One Pen One Page, which promotes literacy through free creative writing programming for underserved youth. She is a Harvard junior in the top of her class, and writes for the New York Times student newsletter The Edit. [From her website.]
Our dear Gaia has mandated pause, a collective time-out, giving opportunity for us to re-consider what is possible. Planetary operations and behaviors are conducive to shifts now. Together, we can accomplish so much, in spite of ruthless and dangerous national and global leadership. We the people, sans greed, power and patriarchy. ‘Everything old is new again.’ What if we did things differently? -dayle
Defend the Post Office, Defend Black Workers
By Paul Prescod
The United States Postal Service is a crucial institution for black workers in America. That’s why Bernie Sanders’s strong support for defending and expanding the USPS is a key racial justice issue.
For the average black worker, the postal service represents a stable, decent-paying career that is hard to find elsewhere. Today the average salary of a USPS employee is $55,000, and 21 percent of USPS employees are black. The history of black postal workers demonstrates the critical importance of government employment and a robust public sector for the advancement of black people in this country.
Saving and expanding the public sector will be a key fight for racial justice in the 2020 presidential race. Bernie Sanders, with his call for postal banking and robust government programs, is the only candidate offering a real plan to revive the postal service and the futures of black public-sector workers.
As Sanders puts it, “Post offices exist in almost every community in our country. There are more than 31,000 retail post offices in this country. An important way to provide decent banking opportunities for low-income communities is to allow the U.S. Postal Service to engage in basic banking services.” And beyond increasing revenue and employment for the USPS, this measure would eliminate the prevalence of payday loan centers that prey on poor communities of color.
The story of black workers in the post office begins with the legal end of slavery and the soldiers who fought for that freedom. As early as 1861, federal employment was opened up for black workers. In December 1864, Senator Charles Sumner passed a bill banning discrimination in postal employment. Though not always enforced, this protection was critical for enabling black workers to establish a foothold in a relatively stable and secure occupation.
A common theme throughout black history has been the importance of an activist federal government for advancing fundamental interests. Postal workers utilized executive orders in particular to improve their situation in the 1960s. This activism and the resulting legislation created a home for black women workers in the post office as well.
Among the few highlights in John F. Kennedy’s lackluster record on civil rights are his executive orders related to federal employment. Executive Order 10925 was issued in March 1961 and banned discrimination by employers and unions in federal contract work, followed by Executive Order 10988, which provided limited collective bargaining rights for federal employee unions that didn’t practice racial discrimination. These orders came after intense lobbying pressure from NAPE and the Negro American Labor Council.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was a key factor in helping black women find work in the post office in large numbers.
Franklin’s postal career began in 1737 when the British Crown Post appointed him postmaster of Philadelphia. In Franklin’s day, newspaper printers often served as postmasters, which helped them to gather and distribute news. More important, postmasters decided which newspapers could travel free in the mail – or if they could travel by mail at all. Philadelphia’s previous postmaster, who printed a rival newspaper, had barred Franklin’s Gazette from the mails.
He encouraged postmasters to establish the penny post, a British idea he had implemented while postmaster of Philadelphia, whereby letters not called for at the Post Office were delivered for a penny. He also ordered postmasters to print in newspapers the names of people who had letters waiting for them. Remembering his own experiences as a printer and postmaster, Franklin abolished the practice of letting postmasters decide which newspapers could travel through the mail and mandated delivery of all newspapers for a small fee. Thanks in part to Franklin’s efforts, the British Crown Post in North America registered its first profit in 1760.
The incoming Congress should promptly fulfill the promise of the Republicanplatform and pass a proper postal savings bank bill. It will not be unwiseor excessive paternalism. The promise to repay by the Government will furnishan inducement to savings deposits which private enterprise can not supplyand at such a low rate of interest as not to withdraw custom from existingbanks. It will substantially increase the funds available for investmentas capital in useful enterprises. It will furnish absolute security whichmakes the proposed scheme of government guaranty of deposits so alluring,without its pernicious results.
The negroes are now Americans. Their ancestors came here years ago againsttheir will, and this is their only country and their only flag. They haveshown themselves anxious to live for it and to die for it. Encounteringthe race feeling against them, subjected at times to cruel injustice growingout of it, they may well have our profound sympathy and aid in the strugglethey are making. We are charged with the sacred duty of making their path as smooth and easy as we can. Any recognition of their distinguished men, any appointment to office from among their number, is properly taken as an encouragement and an appreciation of their progress, and this just policy should be pursued when suitable occasion offers.
“We cannot allow Donald Trump to use this horrific pandemic as an opportunity to bankrupt and privatize the Postal Service,” Sanders tweeted earlier this month. “Now, more than ever, we need a strong and vibrant postal system to deliver mail 6-days a week. Congress must act now to save it.”
“The situation is absolutely dire,” Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), toldNew York magazine in an interview last week.
The USPS has been hit hard by the sharp decline in mail volume caused by the coronavirus outbreak. The Postal Service also remains shackled by a congressional mandate requiring the agency to prefund its retirees’ health benefits through the year 2056.
“The post office will likely run out of money sometime between July and September of this year,” said Dimondstein. “If they run out of money, then the people lose the service.”
‘The workers are part of a workforce deemed “essential” during the coronavirus crisis, meaning that — like grocery store workers, firefighters, garbage collectors and more — they still have to show up to work every day, even as large swaths of the country have closed stores and schools, and companies have mandated employees work from home.’
Senator Bernie Sanders conducts a news conference on July 5, 2011.
“If the goal of the Postal Service is to make as much money as possible,” Sanders told The Nation, “tens of millions of people, particularly low-income people and people in rural areas, will see a decline in or doing away with basic mail services.”
First among the Vermont senator’s proposals is an end to the USPS’sburdensome pre-funding mandate, which requires it to prepay decades of retiree health benefits. This unique requirement, which costs the USPS billions every year, was imposed by Congress in 2006, when mail volumes were historically high, but after the recession it became impossible to make the payments.
Since 2006 the agency has been barred from offering new products and services: At present, it cannot notarize documents, wrap presents, or ship alcoholic beverages. Sanders argues that Congress should allow the agency to do all these things and more, even suggesting it could expand into digital services and “offer a non-commercial version of Gmail.”
These proposals may sound surprising, but experts say they enjoy broad support among Postal Service stakeholders, and that the USPS would probably offer many of them if it could.
“Bernie may seem like a radical on some issues, but on the post office, he’s just plain common sense,” said Steve Hutkins, an NYU professor who runs the website Save the Post Office. Hutkins says most of Sanders’s proposals have been endorsed by the unions and the major mailers.
BOSTON, MA – APRIL 9: A US Postal Service employee wears a mask and delivers mail in the wind and rain in Copley Square in Boston on April 9, 2020. Mail carriers must work amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
“Today, while more than 600,000 postal workers in the U.S. are putting their lives on the line delivering mail and packages, the institution itself is at risk of going bankrupt as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
The USPS is expected to lose about 50% of its revenue due to a loss of mail volume during the pandemic. And what most people do not know is that the USPS does not run on taxpayer dollars — it relies completely on revenue created by postage and postal services.
With such a significant drop in revenue, the USPS will be unable to carry out its work.
If we can bail out large corporations, we can damn well help the Postal Service — the most popular government agency in America — from going bankrupt because of this horrific pandemic.
Unlike privatized delivery services, the Postal Service is required by law to deliver all mail and packages to everyone nationwide, regardless of where they live. And each year it is responsible for delivering 1.2 billion packages of medicine to those who need it.
How will people get their prescription drugs and, once they become available, their coronavirus test kits? How will we allow people to vote by mail in an election that is facing unprecedented hurdles to getting voters out to the polls? How will these things be possible if we do not have a fully functioning Postal Service?
Without relief or intervention, the United States Postal Service will not be able to sustain itself for the long term, which means it will not be able to deliver mail and packages to 160 million addresses all over the country.
That is why we must do everything we can to protect the Postal Service, which is at serious risk as a result of the economic crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic.”
‘The harsh reality is that it all failed — no Western country, or state, or city was prepared — and despite hard work and often extraordinary sacrifice by many people within these institutions. So the problem runs deeper than your favorite political opponent or your home nation.
Part of the problem is clearly foresight, a failure of imagination. But the other part of the problem is what we didn’t *do* in advance, and what we’re failing to do now. And that is a failure of action, and specifically our widespread inability to *build*.
Part of the problem is clearly foresight, a failure of imagination. But the other part of the problem is what we didn’t *do* in advance, and what we’re failing to do now. And that is a failure of action, and specifically our widespread inability to *build*.
We see this today with the things we urgently need but don’t have. We don’t have enough coronavirus tests, or test materials — including, amazingly, cotton swabs and common reagents. We don’t have enough ventilators, negative pressure rooms, and ICU beds. And we don’t have enough surgical masks, eye shields, and medical gowns — as I write this, New York City has put out a desperate call for rain ponchos to be used as medical gowns. Rain ponchos! In 2020! In America!
Why do we not have these things? Medical equipment and financial conduits involve no rocket science whatsoever. At least therapies and vaccines are hard! Making masks and transferring money are not hard. We could have these things but we chose not to — specifically we chose not to have the mechanisms, the factories, the systems to make these things. We chose not to *build*.
You don’t just see this smug complacency, this satisfaction with the status quo and the unwillingness to build, in the pandemic, or in healthcare generally. You see it throughout Western life, and specifically throughout American life.
The problem is desire. We need to *want* these things. The problem is inertia. We need to want these things more than we want to prevent these things. The problem is regulatory capture. We need to want new companies to build these things, even if incumbents don’t like it, even if only to force the incumbents to build these things. And the problem is will. We need to build these things.
It’s time for full-throated, unapologetic, uncompromised political support from the right for aggressive investment in new products, in new industries, in new factories, in new science, in big leaps forward.
We need to demand more of our political leaders, of our CEOs, our entrepreneurs, our investors. We need to demand more of our culture, of our society. And we need to demand more from one another. We’re all necessary, and we can all contribute, to building.
Our nation and our civilization were built on production, on building. Our forefathers and foremothers built roads and trains, farms and factories, then the computer, the microchip, the smartphone, and uncounted thousands of other things that we now take for granted, that are all around us, that define our lives and provide for our well-being. There is only one way to honor their legacy and to create the future we want for our own children and grandchildren, and that’s to build.’
Marc Andreessen is a cofounder and general partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. He is an innovator and creator, one of the few to pioneer a software category used by more than a billion people and one of the few to establish multiple billion-dollar companies.
Marc co-created the highly influential Mosaic internet browser and co-founded Netscape, which later sold to AOL for $4.2 billion. He also co-founded Loudcloud, which as Opsware, sold to Hewlett-Packard for $1.6 billion. He later served on the board of Hewlett-Packard from 2008 to 2018.
Marc holds a BS in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Marc serves on the board of the following Andreessen Horowitz portfolio companies: Applied Intuition, Carta, Dialpad, Honor, OpenGov, and Samsara. He is also on the board of Facebook.
Cataclysm catalyses radical change: it is figured as the city contrary to Rome/Babylon, a city gendered female, “the New Jerusalem.” In this city, contrary to the world of The Wall, the gates are open 24/7. The image is built of the ancient Hebrew hope, rigorously historical and material, of “the new heaven and earth.”
What Do Countries With The Best Coronavirus Responses Have In Common? Women Leaders
Looking for examples of true leadership in a crisis? From Iceland to Taiwan and from Germany to New Zealand, women are stepping up to show the world how to manage a messy patch for our human family. Add in Finland, Iceland and Denmark, and this pandemic is revealing that women have what it takes when the heat rises in our Houses of State. Many will say these are small countries, or islands, or other exceptions. But Germany is large and leading, and the UK is an island with very different outcomes. These leaders are gifting us an attractive alternative way of wielding power. What are they teaching us?
Generally, the empathy and care which all of these female leaders have communicated seems to come from an alternate universe than the one we have gotten used to. It’s like their arms are coming out of their videos to hold you close in a heart-felt and loving embrace. Who knew leaders could sound like this? Now we do.
There have been years of research timidly suggesting that women’s leadership styles might be different and beneficial. Instead, too many political organizations and companies are still working to get women to behave more like men if they want to lead or succeed. Yet these national leaders are case study sightings of the seven leadership traits men may want to learn from women.
Don’t lean in when you’ve got nothing to lean in about.
Know your own limitations.
Motivate through transformation.
Put your people ahead of yourself.
Don’t command; empathize.
Don’t say you’re “humbled.” Be humble
Does reading this upset you?
It’s time we recognized it – and elected more of it.
As Paul wrote in his letters, “The old life is gone; a new life has begun.” Let’s go, boldly and faithfully, where we are lead.’
‘…resist empire with truth and love, even if it kills you.’
-Pádraig Ó Tuama, poet, theologian and mediator.
Principles for a Pandemic
by Sister Joan chittister
“Rules are not necessarily sacred,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “principles are.”
One thing is clear: “Rules” are not getting us out of the largest pandemic in modern history.
We’re washing our hands and wearing our masks and staying indoors and counting the number of people in every group, but the numbers keep going up regardless.
At the same time, principles, if any, may be necessary but nobody talks about them much —despite the fact that it’s principles that guide our behavior or help us to evaluate what’s going on around us. Principles are the motivating force upon which everything we do is based.
The question is what kind of basic truths — principles — must drive us if we are to endure and survive the kind of despair that threatens a national moment like this one? Here we are at the touchdown point of a tornado called a pandemic. Everything about life before this has been wiped away. Worse, we have not a hint of what our world will look like in the future. Unless we define the principles we need to preserve, not only to get us through this moment but to prepare for all the great moments in times to come, this will all have been for nothing.
Becoming a spiritual person is what raises us above the angst of life. We can lose anything, let anything go, begin again after whatever tornado shreds us if we only learn to live with one part of the human heart daily invested in the presence of the divine. In that sacred space within, we seek the strength it takes to respond rightly to the pressure of such pain. We are not pleading for magic from a vending machine God to save us from its inconvenience.
We take on the challenges of the community — the masks and distancing and overtime work that’s needed — as if they were our personal responsibility alone. We check on those who are frail, who need to know they’re not alone, who are seeking services. We allow no one to be out of contact. We volunteer where we’re needed.
The principles of the holy life are obvious: it begins with a sterling spirituality, an abounding love of community and an incessant sense of personal responsibility that makes the undoable, doable always.
Until finally, it depends on following leadership that glows with goodness and vision. It is the leadership that shows us all how to be more empathic, more aware of the needs of others, more present to the demands of it all. It is the living vision of moral leadership that sends us back into the wind as long as it rages. It brings us to a greatness no circumstances can exhaust, no storm can conquer.
From where I stand, it’s not about the rules. It’s about the heart. Then we can go on, and go on, and go on. For over 1,500 years. Same rule, same principles, same gratuitous generosity of life.
A woman wearing a protective mask due to the coronavirus pandemic prays inside the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on Palm Sunday, April 5 in Turin, Italy. (CNS/Reuters/Massimo Pinca)
‘During these trying days of social distancing, self-isolating and quarantines, days rife with fear and anxiety, my colleagues and I thought you might like some company. So each day we will be introducing you to poets we have met over the years. The only contagion they will expose you to is a measure of joy, reflection and meditation brought on by “the best words in the best order.” Enjoy.’
Today we hear from Wendell Berry as he reads “A Poem on Hope.”
“A Poem on Hope”
It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,
For hope must not depend on feeling good
And there is the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.
You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality
Of the future, which surely will surprise us,
…And hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction
Any more than by wishing. But stop dithering.
The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?
Tell them at least what you say to yourself.
Because we have not made our lives to fit
Our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,
The streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope
Then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
Of what it is that no other place is, and by
Your caring for it as you care for no other place, this
Place that you belong to though it is not yours,
For it was from the beginning and will be to the end
Belong to your place by knowledge of the others who are
Your neighbors in it: the old man, sick and poor,
Who comes like a heron to fish in the creek,
And the fish in the creek, and the heron who manlike
Fishes for the fish in the creek, and the birds who sing
In the trees in the silence of the fisherman
And the heron, and the trees that keep the land
They stand upon as we too must keep it, or die.
This knowledge cannot be taken from you by power
Or by wealth. It will stop your ears to the powerful
when they ask for your faith, and to the wealthy
when they ask for your land and your work.
Answer with knowledge of the others who are here
And how to be here with them. By this knowledge
Make the sense you need to make. By it stand
In the dignity of good sense, whatever may follow.
Speak to your fellow humans as your place
Has taught you to speak, as it has spoken to you.
Speak its dialect as your old compatriots spoke it
Before they had heard a radio. Speak
Publicly what cannot be taught or learned in public.
Listen privately, silently to the voices that rise up
From the pages of books and from your own heart.
Be still and listen to the voices that belong
To the streambanks and the trees and the open fields.
There are songs and sayings that belong to this place,
By which it speaks for itself and no other.
Found your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground
Underfoot. Be it lighted by the light that falls
Freely upon it after the darkness of the nights
And the darkness of our ignorance and madness.
Let it be lighted also by the light that is within you,
Which is the light of imagination. By it you see
The likeness of people in other places to yourself
In your place. It lights invariably the need for care
Toward other people, other creatures, in other places
As you would ask them for care toward your place and you.
No place at last is better than the world. The world
Is no better than its places. Its places at last
Are no better than their people while their people
Continue in them. When the people make
Dark the light within them, the world darkens.
Wendell Berry is a man of the land and one of America’s most influential writers, whose prolific career includes more than forty books of poetry, novels, short stories and essays. Watch Bill’s full conversation with Wendell Berry.
Wendell Berry, a quiet and humble man, has become an outspoken advocate for revolution. He urges immediate action as he mourns how America has turned its back on the land and rejected Jeffersonian principles of respect for the environment and sustainable agriculture. Berry warns, “People who own the world outright for profit will have to be stopped; by influence, by power, by us.” In a rare television interview, this visionary, author, and farmer discusses a sensible, but no-compromise plan to save the Earth.
‘The literature that arose from the influenza pandemic speaks to our current moment in profound ways, offering connections in precisely the realms where art excels: in emotional landscapes, in the ways a past moment reverberates into the present, in the ineffable conversation between the body’s experiences and our perception of the world.
Right now, every few days brings another reality into focus; what seemed far-fetched yesterday arrives tomorrow. The past is always another country, but the speed at which knowledge becomes outdated, naivete turns to realization, and basic truths change is dizzying during a pandemic.
One’s reality doesn’t simply shift in a pandemic; it becomes radically uncertain—indeed, uncertainty is the reality. The unpredictability of the COVID-19 virus and all we don’t know about it means we have no idea where we are in the story or even what story we are in. Is this the first wave of something even deadlier to come? Have we reached the top of the curve? What’s the scope of the tragedy? Is the economy the real story? What do we think we know now that may prove fatally wrong? The narrative uncertainty causes many of us to turn to genre fiction and predictable movies (even if they are about disaster)—they allow us to pull down another story like a shade and sit in a place where we already know the ending.
And finally, there comes the aftermath, both for our bodies and for our culture. How do such experiences live on in the cells, in the memory, in the streets? The continued sense of living death, of an experience that marks us with its shadow, echoes even after a pandemic passes. Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, so often read as a novel capturing the aftermath of war—which it most certainly does—also records in its title character the physical and mental exhaustion that lingers after an illness. Like Woolf, Clarissa Dalloway has heart damage from her encounter with influenza, and as she moves through the streets of London and at home, she sees her world through her sense of bodily vulnerability, her very heartbeat and its lags pulsing through the memories of her illness. The sights and sounds and smells of the sickroom float back through her consciousness, shifting the ways she perceives the London day. Whether in illness or in observation, our own bodies are busy now. They are recording our pandemic, setting in place the reverberations that will echo into our future.’
‘I love this — taken by Brooke Williams at Dartmouth’ -Terry Tempest Williams
Remember: You are alive, and a better world is possible.
by Eric Holthaus/The Correspondent
‘Warm weather is back, and at least here in Minnesota, we are remembering we are still alive.
Last weekend, my preschoolers and I couldn’t help but spend all day enjoying the weather. Although the morning was still chilly, with frost on the newly green grass, the temperature quickly warmed up to more than 20C (68F) in the afternoon, the best days of spring here so far.
The whole time we were outside, I was keenly aware of the profound luxury that fresh air and freedom in nature are these days, but the thing that struck me most was the sky.
Looking straight up, the sky here was a remarkable shade of dark blue, almost Pantone ultraviolet.
In my best meteorological opinion, this breathtaking colour was due to a combination of a high pressure system overhead on a sunny spring day mixed with the effects of this pandemic: fewer clouds due to a 90% reduction of airplanes in the sky and a sharp drop in air pollution from the shuttering of factories and freeways. As I researched a little further, my suspicion was confirmed: bluer skies aren’t just happening here in Minnesota, they’re happening all around the world.
Airplane contrails create temporary high-level cirrus clouds, which on balance sharply warm the planet by allowing sunlight through to the Earth’s surface, but blocking heat from escaping back out into space. It’s a much greater warming effectthan the greenhouse gases airplanes emit from burning jet fuel. And right now, these clouds are almost entirely absent.
But probably the biggest factor is the sharp drop-off in air pollution, which creates a palpably thick omnipresent haze in almost every major city worldwide. Air pollution is one of the leading causes of death in nearly every country, and in low-income countries, it’s the world’s leading killer. These blue skies are literally life-saving.
Still, we shouldn’t be cheering this pandemic,even if it’s giving us cleaner skies. Wishing for one form of death to save us from another form of death is a false choice, and we don’t have to make it. Instead, we should take this moment to remember that our lives are a gift, and that a better world is possible.’
‘Brené Brown has a Ph.D. in social work and is a professor at the University of Houston. For her research on human behavior and emotion, she has conducted tens of thousands of interviews with study subjects and amassed reams of data. She could easily have spent her career in the academic ivory tower.
But Brené Brown chose to do something that’s rare and dangerous in academia: she made her work popular, translating very rigorous scientific research into very human stories about relationships, parenting, and leadership. She just launched a popular podcast, and every one of her books is a best seller. Her plain-spoken lessons have particular resonance in these days of anxiety and disconnection.
Empathy skill set.
Compassion a belief system treating ourselves and others.
It is not based faith or spirituality…it shaped with boundaries. Those who share compassionate traits insist boundaries are respected. Blanket compassion is predicated by boundaries.
Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s the only path to courage. Give me a single example of courage that does not require uncertainty, risk, or emotional exposure. No one, in 50,000 people, not a person has been able to give me an example of courage that did not include those things. There is no courage without vulnerability.
Through her bestselling books, Netflix special, new podcast, and speaking engagements that range from corporations to the military, Brown guides people in ways of understanding and improving themselves—and one another.
Her work became widely known in popular culture through her 2010 speech at a Houston TEDx, now one of the most viewed TED Talks of all time. Today in these days of anxiety and social distancing, her message seems to resonate even more deeply.
“I think we’re supposed to help each other. I mean, I don’t think we’re supposed to do it alone. We all want to be better.”
‘Journalism faces an extinction event.’ If you value democracy, please buy a paper today or subscribe to a news organisation. We are an industry that has been battling for years but COVID-19 is an existential threat to independent journalism everywhere.’
-Carole Cadwalladr, The Guardian & The Observer
Facing a possible “extinction event” for independent media worldwide, journalists must work together globally to combat a triple threat of disinformation, government restrictions and economic calamity worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, three top editors said during an ICFJ webinar Friday.
Maria Ressa, the founder of Rappler in the Philippines, said that although her outlet is in a comparatively secure financial position, many other news organizations globally are at risk of collapse. And the result could be that many citizens might not be able to count on independent media to continue to provide factual information free of government control once the shock waves of the pandemic have subsided.
The Sandpoint Reader in Sandpoint, Idaho, was forced to lay off most of its staff after it lost advertising revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Mountain West News Bureau
Newspapers Face Existential Question: How To Cover The Pandemic When There’s No Money?
By Nate Hegyi
Ben Olson is exhausted.
‘Olson appears close to burning out, trying to keep his readers up-to-date with the latest COVID-19 news. The region has dozens of confirmed cases and, like the rest of the country, that number is growing. But at the same time, the number of reporters and staff at the Reader has shrunk – from four down to just one: Olson.
“I want to get my staff back to work because, number one, they’re like my family and I feel responsible for them,” he says. “But number two – I just cannot handle this by myself.”
Olson had to lay off his staff after local restaurants and bars shut down in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. Those businesses often advertised events in the Sandpoint Reader’scalendar. But no events mean no money.
“I realized very quickly that I would probably make one or possibly two more payroll cycles and then I would be completely bankrupt,” he says.
It’s a problem that’s reverberating throughout the Mountain West’s media landscape. The COVID-19 pandemic is deepening the cracks and fissures in a centuries-old business model, one that traditional newspapers and alternative weeklies still rely on.
There are no journalists without robust advertising dollars to pay for them, and money from subscription and circulation revenues can only go so far – they often cover less than half of a newspaper’s expenses.
He points out that many traditional newspaper chains were on life support before the pandemic – they’ve been cutting costs by shutting down papers and laying off staff. COVID-19 just sped up the clock and Smith doesn’t expect a happy ending.
“I think we’re going to wind up with fewer journalists next year than this year, just as it has been for the past several years,” he says.
“I think there is an increasing recognition that journalism is a public service,” he says. “It’s a utility like water or electricity, in terms of keeping a community going and is an appropriate outlet for philanthropy.”
It’s a business model that has been adopted by an increasing number of news outlets across the Mountain West. Late last year, The Salt Lake Tribunebecame the first legacy newspaper to transform itself into a nonprofit organization. Montana Free Press embraced the nonprofit model when it launched a few years ago.
“Most of our revenue comes from members who donate to us like they would to public radio,” says John S. Adams, editor-in-chief of Montana Free Press.
Currently the outlet is doing well financially, he says. They’ve seen skyrocketing readership and an uptick in donations during the pandemic.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico and with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.