Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania’s newspapers:
Right call on airline cash
The Citizen’s Voice
Airlines are among the businesses most severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic fallout, and they need federal assistance if they quickly are to restore service.
Congress is correct to come to their aid with a two-part, $50 billion relief deal as part of the recent $2.2 trillion recovery package. And, given the airlines’ business practices, Congress also is wise to attach strong restrictions to the money.
Half of the money is in the form of grants, which airlines must use to keep workers on their payrolls. Each airline will be able to request enough to cover employee costs through the end of September, and must agree not to lay off workers.
The other half of the program is modeled on the successful bailouts of big banks and auto manufacturers amid the 2008 financial crisis. In exchange for financing, the government took equity stakes in the companies, which it relinquished only when the loans were paid in full. The government provided $426.35 billion worth of credit to the companies, which paid back $441.7 billion by the end of 2014 - a profit to the Treasury of $15.35 billion. That was only about a 3.5% rate of return, but it was far from a giveaway and the value of rescuing the industries was exponentially greater than that.
The second $25 billion for the airlines will be as loans, which airlines will have to secure by stock or some other means, so that the government is repaid. That temporarily would give the government about 40% ownership of major airlines, far less than the 61% of General Motors it acquired with the 2008 bailout.
Crucially, the rules prevent the airlines from using the money for stock buybacks. Part of the reason that airlines have scant reserves is that they have used so much of their free cash flow to buy back stock over the last decade, which increases the stock price and the executive compensation that is tied to it. Some examples of airline stock buybacks over the decade: American, $12.95 billion; Delta, $11.43 billion; Southwest, $10.65 billion; United, $8.88 billion; JetBlue, $1.77 billion; and Alaska, $1.59 billion.
Strong airlines are fundamental to a strong modern economy, so the program is warranted. But when the industry’s health is restored, Congress should use this experience to severely limit airlines’ ability to buy back stock instead of being prepared for a crisis.
Protect mind and body amid crisis
In a matter of weeks, we have been plucked out of the world as we once knew it and dropped into a new reality filled with grief, uncertainty and danger.
We’ve lost jobs and income, seen prospects falter for businesses we labored to grow, and life savings decimated in markets unhinged by the COVID-19 pandemic. We might be struggling to find food or shelter or adapt to new work routines and child care demands, as Erie Times-News reporters have detailed.
Those on the front lines — medical workers, first responders, grocery and hardware retailers, truck drivers and others — risk exposure to the virus with each fresh encounter with the public, while supplies of essential safety equipment run low.
The situation demands much of us, our leaders and our institutions. And yet this week, the U.S. Surgeon General warned it will get worse.
Vice Admiral Jerome Adams said the coming days are going to be the “hardest and saddest” “for most Americans’ lives.”
“This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized, it’s going to be happening all over the country and I want America to understand that,” said Adams on “Fox News Sunday.”
More direct, President Donald Trump said, “There will be a lot of death.”
From the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic, experts have warned us to guard our mental health. As the new COVID-19 diagnoses and death tolls race toward their peaks, we join in that call.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933 rightly named “fear itself” the enemy amid an earlier national crisis, the Great Depression. Taking care of one’s emotional health is not a weakness in times of great distress, but essential to our ability to tap reserves of hope and courage and perform at our highest levels — for both ourselves and others.
Balancing work, relaxation and exposure to the most traumatic news; eating and sleeping well; and regular exercise all can build resilience.
Planning for the worst can help, as Lisa M. May, a clinical psychologist at UPMC Western Behavioral Health at Safe Harbor in Erie, wrote in a recent op-ed. So can connecting with loved ones by phone or online and performing good deeds for others.
Crisis services can be reached anytime at 814-456-2014. Erie County also has launched a community chat line at 814-273-7007.
Adams in his dire predictions Sunday added a key caveat: “I want Americans to understand that as hard as this week is going to be, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
The better we care for ourselves, the better chance we all stand to see that happy day.
A vaccine for the coronavirus is on the way, and doctors will need our help to make sure it works
Harrisburg Patriot News/Pennlive.com
The good news is, a COVID-19 vaccine is on the way. The bad news is, it might not get here for another year. And the doctors will need our help to make sure it works.
Our community got a badly needed dose of good news this week from UPMC when it announced it had developed a vaccine against COVID-19 that seems to work in mice. But what works in mice doesn’t always work in humans. And it can take months of test trials in humans before medical professionals know how much of a dose to administer that doesn’t cause side effects worse than the disease.
In a Coronavirus Q & A on Facebook Live, Penn State Clinical Professor Suresh Kuchipudi said such clinical trials for potential vaccines against COVID-19 are underway throughout the world, not just in Pennsylvania. But what’s unique about the UPMC vaccine is it can be applied with a simple patch on the finger ,and doesn’t need refrigeration, as most vaccines require. That’s important because it could be easily transported around the world to stop the virus’s spread.
UPMC researchers have been working on a vaccine since late January. They found mice developed antibodies against COVID-19 about two weeks after receiving the vaccine. Their work was based on previous studies into the other two coronaviruses – SARS and MERS.
Despite this breakthrough, and other promising discoveries around the world, it could take more than a year before it can be mass produced to treat COVID-19. And that means it will have no impact on today’s ongoing spread of coronavirus infections and the mounting death toll, expected to exceed 100,000 in the United States alone.
As much as we’d like to rush a solution to the coronavirus pandemic, Professor Kuchipudi is right. Some things just can’t be rushed. A drug that works in a mouse might kill a child. And the same dose of a drug that cures malaria might be a deadly overdose against the coronavirus.
That’s why clinical trials are mandatory to test promising treatments, and short cutting them can bring serious risks. Clinical trials must be conducted on people of diverse ages, sexes, races and locales to determine what cures the goose won’t kill the gander. We need to let the scientists do their good work and give them the time they need to do it.
But we can help. Many will be called to cooperate with medical professionals as they conduct clinical trials over the next few months. One PennLive reader said she already had been contacted to participate in one. The hope is, she and thousands of others will be able to cooperate to make sure the vaccines being developed are truly safe to be mass produced and distributed around the world.
The other way we can help is to make sure once there is a vaccine, we take it. Too many boast about never getting a flu shot, despite the fact influenza is also deadly and preventable.
Even if the COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t come in time to save the hundreds of thousands of people predicted to become its victims in the next few weeks, it still will provide hope for the future.
When COVID-19 comes back around in the fall, we’ll be better prepared to send it packing.
COVID-19 has worsened the isolation of domestic violence victims, but help is available
Staying home every day, all day, is a surreal experience for most of us, no matter how peaceful or happy our family circumstances.
Even if anger isn’t common currency in our households, tempers may be short and our reserves of patience may be tapped when we are stuck at home together for long stretches of time, amid so much external uncertainty.
Imagine feeling trapped in a home where abuse, and fear of abuse, are stitched into the fabric of existence.
As LNP ‘ LancasterOnline’s Erin Negley wrote in Sunday’s edition, “In an abusive relationship, home can become dangerous. Social distancing can make victims feel even more isolated. Their options for safe escape narrow with each lost connection.”
Christine Gilfillan, director of Domestic Violence Services of Lancaster County, told Negley that people weren’t reaching out for help as much as she expected. “Maybe people are afraid to reach out,” she said. “Or maybe they don’t think that we’re available.”
Said Gilfillan: “We want victims and survivors to know that we’re going to be here. We’re not going to close our doors.”
The emergency shelter remains open to domestic violence victims and their children. The domestic violence hotline, listed below, still is taking calls.
And Domestic Violence Services launched a text hotline Tuesday. A person can text “SAFE” or “safe” to 61222 and reach an advocate almost immediately. “This is especially helpful if a person cannot speak out loud in close quarters, is deaf or hard of hearing, or can just text unnoticed whereas phone calls are more obvious,” Gilfillan explained.
Kudos to Domestic Violence Services for launching this text hotline in these difficult circumstances.
We also appreciate this: While most court business has been suspended because of the pandemic, the Domestic Violence Legal Center still is operating, mostly remotely. The center’s legal advocate is available to assist people in filing protection from abuse orders, and its three attorneys are available for consultation over the phone.
And existing temporary orders remain valid - even if their end dates have passed - until courts resume normal operations.
New filings for protection from abuse orders have decreased in recent weeks, said attorney Rachel Pinsker, coordinator of the legal center. Not because fewer are needed, but likely because victims aren’t getting any reprieves from the abusers with whom they live.
Domestic Violence Services is an essential organization that is perhaps even more essential now.
As Gilfillan told Negley, situations that already exist in a home may be escalated by unemployment and the financial worries and loss of control that have accompanied the pandemic.
Abusers do not like to relinquish control.
Domestic violence, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website, “is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another.”
It notes: “The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically; however, the one constant component of domestic violence is one partner’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other.”
The pandemic only exacerbates this dynamic.
“Now with all the restrictions in place, abusers can control their victims by telling them it’s for their own safety and it’s what the government is saying so it is the norm,” Pinsker observed.
No one really has power and control in a pandemic. But that is a reality that will be lost on abusers, who feel entitled to the power and control they wield over their victims.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, the number of domestic violence-related calls made to Lancaster city police increased sharply in recent weeks, city police social worker Leilany Tran told Negley.
The heartening news: Social distancing rules will not change police efforts to reach out to callers and connect them with services, Tran said.
We are immensely grateful to employees of Domestic Violence Services, who are continuing their challenging work in this particularly challenging time. And to police social worker Tran and other professionals who continue to provide help to those desperately in need of it.
Domestic Violence Services is a program of Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County, but it still relies on fundraising efforts. Its spring gala has been rescheduled for June 27. Please give to the organization (at caplanc.org/donate) if you can.
We worry for children who are out of school now - and out of sight of the teachers and school nurses trained to look for signs of abuse and neglect. It can be hard, if not impossible, to detect those signs in relatively short periods of remote learning.
ChildLine, the state’s 24-hour child abuse and neglect reporting hotline, remains in operation. Ordinarily, however, most of the calls it receives are from school employees, day care workers and religious leaders who are mandated by state law to report child abuse, Cathleen Palm, executive director of the Center for Children’s Justice, told Spotlight PA.
Now, those mandated reporters aren’t seeing children in person. And ChildLine calls have dropped precipitously: Spotlight PA reported last week that the hotline received just over 9,000 calls in the first three weeks of March - compared to nearly 18,000 in February.
“This is a dangerous time for children,” Palm said.
So much can happen behind a home’s closed doors. If you know of a child or adult who is being abused, please call the police or the relevant hotline.
And if you’re being abused, please seek help when it’s safe to do so. You don’t need to wait out the pandemic. Help is available now.
On a very different note, we wish all those who celebrate it a meaningful Passover.
Tonight’s seders likely will be smaller than in years past, as socially distancing Jews cannot welcome friends, neighbors or relatives to their dining tables, except via the internet.
Danya Ruttenberg, a rabbi and author, wrote this Monday in The Washington Post: “Maybe we need to find not only the cloud leading us during the day, but also to look for the fire in the darkness. We are here. We are able to celebrate Passover. It isn’t in the most ideal situation, but we can mark it nonetheless, pouring out our soul in all of the ways that we must. Maybe - dayeinu. That can be enough for now.”
We hope it is enough.
Data restrictions: All counties should have access to outbreak details
At a time when county officials are trying to keep nervous residents as informed as possible about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, it seems ludicrous that a 65-year-old state law allows 10 local health departments access to highly detailed infectious disease information, while officials in the remaining counties are given only the basics.
The governor and the Legislature need to address this inequity immediately so that all counties are given the same specific information regarding COVID-19 cases in their communities.
The state Health Department says the Disease Prevention and Control Act of 1955 prevents it from releasing infectious disease data to any entity other than local health departments. That means the 10 local health departments in the state - Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Erie, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties; and Allentown, Bethlehem, Wilkes-Barre and York - can access and share as they see fit data from the state version of the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System.
Officials in the rest of the state receive only what the state Health Department releases, and that is much more limited.
Emergency services officials in the neighboring counties of Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland are angry and frustrated that they often hear about cases from the news media rather than the state Health Department. They say that leaves their county officials, emergency services personnel and first responders in the dark as to where there may be new COVID-19 outbreaks.
It’s an unacceptable situation in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that the information residents receive varies depending on where they live.
The state Health Department’s daily updates include statewide positive and negative tests and deaths, the percentage of cases and hospitalizations in seven different age brackets, and the number of cases and deaths in each of the state’s 67 counties.
In contrast, Allegheny County’s daily updates include the number of positive cases in every municipality, as well as gender breakdown. The county also is able to flag addresses for a 30-day rolling period if an occupant has tested positive for COVID-19, something that can be passed along to first responders who may be called to the location.
Philadelphia lists outbreak breakdowns by ZIP code; Chester County offers charts and graphs on its website with details on every community.
County officials statewide deserve to have access to the same information as those 10 local health departments. Unfortunately, the Office of Open Records has upheld the state law on previous requests for information on things such as lead testing, Legionnaires’ disease and E.coli. The courts have likewise upheld the confidentiality clause, citing a 1991 state Supreme Court decision.
A law that allows information access to some counties and cities while denying the same information to others is deeply flawed. Given the serious nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and the inevitable loss of life in the weeks ahead, emergency officials in every county should have access to Health Department data regarding their communities and make that available to residents.
The law should be reviewed and amended immediately, or emergency provisions added to allow an equitable release of information statewide.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.