Government’s LGBT advisory panel disbanded

By Jessica Parker
BBC political correspondent
13 April 2021,

The government’s LGBT advisory panel has been disbanded after three members quit last month, the BBC can reveal.

A government spokesman said a replacement for the panel, which was set up under Theresa May’s premiership, “will be set out in due course”.

Some members told the BBC they had been willing to stay on when their terms ended on the 31 March.

A Conservative backbencher has accused the government of a series of “unforced errors”.

It’s understood the panel has not formally met senior government representatives since last year, although government sources say there has been communication with officials.

Equalities Minister Liz Truss has now written to the remaining members thanking them for their “constructive input”.

In the letter, seen by the BBC, Liz Truss said: “I will also be shortly making an announcement concerning the International LGBT Conference and convening a new body that will take international LGBT rights forward.”

‘Untold damage’

The panel was set up as part of an LGBT Action Plan, established under Theresa May. It was to advise ministers “on issues and policies concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

Three advisers quit last month over the government’s handling of LGBT rights and amid claims it was “dragging its feet” on a pledge to ban so-called conversion therapy.

The first to resign, Jayne Ozanne, accused ministers of creating a “hostile environment” for LGBT people.

She said it was “such a shame” that Ms Truss was disbanding the advisory panel.

“It was a force for good, where the needs of LGBT people could be heard and understood.

“This does nothing to rebuild trust or reassure LGBT community of their grave concerns,” she added in a Twitter message.

Crispin Blunt
Tory MP Crispin Blunt says the government is damaging its reputation

Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, who leads the all-party parliamentary group on Global LGBT+ rights, said government delays and inaction mean the prime minister is “in breach of promise on causes he supports”.

“The government is led by one of the most socially liberal, live-and-let-live leaders in our history,” he said, “yet it is making a series of unforced errors that will serve to wholly unnecessarily alienate LGBT+ people and do untold damage to his reputation”.

If the prime minister wanted to establish the values of Global Britain on human rights then “it is hardly the moment to dispose of your experts,” he added.

Conversion therapy

Nancy Kelley, chief executive of campaign group Stonewall, who was one of the remaining panel members, said: “Many key commitments from the UK LGBT Action Plan remain incomplete, including delivering an effective ban on conversion therapy, and the pandemic has only deepened the inequalities LGBTQ people experience, particularly in mental health.”

Stonewall was “keen to continue working with the government to progress LGBT+ rights”, she added, and she urged the government to ensure the new advisory panel included experts on “both domestic and global LGBT+ policy”.

In her letter to the panel, Ms Truss said: “I am pressing ahead with our commitment to ban conversion therapy in order to protect LGBT people from these abhorrent practices. I look forward to announcing these measures shortly.”

A government spokesman said: “The LGBT Advisory Panel was created under the previous administration and the term of all panel members ended on 31 March.

“The Minister for Women & Equalities has written to panel members to thank them for their contributions, and plans for a replacement for the Panel will be set out in due course.”

MAIN IMAGE: Equalities minister Liz Truss plans to set up a new advisory group

Following WHO Report, Pandemic Origins Remain Murky

by Michael Schulson,
April 2, 2021

On Jan. 14, an international team of experts arrived in Wuhan, China to investigate the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. For four weeks, the World Health Organization-convened team — which included epidemiologists, virologists, and specialists in veterinary medicine — interviewed people in Wuhan, reviewed hospital records, and even analyzed sales data from retail pharmacies.

Their much-anticipated report, released on Tuesday, rehashes conclusions familiar from weeks of press conferences and communications: The team believes that the coronavirus likely passed from an animal, probably a bat, to humans, either directly or through some intermediate animal host. They describe the theory — heavily pushed by the Chinese government, and widely dismissed by scientists — that SARS-CoV-2 arrived in Wuhan via frozen foods as “a possible pathway” for the virus. Meanwhile, the team describes another theory, the “introduction through a laboratory incident,” as “an extremely unlikely pathway.”

Instead of offering clear answers, the report promises to intensify speculation about the origins of a virus that has shut down entire countries and killed an estimated 2.8 million people worldwide.

At least in the U.S., the report appears at the same time that the lab-leak hypothesis has begun to gain mainstream attention, including recent coverage in USA Today, on NPR, and on “60 Minutes,” the iconic CBS News show. Critics, including the governments of the U.S. and other countries, have charged the Chinese government with giving the WHO team too little access to important data. Those critics appeared to receive support on Tuesday from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said the independent team’s investigation of a laboratory incident was not “extensive enough,” and called for “further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy.”

As Charles Schmidt reported for Undark last month, the idea that SARS-CoV-2 may have accidentally escaped from a lab has become highly politicized, with partisans wielding it to attack China or criticize scientific researchers. Amid the finger-pointing, the whodunit drama, and the geopolitical wrangling, it can be easy to overlook the actual stakes of the investigation: to collect information that will help scientists and policymakers prevent future pandemics.

Since the 1990s, researchers have warned of the growing risk that emerging infections pose to the world. Even before SARS-CoV-2 swept around the world, Ebola, Zika, the H1N1 flu, and SARS triggered serious recent outbreaks with global repercussions. Today, Schmidt writes, “pandemic preparedness faces two simultaneous fronts.” Researchers need to study coronaviruses, influenza viruses, and other pathogens in order to understand and combat them. But sometimes that very research introduces the risk of lab accidents that, some experts warn, could trigger a disaster. The lab-leak dispute is not just about blame or closure; it’s about how to weigh those various risks.

For now, the debate over SARS-CoV-2’s origin is far from over. “Bloody hell,” one virologist told Nature reporter Amy Maxmen, “this will go on for years.”

Also in the News:

• Driven by more infectious coronavirus variants, Covid-19 cases are rising across the United States, with hotspots emerging in Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, and other states. “Right now, I’m scared,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said in a Monday press briefing, warning that the country was at risk of experiencing a fourth wave of the virus. Anthony Fauci, director the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, echoed those concerns, saying that the fast-spreading variants could erase some of the country’s gains in reducing infection, even as vaccinations, which appear to be highly effective against existing variants, protect more and more Americans from Covid-19. Most countries, though, have vaccinated far fewer people than the U.S. — and, in some, variants are driving waves of new cases. In France, infections have risen so sharply that the country’s president ordered a full national lockdown on Wednesday. Eastern European countries are also undergoing a coronavirus wave, with Hungary experiencing some of the highest Covid-19 death rates in the world. Variants are also driving surges in India and Pakistan, as well as in Latin America. “Without preventive action, our region could face an upsurge even larger than the last one,” said the head of the Pan America Health Organization this week. (Multiple sources)

• On Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced a $2 trillion plan to overhaul U.S. infrastructure. The plan earmarks $250 billion for research, according to Science. A fact-sheet provided by the White House in advance of Biden’s announcement, which took place at a carpenters training center outside of Pittsburgh, says that the administration will ask Congress to allocate $50 billion to the National Science Foundation and another $14 billion to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The plan also calls on Congress to “invest $40 billion in upgrading research infrastructure in laboratories across the country,” with half of the funds going to historically Black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions. The plan puts an emphasis on research and development for new technologies, as well as tackling global challenges such as climate change and future pandemics. As Science notes, much of that spending is in line with bipartisan legislation recently proposed in Congress. “We’re one of only a few major economies in the world whose public investment in research and development as a share of GDP has declined constantly over the last 25 years,” Biden told the crowd outside Pittsburgh. “And we’ve fallen back. The rest of the world is closing in and closing in fast. We can’t allow this to continue.” (Science)

• Unaccompanied migrant children held at government facilities near the U.S.-Mexico border are testing positive for Covid-19, raising concerns that overcrowding and unsanitary conditions could be allowing the virus to spread. Reporters who got a rare look inside a facility in Donna, Texas this week published photos of young children packed into playpens — some cared for by older siblings — and families sleeping shoulder to shoulder. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than 17,600 unaccompanied minors were in government care as of Tuesday — 5,606 in CBP custody and the rest with the Department of Health and Human Services. CBP does not have the capacity to conduct Covid-19 testing itself, but many children are coming up positive once they transfer from CBP custody to other government sites. At the San Diego Convention Center, for instance, which is holding teenagers age 13 to 17, HHS officials told ABC affiliate KGTV that 82 teens have tested positive. And at an HHS facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, more than 10 percent of children have tested positive for Covid-19, a source with knowledge of the conditions told ABC. In contrast to a Trump administration policy that removed unaccompanied minors from the U.S., Biden has allowed them to stay while their cases are being processed. (ABC News)

• Amid mounting evidence that Black and Brown communities are bearing the brunt of Covid-19’s impacts comes a study suggesting that the pandemic is magnifying health disparities even among people who don’t get the disease. As Amina Khan reports at the Los Angeles Times, researchers at two UCLA Medical Centers examined the rates at which patients were hospitalized for avoidable health problems — including hypertension, diabetes, and urinary tract infections — both before and during the pandemic. African Americans have long suffered such preventable hospitalizations at higher rates than Whites, but the team found that the pandemic had nudged the gap even wider. As many Americans opted to curtail hospital visits during the pandemic, the rate of avoidable hospitalizations fell by more than half for non-Latino Whites, but by just 8 percent, a statistically insignificant amount, for African Americans. The researchers say the results likely stem from Black patients having poorer access to outpatient care, which can prevent minor health issues from growing into major ones. For instance, the researchers noted that, among other things, people of color may be more likely to have a job that doesn’t allow them to take time off to visit a doctor during the day. (Los Angeles Times)

• And finally: On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it will remove more than 40 outside experts appointed by former president Donald Trump to the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) and the Science Advisory Board (SAB), two panels that shape regulatory decisions. The move reflects criticisms that the Trump-appointed advisers were too friendly toward regulated industry, and at times went against scientific consensus. The Biden administration characterized the move as a step toward reestablishing scientific integrity within federal agencies. But the purge, which The Washington Post described as an “unusual decision,” has drawn criticism from some former EPA officials, who argue that the administration is preventing advisory panels from maintaining members with differing viewpoints. Jeff Holmstead, who led the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation during the George W. Bush administration, complained the decision was “ham-handed” and undermined trust in the agency. Retired EPA employee Chris Zarba countered that the Trump-appointed advisers’ stances “did not accurately represent mainstream science.” (The Washington Post)

“Also in the News” items are compiled and written by Undark staff. Deborah Blum, Brooke Borel, Lucas Haugen, Jane Roberts, and Ashley Smart contributed to this roundup.

This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.
Main Image: Tine Ivanič / Unsplash

We can’t gaslight students about the Capitol riot. We can use it as a teaching tool.

Darcy Richie,
Jan 7, 2021

Here’s how educators can talk with young people about Wednesday’s events.

As teachers, we are constantly in a position of having a double consciousness. When I see an event happen, I know I need to do two things: to process it myself and to help the young people process it. I spent Wednesday gripped by that knowledge.

This double consciousness is always a challenge, and particularly so when the events we’re witnessing are scary — as was Wednesday’s insurrection in the U.S. Capitol. 

I’ve spent years working with young people and teachers, and recently became the senior program and impact director at Generation Citizen — a nonprofit devoted to “action civics.” Our curriculum gives students the tools to choose an issue they care about. Then we teach them about the policies and governmental structure behind that issue so they can use their voices and actions to make change.

Darcy Richie

Through our program, students learn about who holds influence and power in government. They talk to community members. They engage with guest speakers, so that students and policy leaders can learn from one another.  

In a country where young people rarely have a seat at the table, Generation Citizen students have influenced local government decisions on critical issues. Of course, there are times when our students don’t succeed in reaching, or persuading, their local leaders. But in those instances, they walk away with a deepened awareness of the power dynamics that makes systemic change so hard. It’s a peek behind the curtain, a way to show students what government really is and how it works. 

The behavior by the mob at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday felt like an illustration of all of the opposite impulses. In its wake, teachers could use the insurrection to illustrate for young people how those strategies — violence, for one, as well as ignoring the legitimate processes of our government — ultimately didn’t work.

Congress still met. They still voted. Joe Biden is still the president-elect. This isn’t about teachers superimposing their opinions, but about empowering young people to come to fact-based conclusions using their own critical thinking skills.

This is also a moment to elevate facts and emphasize critical thinking, specifically: 

  • Teachers can encourage students to ask themselves: What is my opinion? Why do I believe that? What are the facts and details that support or dispute what I think?
  • This is also an opportunity for teachers to bring up past instances of white rage, such as the attacks on students during school desegregation or the white supremacist marches in Charlottesville, Virginia. Educators can discuss with students the unresolved and enduring legacy of systemic racism in the United States, going back centuries — long before the Civil War.
  • Relevant recent comparisons for students abound, especially given the responses to the racial justice protests following the police killing of George Floyd. Students can look at how people in power labeled those events. How did those in elected office and in the media describe those participating? Use news articles to compare that to the events at the Capitol. How many called it “a protest”? How many called it “an insurrection”? How many called it “activism”? Encourage them to ask themselves: What do I believe Wednesday represented? This isn’t about teachers superimposing their opinions, but about letting young people come to fact-based conclusions.

The trouble is that when events like this happen, we almost gaslight students. We say or imply that the response of the police is separate from their beliefs. But we can actually see the police response was incredibly different between what happened Wednesday and what happened during the Floyd protests. Young people see the difference, too. And so as a teacher, having the ability to name the differences you see, and saying, “Yes, the police response was different,” is vital.

This is also an opportunity for teachers to learn alongside students. I might tell them that I didn’t realize there was only one other time in history that the Capitol has been taken over, and that was in the 1800s. Let’s research that. What were the circumstances in the 1800s? Do they seem different than the circumstances now? Let’s look at the images. I’m noticing the images from that time in the past are images of pain and seriousness. Now, I’m seeing pictures of people laughing, carrying a podium, putting their feet up on desks that belong to members of Congress. Let’s craft a narrative from these images. I’m not telling you how you should think; I’m facilitating learning and learning alongside you.

This is also a moment to partner with families. I might let families know that I want to open space for young people in my class, and ask them: What are things you want them to discuss? This can be hard to do, but the moment presents an opportunity for relationship-building between families and teachers. 

It is also important for teachers to give themselves time to process what has happened. During the George Floyd protests, we at Generation Citizen jumped into action, figuring out what resources we could share with teachers. And at some point, somebody on my staff messaged me asking, “Are you OK?” As a Black person, a Black leader, a Black educator, who was absorbing these images, I wasn’t ok. I needed to take space to process that, too.

Teachers: I wish the world would recognize how much pressure is on your shoulders. Young people are asking and thinking about these critical questions while teachers are also trying to teach math. It’s a lot, but the space you open for students can be transformative. Thank you.

This is also a chance for educators to share their own truths. The author Bettina Love writes that being a person of color and being a young person of color today is a civic action. As a Black educator, I believe that. 

Darcy Richie is the Senior Director of Program and Impact at Generation Citizen.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

MAIN IMAGE: In the wake of the mob attack on Capitol Hill, teachers are processing the events and helping young people do the same. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Urbanism Without Government

Two cases which demonstrate that urban infrastructure can be provided without government

December 31, 2020
Emily Hamilton

Asking, “But who will build the roads?” is a cliched response to proposals for a more libertarian political system. However, it leads to the interesting historical question of “Who has built the roads in anarchic societies?”

Colonial America provides a few examples that answer this question. Perhaps the best known example of anarchism in American history was in Rhode Island, or “Rogue’s Island,” founded by Baptists fleeing Massachusetts. The stateless Baptists founded the cities of Portsmouth and Warwick.

Unlike the Baptists, William Penn didn’t intend to create an anarchic colony, but Pennsylvania was, in fact,without a government from 1684 to 1691 as evidenced by Penn’s failure to successfully levy any taxes during that time.

It’s difficult to know much about street building from this time period in part because of how much time has passed and in part because,as Murray Rothbard writes:

The lack of recordkeeping in stateless societies — since only government officials seem to have the time, energy, and resources to devote to such activities — produce a tendency toward a governmental bias in the working methods of historians.

However, we do know that Philadelphia’s neighborhoods near the Delaware River were growing during this time.

One of the country’s oldest continually occupied streets is Philadelphia’s Elfreth’s Alley. It was dedicated in 1702, shortly after this period of complete anarchy and served as a route to connect local merchants’ property with the already thriving Second Street. As the society dedicated to the alley’s preservation writes:

Elfreth’s Alley — popularly known as “Our nation’s oldest residential street” – dates back to the first days of the eighteenth century. Twenty years after William Penn founded Pennsylvania and established Philadelphia as its capital, the town had grown into a thriving, prosperous mercantile center on the banks of the Delaware River.

Philadelphians had abandoned Penn’s plan for a “greene countrie towne” and instead created a cityscape similar to what they remembered in England. Wharves stretched out into the river, welcoming ships from around the world. Shops, taverns, and homes crowded the area along the river. Philadelphians made and sold items essential to life in the New World and to the trade that was a part of their daily lives.

Two of these colonial craftsmen, blacksmiths John Gilbert and Arthur Wells, owned the land where Elfreth’s Alley now sits. In 1702, each man gave up a portion of his land to create an alleyway along their property line that connected their smithies near the river with Second Street, one block away. By that date, Second was a major north-south road, connecting Philadelphia with towns north and west of the city and the frontier beyond.

Gilbert and Wells donated their land both to benefit their businesses and to improve the city’s transportation network in keeping with the Quaker tradition of voluntarism. Their actions demonstrate the power of cooperation for mutual gain, but it’s also notable that streets built with donated land are likely to be narrow, as Elfreth’s Alley is.

As the article explains that William Penn envisioned Pennsylvania as a “countrie towne,” but without the ability to raise any taxes needed to enforce his vision, he couldn’t prevent Pennsylvania residents from developing the sort of dense and mixed-use development that supported their growing industries in Philadelphia.

Victorian England provides another example of rapid urban growth under very limited government. Decades after the construction of Elfreth’s Alley, urban development absent any city planning, government infrastructure, or building codes swept across London and other English cities.

Neighborhoods including the West End and Nottingham were developed during this period of hands-off government policy, relying on the private sector for providing all infrastructure, from streets to streetlights to drainage.

In both cases of laissez- faire urban development, we see very narrow streets, as landowners are making the trade between providing easements for accessibility and developing land for profit. Unlike colonial Philadelphia’s period of total anarchy, London had a system ofPrivate Acts, which required developers to seek permission from Parliament to implement any significant land use changes.

After development was in place, some neighborhoods used covenants to enforce upkeep of common goods such as lighting and even to enforce design standards for builders. In his chapter in The Voluntary City, Stephen Davies explains that landowners did not place covenants on all land and that the stringency of covenants varied widely.

Because covenants tended to increase both the quality and price of housing, this variation allowed builders to serve both low- and middle-income residents, depending on where they built:

Developers were able to tailor the extent of their providing “public goods” via covenant to the nature and scope of local demand, as well as account for other factors such as land and building costs. This is in marked contrast to the rigidity and fixity of state attempts to supply these goods through public planning, zoning laws, and the like. The flexibility also extended to the enforcement of covenants. Landlords and developers would often not enforce the building clause in a lease when demand for land was slack, as long as the rent was paid.

While colonial Philadelphia and Victorian London saw road building under different legal institutions, both cases demonstrate that urban infrastructure can be provided without government.

Perhaps the free market would never create the interstate highway system, but it’s proven itself capable of facilitating the creation of charming, functional streets that endure centuries.

This article was reprinted with permission from Market Urbanism.

Emily Hamilton
Emily Hamilton

Emily Hamilton is a Research Fellow for the State and Local Policy Project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Her research focuses on urban economics and land-use policy.

This article was originally published on Read the original article.
Main Image: Elfreth Alley, Image Credit: Wikimedia

More Than 2,900 Health Care Workers Died This Year — And the Government Barely Kept Track

Christina Jewett and Robert Lewis and Melissa Bailey, Kaiser Health News
December 23, 2020

This story also ran on The Guardian. It can be republished for free.

More than 2,900 U.S. health care workers have died in the COVID-19 pandemic since March, a far higher number than that reported by the government, according to a new analysis by KHN and The Guardian.

Fatalities from the coronavirus have skewed young, with the majority of victims under age 60 in the cases for which there is age data. People of color have been disproportionately affected, accounting for about 65% of deaths in cases in which there is race and ethnicity data. After conducting interviews with relatives and friends of around 300 victims, KHN and The Guardian learned that one-third of the fatalities involved concerns over inadequate personal protective equipment.

Many of the deaths — about 680 — occurred in New York and New Jersey, which were hit hard early in the pandemic. Significant numbers also died in Southern and Western states in the ensuing months.

The findings are part of “Lost on the Frontline,” a nine-month data and investigative project by KHN and The Guardian to track every health care worker who dies of COVID-19.

One of those lost, Vincent DeJesus, 39, told his brother Neil that he’d be in deep trouble if he spent much time with a COVID-positive patient while wearing the surgical mask provided to him by the Las Vegas hospital where he worked. DeJesus died on Aug. 15.

Another fatality was Sue Williams-Ward, a 68-year-old home health aide who earned $13 an hour in Indianapolis, and bathed, dressed and fed clients without wearing any PPE, her husband said. She was intubated for six weeks before she died May 2.

“Lost on the Frontline” is prompting new government action to explore the root cause of health care worker deaths and take steps to track them better. Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services recently asked the National Academy of Sciences for a “rapid expert consultation” on why so many health care workers are dying in the U.S., citing the count of fallen workers by The Guardian and KHN.

“The question is, where are they becoming infected?” asked Michael Osterholm, a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory team and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “That is clearly a critical issue we need to answer and we don’t have that.”

The Dec. 10 report by the national academies suggests a new federal tracking system and specially trained contact tracers who would take PPE policies and availability into consideration.

Doing so would add critical knowledge that could inform generations to come and give meaning to the lives lost.

“Those [health care workers] are people who walked into places of work every day because they cared about patients, putting food on the table for families, and every single one of those lives matter,” said Sue Anne Bell, a University of Michigan assistant professor of nursing and co-author of the national academies report.

The recommendations come at a fraught moment for health care workers, as some are getting the COVID-19 vaccine while others are fighting for their lives amid the highest levels of infection the nation has seen.

The toll continues to mount. In Indianapolis, for example, 41-year-old nurse practitioner Kindra Irons died Dec. 1. She saw seven or eight home health patients per week while wearing full PPE, including an N95 mask and a face shield, according to her husband, Marcus Irons.

The virus destroyed her lungs so badly that six weeks on the most aggressive life support equipment, ECMO, couldn’t save her, he said.

Marcus Irons said he is now struggling financially to support their two youngest children, ages 12 and 15. “Nobody should have to go through what we’re going through,” he said.

In Massachusetts, 43-year-old Mike “Flynnie” Flynn oversaw transportation and laundry services at North Shore Medical Center, a hospital in Salem, Massachusetts. He and his wife were also raising young children, ages 8, 10 and 11.

Flynn, who shone at father-daughter dances, fell ill in late November and died Dec. 8. He had a heart attack at home on the couch, according to his father, Paul Flynn. A hospital spokesperson said he had full access to PPE and free testing on-site.

Since the first months of the pandemic, more than 70 reporters at The Guardian and KHN have scrutinized numerous governmental and public data sources, interviewed the bereaved and spoken with health care experts to build a count.

The total number includes fatalities identified by labor unions, obituaries and news outlets and in online postings by the bereaved, as well as by relatives of the deceased. The previous total announced by The Guardian and KHN was approximately 1,450 health care worker deaths. The new number reflects the inclusion of data reported by nursing homes and health facilities to the federal and state governments. These deaths include the facility names but not worker names. Reporters cross-checked each record to ensure fatalities did not appear in the database twice.

The tally has been widely cited by other media as well as by members of Congress.

Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) referenced the data citing the need for a pending bill that would provide compensation to the families of health care workers who died or sustained long-term disabilities from COVID-19.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) mentioned the tally in a Senate Finance Committee hearing about the medical supply chain. “The fact is,” he said, “the shortages of PPE have put our doctors and nurses and caregivers in grave danger.”

This story is part of “Lost on the Frontline,” an ongoing project from The Guardian and Kaiser Health News that aims to document the lives of health care workers in the U.S. who die from COVID-19, and to investigate why so many are victims of the disease. If you have a colleague or loved one we should include, please share their story.

Subscribe to KHN’s free Morning Briefing.



With a challenging year soon to be behind us, we asked community members to share their vision of what they hope becomes of our city post-pandemic.  

by JM Wong,
DECEMBER 23, 2020

What if care was the organizing principle of our society? Not profit, not white supremacist garbage masked as liberal paternalism in the form of “diversity” that would hire cops of color to continue to target Black and Brown folks on the street just living their lives.

What if care was my people who are here finding home as guests on Turtle Island, shredding up the myths of american empire force-fed to us through aid packages and free trade agreements, with jobs that colonize our psyches and rob us of our life forces? 

What if care was us acknowledging our presence on someone else’s ancestral lands? Lands that are marked by Indigenous peoples’ resistance, the Black radical tradition, and also by Chinatown histories of striking railroad, textile factory, and hand laundromat workers? 

What if this kind of care — not the citizenship test, not words from twisted tongues that we are forced to regurgitate — was how we are oriented to this country?

What if care was my dear homie F, and all the other homies locked up in cages, being able to go kick it with me and the squad at Lake Washington on a full moon night, setting intentions and sharing prayer? But not before we fish off of that one dock and share why we love the story of orca whale mom Tahlequah who carried her dead calf around for 17 days and what that teaches us about mammalian grief, which is as deep as the ocean waters and as resilient as the light that hits it everyday. We know now that Tahlequah has a new baby calf! What if care was more shared moments of freedom, not captivity? We don’t stop organizing till our families are alive and free.

What if care was my bestie, undocumented in status, being able to return to the homelands, to introduce their mother to the new baby, so it is not just the screens and distorted sounds of choppy Wi-Fi that will etch the visual and audio memory of their child’s ancestral bloodlines? What if this child could play with her grandmother so my bestie can rest sometimes, not replying at all to my insomnia texts because work has kept them up too late? Organize childcare for everyone and especially the single parents who hustle while they deal with the regular challenges of life and sometimes while still doing the work to heal for themselves and the futures they nourish. 

What if care is everyone living lives of exploration, of ease, of connection?

What if care is the organizing principle of our society? 

Care that is creative and tenacious, relentless and wholesome, abundant and kind. The kind of fierce love that helped us survive the pain, loss, and heartbreak of 2020. A world where this love is the uncompromising foundation of our society, is the hope that anchors me into the future. We got you, and each other, 2021!

JM Wong (they/them) is a queer child of the Chinese diaspora living on Duwamish lands (Seattle) via Malaysia/Singapore and many cities in between. They write about movements, desire, and longings across distances and bordered spaces. Of diaspora, of the logistical supply chain stretching over ocean waters, of connections transcending prison walls, of crossings over to the ancestral realms. What we each journey through matters, and the futures we imagine begin from now. They organize with COVID-19 Mutual Aid, Free Them All WA, and the FIGHT/APICAG family.

MAIN IMAGE: Illustration by Alexa Strabuk

Masks and mandates: How individual rights and government regulation are both necessary for a free society

Martha Ackelsberg, Smith College,
December 12, 2020 

I’ve been thinking a lot, recently, about the tension between demanding “individual rights” – in the sense of deciding whether or not to wear a mask – and calling for more action on the part of our government to protect us from the coronavirus pandemic.

I’m a political theorist, which means I study how communities are organized, how power is exercised and how people relate to one another in and between communities. I’ve realized – through talking to friends, and thinking about the protests against COVID-19-related restrictions that have taken place around the country – that many people do not understand that individual rights and state power are not really opposites.

The laws and policies that governments enact set the framework for the exercise of our rights. So, inaction on the part of government does not necessarily empower citizens. It can, effectively, take away our power, leaving us less able to act to address our needs.

‘War of all against all’

The Founders stated in the Declaration of Independence that “governments are instituted among Men … to secure their rights … to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Those goals cannot be pursued individually without governments to help create the conditions necessary for collective life. As Thomas Hobbes recognized almost four centuries ago, if everyone just does what they please, no one can trust anyone. We end up with chaos, uncertainty and a “war of all against all.”

Rights become worthless.

This paradox – of the need for government to enable the effective pursuit of individual aims – is particularly extreme in the situation of COVID-19 and its attendant economic crisis. Amid a rampaging pandemic, people have rights to do many things, but are they really free to exercise them?

A bus in West Reading, PA, with the message 'No Masks No Ride' displayed on its digital sign.
A bus reminds people ‘No Masks No Ride’ in September 2020. Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

It may not feel like you can enjoy the benefits of your individual rights when you have to be engaged in a continuous process of risk-assessment: Is it safe to leave my house? To go to work? To send my child to school? To visit my loved ones?

Even more, people confront those questions from very different perspectives: “Essential” workers have had to make decisions about whether to go to work and risk disease or death, or to stay home to protect themselves and their families and risk hunger and homelessness. Those who are unsafe in their homes, because they live with abusive parents or partners must choose between the danger of staying in and the dangers of leaving. Even those who work remotely make an assessment of risk every time they leave home, especially now that infections have surged, given the absence of clear, shared norms about social distancing, mask-wearing and other precautions against the spread of disease.

Collective framework

Each person experiences these as personal choices, however, because federal and state governments have failed to provide a truly collective framework within which people can be safer.

People may know, for example, that if everyone wore a mask in the presence of others, maintained social distance and avoided large crowds, it would be relatively safe to be out in public. But that goal cannot be achieved by voluntary individual actions alone, since the benefits are achieved only when most or all of us participate.

The only way to assure that everyone will be wearing a mask — understood as an act of community and collective care, an action taken to protect others, as well as ourselves — is for the government to require mask-wearing because it is needed for the protection of life.

It’s well accepted that governments can mandate that drivers must have insurance if they are to be allowed to register and drive a car, or that all children be vaccinated before they can attend school. These requirements are justified out of the recognition that our individual actions (or inactions) affect others as well as ourselves.

Maine Independent Sen. Angus King sets up a sign describing a bipartisan proposal for a Covid-19 relief bill on Capitol Hill.
Maine Independent Sen. Angus King sets up a sign describing a bipartisan proposal for a COVID-19 relief bill on Capitol Hill on December 1, 2020. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Of course — and here is where questions about individual rights come up against the need for government policy — in the absence of government economic support for individuals and families, for example, the costs of actions taken to protect others fall unequally.

If businesses close to slow the spread of disease, they protect both workers and consumers. But without government aid, they and their workers are the ones who bear the financial burdens of these actions as individuals.

Interdependence and mutual responsibility

That is why the CARES Act, which provided income for those who lost jobs and loans or grants to those who kept their workers on payroll, was critical.

It was government policy that recognized that collective caring behavior cannot be sustained without communal support. The CARES Act articulated, through a series of government programs, the idea that no one should be forced to be a martyr — say, to lose their livelihood — for the benefit of others.

Government policy of this sort (such as the relief bills now being considered by Congress) aims to ensure that those who forego work to protect others — or go to work to protect others, like essential workers — will not have to pay a personal price.

The ability to exercise the rights to work, to shop or to go to school depends upon having a relatively safe public space in which to operate. In turn, that requires all of us to attend to the rights and safety of others, as well as of ourselves.

Government is the means by which such attending — caring — is expressed and accomplished. It is only when people can count on others to be concerned for one another that they can truly be free to act, and exercise their rights, in the public arena.

Martha Ackelsberg, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government, emerita, Smith College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Main Image: Residents line up in their cars in late November at a food distribution site in Clermont, Florida, where many are hungry because of the pandemic. Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images