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Myrtle Beach reopened to survive the summer. Now, it's a coronavirus 'petri dish.'

By Tony Romm
Myrtle Beach reopened to survive the summer. Now, it's a coronavirus 'petri dish.'
Crowds pack the beach in Myrtle Beach, S.C. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Brett Lemmo

Cara Ellen Modisett fields the usual battery of questions every time she visits the doctor: Is she feeling well? Did she travel abroad? Has she been in contact with someone known to have the coronavirus?

Then, last week, Modisett's physicians in Roanoke, Va., added an unexpected query to their list. "They asked whether I had been to Myrtle Beach," the 47-year-old said.

With summer in full swing - and the Fourth of July holiday around the corner - scores of Americans have booked hotels, hit the boardwalk and camped out along the popular South Carolina coast. The unexpected rush of vacationers has helped rejuvenate a local economy left in tatters this spring when the pandemic closed shops and halted travel nationwide. But it has also turned the Myrtle Beach region into a coronavirus hot spot - and a startling example of the difficult, and perhaps deadly, calculation some cities and states face about when to reopen.

Dozens of locals, visitors and business owners describe a beach that has been packed at times over the past few weeks, with few people wearing masks and maintaining safe distances from one another. The city did not even require facial coverings when businesses reopened in May, although city council members are expected to vote on a mandate as soon as Thursday.

The safety lapses have resulted in a surge of infections in Horry County, where Myrtle Beach is located, which had registered more than 3,300 confirmed coronavirus cases by Tuesday, according to public health officials. The figure does not include countless tourists who unknowingly contracted the virus while visiting and unwittingly have taken it back home to multiple states including Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia, where Gov. Jim Justice, R, recently warned people to "think twice" before traveling to Myrtle Beach.

Some residents and travelers alike are now wondering whether Myrtle Beach reopened too quickly, forgoing critical safety precautions in an attempt to salvage much-needed tourism revenue. But government officials and business leaders have stressed that a prolonged closure would have resulted in irreparable harm to workers and their families, underscoring the complexity that many localities face in a pandemic that at times has pitted economic recovery against public health.

"For Myrtle Beach, it was a survival decision," said Brenda Bethune, the city's mayor.

"We all expected once we opened up, and people started coming from other areas, that we would see those [case] increases and we certainly have," she said. "On the other hand, how do you keep things closed, and keep people out of work, when families have to pay their bills?"

The challenge facing Myrtle Beach is shared by major tourist destinations nationwide: The very characteristics that make their cities and states so attractive to vacationers also represent some of the greatest risks for spreading the coronavirus.

Beginning in March, governors imposed a wide array of restrictions on hotels, beaches, bars and restaurants, hoping to ensure that some of these normally densely packed places did not become breeding grounds for infection. Epidemiologists say some of the moves have prevented even more deaths during a global health emergency that has killed more than 124,000 people in the United States.

But the restrictions have also carried economic costs, resulting in fewer travelers - and fewer dollars generated for tourism-dependent governments and businesses alike. A grim study conducted in June for the U.S. Travel Association, a Washington-based trade group for the industry, predicted a $505 billion decline in travel spending by the end of the year, reducing U.S. economic output by $1.2 trillion.

"To ignite an economic and jobs recovery, these businesses need to be able to open," said Tori Emerson Barnes, the association's executive vice president for public affairs and policy.

The pandemic had just started to wane in some parts of the country when South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, R, lifted some of the restrictions he had imposed, paving the way in April for Myrtle Beach and its surrounding communities to open their hotels fully by mid-May, just in time for Memorial Day.

The news delighted local business owners, who had watched their revenue plummet during the two months when their businesses were closed because of the pandemic, said Karen Riordan, the president of the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce. An estimated 40 percent drop in sales compared with the same period a year earlier threatened to cripple an economy that depends entirely on tourists, about 20 million of whom vacationed on area beaches in 2019, she said.

Myrtle Beach initially expected the vacationers to return at a slow trickle. Instead, throngs of travelers soon descended on its sandy shoreline and its nearby resorts by mid-May. Visitors clumped together on the sand, packed the boardwalk and its shops and restaurants, and fully booked out some hotels in just a matter of days.

"As soon as we opened there were people standing in line waiting," said Michelle Kerscher, the general manager of the Gay Dolphin Gift Cove, a 74-year-old, 35,000-square-foot souvenir emporium on the beach's main drag, Ocean Boulevard. "We didn't expect to see demand to be so high immediately."

The rush of outsiders left some residents, travelers and shop owners anxious in the middle of a pandemic, fearing that perhaps too many people had come too quickly. Adding to their fears, before Myrtle Beach reopened for business, it did not require that residents and visitors wear masks, considered one of the easiest, most effective ways to cut down on the spread of the coronavirus. Bethune, the city's mayor, and her fellow council members said they had to defer to state officials, including McMaster, who generally has questioned the effectiveness of such blanket orders.

With no mask requirement, few families that came to Myrtle Beach actually wore them, alarming public health experts - and heightening the risk of infection.

Teresa Meyer, 55, was delighted to see the influx from out of town at the Palace Resort, a 23-floor getaway overlooking the ocean where she has lived for seven years. Many of the units are rented out every summer season, and without those tourists, "people were losing money," said Meyer, who serves on the Palace Resort's homeowners association board.

To combat the coronavirus, the resort tried to encourage guests to stay socially distant from one another and wear masks, but few followed the recommendations, Meyer said. Instead, families crammed with their beach chairs and umbrellas into elevators, not keeping their distance from other tourists or covering their faces - turning the elevators into a "petri dish" for the virus, she said.

"People came on vacation and thought the virus did," Meyer continued, adding: "We opened too hard, too fast, without the proper safety mechanisms."

Tourists have packed into Broadway at the Beach, a complex of stores, bars and restaurants about a mile from the shore, where Kimberly Luksic and Maxwell Narvarra, 26-year-olds from Atlanta, said a hot-sauce shop recently was handing out free samples of its spicy condiments on chips to eager patrons. (They didn't partake.) An Italian buffet about a block from Ocean Boulevard had spaced out diners and tables, as recommended, but "everyone working there wasn't wearing a mask," said Willis Glasgow, a resident of nearby Florence, S.C.

At the Tanger Outlets, a shopping mall in Myrtle Beach, so few people were wearing masks last weekend that Harold Reaves and his wife didn't even bother to get out of their car. The duo from Columbia, S.C., had planned to browse the rows of clothing and shoe stores on a Saturday, when Reaves, 55, figured that most tourists would be checking in or out of their hotels. Instead, they were horrified to find congested sidewalks, so they turned around, opting not to take a risk.

"We're definitely staying away," he said.

Inside one of the mall's sports and apparel stores, Bree Cowan, 20, said she has seen a steady stream of customers trying to come in without masks. "We're doing the capacity limitations and stuff, and we're doing the necessary precautions," she said. "The visitors, the tourists, the locals coming in - they're not."

The flood of tourists - and the lax policy on masks - appears to have contributed to an uptick in coronavirus cases. "It seems good for the economy that we bounced back that quickly," said Gregg Smith, a member of the Myrtle Beach City Council. "But as we're seeing now, having all those people here is really creating an issue and creating more positive [coronavirus] tests."

Officials in Horry County have reported at least 100 new cases in the county almost every day for the past two weeks, state records show. The infections appear to have spilled into nearby South Carolina towns that aren't even on the coast, demonstrating the potentially dangerous and more widespread consequences of Myrtle Beach's swift reopening.

"People forget about social distancing, people remove their masks, people throw caution to the wind, and they're out there to enjoy summer on the beach . . . and immediately after our numbers started to rise," said Barbara Jo Blain-Bellamy, the mayor of the nearby city of Conway. She contracted the coronavirus about four weeks ago.

Cities and states outside of South Carolina have reported a similar increase in infections stemming from families that rushed to Myrtle Beach last month. Six states have warned their residents not to visit South Carolina or specific parts of the 60-mile coastline region known as the Grand Strand. In Kentucky, health leaders specifically raised the possibility that Myrtle Beach hotels have contributed to one of that state's outbreaks.

"If you or someone to whom you are close has been to Myrtle Beach in the past two weeks, please be aware that you have a good probability of having been exposed to the novel coronavirus," Steven Stack, Kentucky's public health commissioner, said in a statement.

In Ohio, a group of 90 students from Belmont County and surrounding areas who celebrated the end of the school year in Myrtle Beach now are experiencing an outbreak of their own. About two dozen of those students have tested positive but are asymptomatic, said Darren Jenkins, the superintendent of Bellaire School District. More than 100 teenagers in the Washington, D.C., region similarly are believed to have caught the coronavirus while on vacation there, Virginia officials confirmed this week.

The Fourth of July presents an even larger challenge for Myrtle Beach, whose mayor, Bethune, described it as "historically the busiest week of the year." The three-day weekend is a critical part of the roughly 100-day summer calendar, when most businesses race to make enough money to survive the slower winter months.

Anticipating a flood of tourists, the city is set to hold a council meeting Thursday that could result in a requirement for masks. Like many South Carolina cities, Myrtle Beach leaders thought they couldn't take the critical step until the state's attorney general announced that municipalities do, in fact, have the power to set their own policies on face coverings. Bethune and other city council members say they support such an order, following other nearby towns, including North Myrtle Beach, that recently have required masks.

But Bethune stressed that Myrtle Beach is unlikely to take the most aggressive step - closing the city's beaches - to combat the recent spate of new coronavirus cases. With businesses in the red, an economy on the precipice and a city confronting its own share of financial headaches, Myrtle Beach simply can't afford it, she said.

"The fact of the matter is this virus is here for a while," Bethune continued. "I believe it's very unrealistic to say we have to shut down again. . . . We have to learn how to live with it."

'Cries for help': Drug overdoses are soaring during the coronavirus pandemic

By William Wan and Heather Long
'Cries for help': Drug overdoses are soaring during the coronavirus pandemic
CAnahi Ortiz, a medical examiner in Columbus, Ohio, and her staff recently moved into a facility three times the size of their old office. They're already out of space. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Ty Wright

The bodies have been arriving at Anahi Ortiz's office in frantic spurts - as many as nine overdose deaths in 36 hours. "We've literally run out of wheeled carts to put them on," said Ortiz, a coroner in Columbus, Ohio.

In Roanoke County, Va., police have responded to twice as many fatal overdoses in recent months as in all of last year.

In Kentucky, which just celebrated its first decline in overdose deaths after five years of crisis, many towns are experiencing an abrupt reversal in the numbers.

Nationwide, federal and local officials are reporting alarming spikes in drug overdoses - a hidden epidemic within the coronavirus pandemic. Emerging evidence suggests that the continued isolation, economic devastation and disruptions to the drug trade in recent months are fueling the surge.

Because of how slowly the government collects data, it could be five to six months before definitive numbers exist on the change in overdoses during the pandemic. But data obtained by The Washington Post from a real-time tracker of drug-related emergency calls and interviews with coroners suggest that overdoses have not just increased since the pandemic began but are accelerating as it persists.

Suspected overdoses nationally - not all of them fatal - jumped 18% in March compared with last year, 29% in April and 42% in May, according to the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program, a federal initiative that collects data from ambulance teams, hospitals and police. In some jurisdictions, such as Milwaukee County, dispatch calls for overdoses have increased more than 50%.

When the pandemic hit, some authorities hoped it might lead to a decrease in overdoses by disrupting drug traffic as borders closed and cities shut down. The opposite seems to be happening.

As traditional supply lines are disrupted, people who use drugs appear to be seeking out new suppliers and substances they are less familiar with, increasing the risk of overdose and death. Synthetic drugs and less common substances are increasingly showing up in autopsies and toxicology reports, medical examiners say.

Social distancing has also sequestered people, leaving them to take drugs alone and making it less likely that someone else will be there to call 911 or to administer the lifesaving overdose antidote naloxone, also known as Narcan.

Making matters worse, many treatment centers, drug courts and recovery programs have been forced to close or significantly scale back during shutdowns. With plunging revenue for services and little financial relief from the government, some now teeter on the brink of financial collapse.

Even before the pandemic, experts note, the nation's infrastructure for helping people with substance use disorders was underfunded and inadequate. Without government intervention, local officials and drug policy experts warn, overdoses and deaths will continue to climb during the pandemic and the existing system will be inundated.

What's needed, advocates say, is emergency funding to keep afloat treatment programs, recovery centers and needle-exchange programs. Medical associations have also urged federal officials to relax restrictive barriers to opioid treatments such as buprenorphine and called for wider distribution of naloxone.

President Donald Trump and conservatives have repeatedly cited the possible rise of overdoses and suicides when calling for states and businesses to hurry their economic reopening. Yet, of the nearly $2.5 trillion approved for emergency relief, Congress and the Trump administration have designated only $425 million - barely more than a hundredth of 1% - for mental health and substance use treatment.

"If it weren't for covid, these opioid deaths are all we'd be talking about right now," said Natalia Derevyanny, spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office in Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago.

Last year, the Cook County medical examiner recorded 473 overdose deaths from January to June. This year, the total through May reached 656, with more than 400 additional suspected overdoses pending investigation and toxicology reports. The county's forensic staff - already inundated by the flood of coronavirus deaths - has added shifts and longer hours to deal with the incoming corpses from both crises.

"One epidemic began," Derevyanny said, "but the other one never stopped."

---

Addiction is a disease of isolation.

"It's when you feel alone, stigmatized and hopeless that you are most vulnerable and at risk," said Robert Ashford, who runs a recovery center in Philadelphia and has been in recovery for seven years. "So much of addiction has nothing to do with the substance itself. It has to do with pain or distress or needs that aren't being met."

As the pandemic has pushed massive doses of fear, uncertainty, anxiety and depression into people's lives, it has cut off the human connections that help ease those burdens.

Steven Manzo, 33, lost his job at an Irish pub in Mount Clemens, Mich., after it was forced to close just before St. Patrick's Day. From the apartment he rented above the bar, he described the disquiet welling up inside of him, with nothing to do but stand on the balcony and watch the empty street below.

"Everything looks normal, but it doesn't feel normal. I live downtown with bars and restaurants and nobody is here," he said on March 20. "We have no idea how long it will be."

Manzo spent much of his early 20s struggling with a heroin addiction. It took huge effort - and the help of family members, co-workers and two treatment programs - for him to turn his life around. He secured a job as a cook and bartender and discovered a gift for making customers laugh.

The pandemic took it all away, he said.

Two weeks after Manzo talked to a Washington Post reporter about his sudden unemployment, he was found dead in his apartment from an apparent overdose.

His mother, JoAnne Manzo, fought back tears as she described the rainy night she drove to her son's apartment to recover his body.

Talking to his friends, she tried to piece together his last moments. He and a younger friend - also in recovery - had been drinking that weekend and got bored. They bought $40 worth of cocaine and heroin, telling themselves they would use just that one time. Shortly after midnight, Manzo saw his friend out the door. Manzo's body was discovered two days later, sprawled out on the kitchen floor not far from his five guitars and drum set.

"He was clean for eight years. He would always tell me, 'My trigger is depression. That is my trigger,' " his mother said.

The virus, she believes, took away one of the strongest forces in Manzo's life - the presence of people who loved him. "If he had still been working, he would have been able to fight that urge, because he was busy. He loved that job. He loved people."

---

Michigan - where Manzo died - now ranks third in the United States for the highest unemployment rate, with 1 in 5 workers out of a job. Nationwide, more than 20 million are unemployed as the nation faces its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Research has established strong links between stagnating economies and increases in suicides, drug use and overdoses. In recent years, economists Anne Case and Nobel Prize-winner Angus Deaton have dubbed such increasing fatalities in declining blue-collar communities "deaths of despair."

For months, the Trump administration and several governors have seized on such research as their central argument for reopening states and businesses at any cost.

"We have to reopen - for our health," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar wrote recently in a Post op-ed. "The economic crisis brought on by the virus is a silent killer." As evidence, Azar cited a study suggesting that for every one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate in past recessions, the opioid death rate appears to increase by more than 3%.

But in an interview, the lead researcher behind that study rejected Azar's premise as a misuse and an oversimplification of his data.

Many factors - not just job loss - trigger opioid use, said Alex Hollingsworth, a health economist at Indiana University. "Don't use opioid deaths as a reason to reopen."

Hollingsworth and other economists, including Case, who spearheaded much of the research on "deaths of despair," point out that their findings are based on previous recessions that were wildly different from this one.

One big difference is how suddenly this downturn occurred - causing tens of millions of Americans to lose their jobs almost overnight. Deaths of despair normally occur after years of hardship. The pandemic has also introduced unprecedented disruptions into individual habits and society, making it difficult to foresee the exact effect.

But the biggest objection to such arguments - that tie the declining economy to an inevitable increase in overdoses - is the implied assumption that nothing can be done to avert it.

The focus, many economists and health experts agree, should be on finding safe and sustainable ways to reopen the economy, while increasing access and funding for mental health and substance use care.

"We need to multitask as a society," said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a federal research agency.

The problem is a lack of political will, said Alex H. Kral, an epidemiologist at the nonprofit research institute RTI International.

"We may not have a vaccine for covid, but we actually have very effective treatments for opioid use disorder," Kral said. "We have medication and proven interventions. It doesn't have to play out the way we fear it will."

---

Before the pandemic hit, national efforts to stem the opioid crisis were just starting to show progress.

In January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released 2018 data showing a slight decline in fatal overdoses for the first time in 28 years. But decades into the opioid epidemic, federal and state agencies still lack a system to collect overdose data in real or near-real time.

The closest thing that exists comes from the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program, which receives county-level data from emergency agencies. Since it began in 2017, ODMAP has forged agreements with a patchwork of about 3,300 agencies in 49 states that voluntarily provide data.

Of the counties participating, 62% have reported increased overdoses since March. And among counties that took part in the program last year and this year, data provided to The Post by ODMAP show a 42% increase in May.

Ortiz, the coroner in Columbus and surrounding Franklin County, said that she and her staff just moved this year into a facility three times the size of its old office so they could handle exactly this kind of added volume. They're already out of space.

"There's just so many. And the bodies absolutely can't go on the floor, out of respect for the decedents," she said. "We're trying to borrow carts that emergency management was saving for hospitals and the possible covid surge."

Ortiz and more than half a dozen other coroners nationwide described a dangerous trend from recent years that has accelerated during the pandemic: dealers mixing long-standing narcotics such as heroin and cocaine with much more powerful synthetic drugs, including fentanyl and carfentanil.

The American Medical Association recently issued a warning, citing reports from officials in 34 states about the increased spread of such synthetic drugs and rising overdoses.

Sandy Rivera, an emergency medical technician in Union City, N.J., said she saw an abrupt change in May in the types of cases her ambulance was responding to.

For weeks, it had been almost all respiratory illnesses and cardiac arrests related to the coronavirus. Then, suddenly, nearly half her cases became overdoses and suicide attempts, a ratio she has never encountered in 15 years working on ambulances.

"One night, that's all I had," Rivera said. One patient took a bottle of Tylenol. Another took medication that belonged to her children. An elderly patient had been drinking and swallowed 10 pills of Benadryl.

"They were cries for help," she said.

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At a time when they are needed most, some treatment centers and addiction clinics are struggling to stay solvent and have begun closing programs.

In May, Austin Recovery Network, the oldest addiction treatment provider in Texas, shuttered its clinics. "It is only a matter of time until we run out of money," the board of the nonprofit organization told staff members.

Lynn Sherman, chairman of the treatment provider's board, said the decision to close the clinics was "hard as hell."

The organization is still holding online support groups and running a shelter for parents and children, Sherman said, but, she added, "I don't think our area will have enough capacity in the future to provide the help that's needed."

Even as Austin Recovery Network shut down its residential treatment programs for adults, it has seen an increase in people walking into its offices, begging for detox treatment and a place to stay amid the pandemic.

In normal times, most nonprofit behavioral health centers operate on extremely thin margins and rely on reimbursements from major government health programs such as Medicaid and Medicare and grants from local government.

During the pandemic, they have struggled to treat patients, leading to severe drops in reimbursement, said Chuck Ingoglia, president of the National Council for Behavioral Health, which represents 3,326 treatment organizations. In a recent survey, 44% of the council's members said they will run out of money in the next six months.

Many are bracing for deeper cuts in the coming year, as states grapple with budget crunches.

"Mental health and substance use programs are often the first thing cut," said Tami Mark, a drug policy researcher at RTI International. "The last recession decimated behavioral health funding so badly it took them 10 years just to get back to previous levels."

---

When the Democratic-controlled House passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill in May, the legislation, dubbed the Heroes Act, designated $3 billion for mental health and substance use disorders programs - seven times more than the amount Congress approved in March.

But the White House and Republicans have declared the bill dead on arrival, leaving it unclear whether any additional funding will go toward programs for mental health and substance use disorders.

"We as a society often have a tendency to stigmatize and blame those who use drugs," said Ashford, the recovery center director in Philadelphia. "But if overdoses really increase during this pandemic, it will be because of failures of the system."

Since her son's death, JoAnne Manzo has asked herself the same question over and over: What exactly happened? "I know in my heart he did not want to take his life," she said.

On Friday, she finally received the official death certificate. Under cause of death, it said: "acute fentanyl and cocaine."

The autopsy took nearly three months because county officials were overwhelmed with covid-19 cases. The pandemic also made it impossible to hold a funeral, so she had her son's body cremated.

JoAnne Manzo took the ashes and put a small portion into a heart necklace she now wears every day.

She knows how lonely her son felt during the last days of his life. Since his death, she has tried to keep him as close as possible.

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If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration can help you locate treatment at www.findtreatment.gov or at this free helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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The Washington Post's Alyssa Fowers and Ariana Eunjung Cha contributed to this report.

Four women on being pregnant in a time of uncertainty and upheaval

By May-Ying Lam
Four women on being pregnant in a time of uncertainty and upheaval
Kristen Hanna lies still, closes her eyes and focuses on feeling her unborn child inside of her. Hanna is a yoga teacher who has learned to slow down during the pandemic and appreciate the sensations of being pregnant. MUST CREDIT: Photo by May-Ying Lam for The Washington Post.

For women who are pregnant amid a pandemic, a recession and racial turmoil, the future is an anxiety-stirring unknown. They began their pregnancies in the "other world" that promised baby showers, gender-reveal parties, visits with grandparents and browsing stores for onesies. Now, they contemplate how they would handle a novel coronavirus diagnosis, prepare to give birth while wearing a mask and fight through old traumas that the virus has triggered.

We asked four women who have found themselves in this unfamiliar and unsettling position to describe how they are coping with the new challenges, and to describe their hopes and fears in letters to their unborn children.

- - -

Kristen Hanna, 26

Kristen Hanna settled into bed. Her eyelids drifted down, and she rested her palms on the bare skin of her belly. Sending steady breaths downward, she focused on noticing her child's small movements as Lauryn Hill's voice quietly traversed the room.

"But then an angel came one day

"Told me to kneel down and pray

"For unto me a man child would be born

"Woe this crazy circumstance

"I knew his life deserved a chance"

The pandemic has done away with maternity shoots and baby showers. Hanna and her partner, Rodney Freeman II, even had to postpone their summer wedding. But Hanna says the pandemic has given her a surprising gift: the time to lie still and feel the sensations of the child inside of her.

Hanna has been passing along messages such as this as a yoga and meditation instructor, albeit through Zoom and Instagram Live these days. After her Amarillo, Texas, studio was forced to close permanently in late March, she began exploring online platforms. And now, she feels her work has taken on additional meaning as U.S. cities combust with rising racial conflict. She began to focus on tending to the mental welfare of communities of color, though she says anyone is welcome.

On a recent Saturday morning, Hanna led a prenatal yoga session on Instagram Live. Between movements, she asked her audience to recognize the messages of equality emanating from around the world. "I just want us to send love and peace out to our brothers and sisters that are hurting right now," she said. "Maybe that means sending peace into yourself, if you are hurt or disappointed. If you even feel disconnected from your baby at this time, because there is so much going on, send love within."

Hanna is mindful of the fact that the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd happened as she prepares to bring a black boy into the world. She realizes there is discrimination that she may not be able to protect him from. But she believes the values she and her partner teach him will make him strong, and make other people understand what a gentle and loving black man looks like.

Hanna embraces the hard work ahead - in helping others heal, in pushing for change and in simply bearing the effects of the pandemic. "I'm big on the idea of sacrificing for future generations to flourish," she said. "If this is something we needed to go through to evolve as people, to treat people better, to be more connected, ... I'm going to always think it's worth it."

- - -

April Moore, 33

April Moore is not supposed to be pregnant.

There was the first miscarriage. Then the second. Then the third. Then the fourth. None of them made it past 10 weeks; something was wrong. Moore's obstetrician encouraged her and her husband, Kevin, to consider in vitro fertilization.

During the IVF process, Moore had another miscarriage, and they found out some of the embryos had different chromosomal abnormalities, leaving their exact problem a mystery. Then, in 2018, Moore gave birth to Berkley, now a bright and vivacious 1-year-old. Another miscarriage followed as the Moores tried to add another child to their family.

Mentally and emotionally exhausted, they pressed pause.

So of course Moore would find herself unexpectedly pregnant during a historic pandemic, with their first naturally conceived baby to make it past 10 weeks.

In March, as the coronavirus stretched its tentacles across the United States, medical professionals scrambled to understand how covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, would affect pregnancies. Moore's doctor advised her to take off work for a few weeks as a precaution, saying she could resume when it was safer.

By now, two weeks has stretched into three months that Moore has not returned to work as a hair stylist at Fourteen01 Salon Suites in Houston. Because of her difficulties reaching full term and the spike in cases in Texas, she feels she cannot risk the high level of contact from doing hair coloring and extensions until after she gives birth and has recovered in December. But she worries she may not have clients to return to by then.

For now, the Moores focus on a more immediate problem: staying physically distant from others while encouraging Berkley to develop social skills. On weekends, they hang out on opposite ends of their driveway with their parents and Moore's grandmother. "Mimi hug?" Berkley asks, using her nickname for her grandmother Shari Tullis, who sits only a short tricycle ride away.

Moore's heart aches. "Do you want to hug her in a couple months?" The closest they'll get right now is when Berkley embraces Moore's phone during FaceTime calls. "She hugs the phone, but she can't do it in person," Moore said. "And for a little 18-month-old brain, I think she's trying to decipher between the two things."

Moore is also preparing for the difficult decision that is being made by pregnant women at hospitals across the country: whether to voluntarily separate from their newborns after birth should the mother test positive. "With all that we've gone through, there's no way I could risk his health just for my mental well-being. ... I can't imagine [separating from him]. But I also can't imagine burying my baby," she said.

- - -

Maranda Torres, 29

Maranda Torres was going through the car wash April 8 when she got the call from her hospital, informing her that five days earlier, she had taken care of a patient who tested positive for the coronavirus.

Suds dripped down the car as Torres, a labor and delivery nurse, struggled to keep panic from her voice. She thought about having exposed her children and her husband, who were all sitting beside her. At 18 weeks pregnant, she worried about the baby in her belly.

Save for a headache and high blood pressure, the patient had been asymptomatic, and her positive status was only discovered when she was tested after being transferred to a different hospital before giving birth. Torres was lucky that she didn't take care of the patient during labor, during which the virus can be aerosolized. To be safe, she got tested. The result was negative.

Throughout the pandemic, hospital administrations have patched and repatched policies to reflect emerging knowledge about the virus. Now, patients coming into her hospital can opt to be tested before coming in to give birth.

For Torres, helping women deliver while pregnant during the pandemic has resulted in an information overload. But overall, she sees her work as a learning experience for taking care of herself and her baby. "I would rather have too much information than not enough at this point. So I think it's very good for me to be exposed to the hospital world," she said.

And she hopes the pandemic can be a teaching moment for her kids, too. They know that if they come in contact with other people, they need to change in the garage to avoid bringing germs into the house, and they need to shower immediately. Torres hopes that some of the new behaviors, such as thorough hand-washing, become lifelong habits.

When the pandemic has passed, two of her five children may be too young to remember anything from this time. So she envisions one day gathering her family together, so the older kids can tell the younger ones the story of how they survived.

- - -

Hannah Goodwin, 29

The Goodwins were considering the names Theo, Arlo, Miles and Milo for their second child. But when their 2-year-old daughter unexpectedly yelled out, "Come on, George!" during an ultrasound, they decided to look up the meaning. "To tend or heal the earth," they read. It seemed to encapsulate what was needed in a world seething under a pandemic and racial conflict.

Even before being born, George has been a force for healing in Hannah Goodwin's life. As the virus spread, the wave of panic that washed over the world crashed down hard on Goodwin, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and other psychological traumas. Periods of change tended to trigger her. And in March, the helplessness, isolation and uncertainty flooded her with a potency she hadn't experienced since adolescence.

The anxiety attacks were hitting almost every day. One night, she lay in bed unable to fall asleep, finally walking in the dark into George's nursery. She rubbed her belly in slow circles and began to talk to him for the first time. "Mommy's going to be strong for you," she told him. "We're already overcoming this challenge together. I don't know what things are going to look like, but I'm here for you."

As the birds started chirping ahead of sunrise, she realized she had made it through one of her toughest nights by drawing strength from her bond with her child.

Because of her history of abuse, Goodwin never felt like her body was her own. "Birth was the first experience I ever had where I felt the power and self-autonomy and beauty that a female body could have," she said. About half of the clients she works with as a doula have also had a history of trauma. She works with them on identifying triggers and helping them feel safe during childbirth.

These days, Goodwin spends a lot of time with her daughter, Vivienne, in the garden, a place where she finds peace. In a particularly bad moment of anxiety, her own doula had asked her to go there and pick something out - to watch the wind blow it, to spend time with it. She chose her purple passion flowers.

Now, she remembers her doula's words: "In nature, things unfold slowly, . . . but if taken care of, the flower will bloom."

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Republicans are biting the Democrats' helping hand

By e.j. dionne jr.
Republicans are biting the Democrats' helping hand

E.J. DIONNE JR. COLUMN

Advance for release Thursday, June 2, and thereafter

(For Dionne clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By E.J. DIONNE JR.

(c) 2020, The Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- You probably missed this news story:

(BEG ITAL)Democrats in Congress, longing to remove Donald Trump from the White House, refused to pass any legislation to keep the economy from collapsing. Their Senate leader made the objective clear by declaring that "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Trump to be a one-term president."

Then, sheepishly, the leader added: "I don't want the president to fail; I want him to change."(END ITAL)

Of course you missed it because this is not what is happening. As historically minded readers recall, the two quotations above, with the word "Obama" replacing the word "Trump," came from Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., now the Senate Majority Leader, in his infamous Oct. 23, 2010, interview with National Journal.

The underappreciated story in Congress is that it's Democrats who want to do the most to limit the economic damage caused by COVID-19 while McConnell's Republican Party slow-walks action.

This reality should inform negotiations on the new round of relief that the country requires -- and that those most battered by the economic downturn desperately need. The paradox is that if Democrats play hardball on behalf of a larger package and more assistance to the most vulnerable, as they must, they will be making Trump's reelection a little bit easier.

They should thus insist that the $3 trillion relief bill that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already pushed through should set the terms of the discussion. McConnell can say he'll ignore the House bill, but guess what? The man who most needs Congress to act is the Republican in the Oval Office. If McConnell wants to foil a genuinely bipartisan agreement, the failure will be on him, his party, and his president.

The unusual politics of the moment create an unusual opportunity. The massive collapse of economic activity has brought home the inadequacy of our system of social insurance. Most wealthy democracies have far more robust forms of relief that kick in automatically when times get bad.

Congress should thus be thinking big, as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., were doing on Wednesday when they introduced a bill that would continue enhanced unemployment insurance benefits until the jobless rate drops below certain levels. They would measure this state-by-state, so that states experiencing a slower recovery would get help longer. With 33 million Americans either receiving or waiting for unemployment benefits, we know this assistance will be needed well into 2021, and perhaps beyond.

The key question in the coming weeks will be how big the new package will be, and whether it does enough to help Americans being hammered the hardest. McConnell will likely agree to support aid to states and localities, if only because Republican governors desperately need it. He may back modest extensions in unemployment insurance, some money for health care providers and virus research, and maybe new $1,200 relief checks to which Trump can again affix his name.

If he does this and little else, many forms of help will fall by the wayside. Why, for example, do Republicans continue to resist needed funding increases for SNAP, the food stamp program? Does any Republican really want to say, "The one thing I refuse to do in a deep recession is to make sure that people, especially children, have enough to eat"?

The same logic applies to renters as state moratoriums on evictions expire and a ban on evictions in federally supported housing ends toward the end of July. We also need to increase help for the least well off through the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. And Congress should consider the flexible emergency fund proposed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to help states target emergency assistance to families confronting dire hardship.

Then there are the millions who are losing their health insurance. Trump continues to ask the courts to destroy the Affordable Care Act. The House went the right way this week by voting to expand it while Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., wants more federal help for state Medicaid systems coping with the pandemic.

McConnell and his friends will no doubt cry hypocritical tears about deficits they never worry about when they're handing tax breaks to the wealthy. But, yes, let's think about the long term: If Congress doesn't act boldly now, with an amount of money closer to the level the House has proposed, the resulting damage to the economy and to our most vulnerable citizens will linger for many years.

We know the only thing Trump cares about is reelection. He may soon realize that his best interests lie in calling McConnell and telling him: If Pelosi and Schumer are willing to help me, give them what they want.

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Blue and red states should stop shaming each other on their covid-19 response - we're in this together.

By megan mcardle
Blue and red states should stop shaming each other on their covid-19 response - we're in this together.

MEGAN MCARDLE COLUMN

Advance for release Thursday, July 2, 2020, and thereafter

(For McArdle clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By MEGAN MCARDLE

WASHINGTON -- Residents of blue-state urban centers have warned for months that Florida was fated to experience an explosion of COVID-19 cases. Only recently, however, has Florida vindicated their prophecy. Just as the urbanites are finally emerging from their lockdown cocoons, Floridians, Texans and Arizonans who have been out and about for much longer are scurrying back into their homes as coronavirus outbreaks fill their hospitals.

Things got a little heated during those early lockdowns, as the urbanites escalated their doomsaying, and mask-shaming and the general implication that anyone who fails to socially distance is basically trying to kill grandma. Red-staters offered their own invective in return: COVID-19 fears were the mass hysteria of an effete over-class who collectively panicked at a disease not much worse than a nasty flu; or, worse, a plot ginned up by elites desperate to deny President Donald Trump reelection; or maybe COVID-19 was terrible, but only if you live in a crowded city like New York.

I am sorry to report that the blue-staters have not entirely put the past behind them to commiserate with their fellow Americans over our common affliction. Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo could cite real public health concerns when considering whether to impose a quarantine on people traveling to his state from Florida, but there's also perhaps a little glee at the prospect of returning the favor to Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who ordered arriving New Yorkers to quarantine in March.

Similarly, a lot of people are suddenly demanding to know how Florida could have let this happen when it had all the warning in the world. (BEG ITAL)Why didn't Arizona heed the experience of New York? What made Texas think it was special?(END ITAL) On one level, the question is sincere, and the people asking are no doubt worried about sick and dying Sun Belters. But as in so many intra-familial disputes, that concern is tinged with grievance - and self-congratulation.

Yes, they seem to say, New York suffered worse than anywhere else in the country, but it was blindsided by a fast-moving virus. Red states had New York's example in front of them, and plenty of time to prepare, and they wasted it. Instead, they acted as if COVID-19 was someone else's problem - as if, Stanford professor Keith Humphreys remarked, one could safely swim in the "no peeing" section of the pool. (BEG ITAL)Whatever we suffered,(END ITAL)they imply,(BEG ITAL)at least we couldn't have known what was coming.(END ITAL)

But let's remember that it isn't just red states - California, which locked down along with its blue-state brethren, is also experiencing a spike. Moreover, to the extent that denialism is to blame, red states are not the only ones that dabbled in that sort of delusion. New York, too, had more warning than it used. Officials could have acted earlier, shut down much more thoroughly and probably prevented thousands of unnecessary deaths. That the city and state governments did not was a product of magical thinking among public health officials and politicians, who saw what was happening in Wuhan, China, in the winter and somehow decided that the real threat was seasonal flu, or racism, or panic, rather than the deadly coronavirus that was even then spreading silently here.

True, New York had only a few examples of how bad things could get, while Texas and Arizona saw events play out across much of the globe. But then, Texas, Arizona, Florida and a dozen other states had to leap a peculiar psychological hurdle that New Yorkers didn't: their own experience. People in those places were inundated with dire predictions of the outbreaks sure to follow their much-photographed spring-break beach parties or Easter church services. The threats repeatedly fizzled, so they rushed to reopen while states that had been hit harder stayed locked down.

In hindsight, those governors probably wish they'd kept restrictions tighter, just as in hindsight, I'd bet that Bill de Blasio wishes he'd locked down New York City in early February. But it's not really all that strange to act as if things are different where you are when they actually are different. In fact, it's quite hard for a government to maintain draconian public health policies to control an outbreak that's raging a thousand miles away.

If you live in a blue state and still find this incomprehensible, ask yourself whether your city should lock down again, now that Texas, Arizona and Florida seem to be soaring out of control. For what was true for them, then, is true for us, now: No matter how far away the virus seems, it's as close as the next flight or road trip. If they are us, three months ago, then there's a good chance that we will be them, three months hence. Either we all control this thing, or we all fail to; in this pool, we float or sink together.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

New data reveal how many poor Americans were deprived of $500 stimulus payment for their children

By michelle singletary
New data reveal how many poor Americans were deprived of $500 stimulus payment for their children

MICHELLE SINGLETARY COLUMN

Advance for release Wednesday, July 1, 2020, and thereafter

(For Singletary clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By MICHELLE SINGLETARY

(c) 2020, The Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- Carmen Rodriguez was looking forward to receiving a much-needed stimulus payment for the two grandchildren she's raising. The family lives on about $2,000 a month in Supplemental Security Income.

The Philadelphia resident is among many parents, grandparents and guardians who haven't received promised stimulus payments for their children, despite providing the IRS with dependent information.

"It's even harder to make ends meet during the pandemic," said Rodriquez, who was expecting a $1,000 stimulus payment, $500 for each child. "Food and household supplies are more expensive now, and we cannot afford everything we need. I tried to follow the proper instructions to receive this necessary help."

The Cares Act provides economic impact payments up to $1,200 for individuals and up to $2,400 for taxpayers filing a joint tax return. The law also includes an extra $500 for each child under 17.

But the distribution has been plagued by glitches - including missing or incorrect payments for dependent children. And these $500 payments were supposed to go to some of the most economically fragile Americans.

A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the IRS made $1.4 billion in stimulus payments to dead people. The report also revealed that from April 10 to May 17, some stimulus payment calculations did not include additional money for qualifying children, even though the recipients had correctly submitted information about their dependents to the IRS. The incomplete payments went to people who aren't required to file a federal tax return because of their low income.

IRS officials initially told the GAO that up to 450,000 low-income people did not receive the money they were due for dependent children. During testimony to the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig revised the figure down to 365,000.

The IRS told the GAO it was "working to identify and adjust the accounts" and would make the missing payments for dependent children by the end of July.

That is good news for the hundreds of thousands of individuals who gave the IRS dependent information that the agency didn't capture. But there are still potentially millions of other low-income Americans - non-filers - who may not get the extra $500 for children until next year.

Those at risk of being left behind include Willard McGruder, 63, who is raising two young grandsons on the $1,400 Social Security Disability Insurance payment he receives each month.

The boys' mother is incarcerated, but she told her father from jail that he would be getting the $500 for each boy to help with their care. He wouldn't have known otherwise. "I've had these kids almost 17 months, day and night, caring for them all by myself, McGruder said in an interview.

Because many low-income people receiving certain federal benefits are not required to file tax returns, the IRS has no way of knowing they have qualifying dependent children. This dilemma led to the agency creating a special online non-filers tool to help process stimulus payments.

Individuals receiving certain federal benefits - Social Security retirement benefits, survivor or disability benefits, or Railroad Retirement benefits - automatically received stimulus payments even if they didn't file tax returns. But they were required to go online and use the non-filers tool to claim the extra $500 they were owed for each dependent child.

In a much-criticized move, the IRS issued a special alert on April 20 on its website giving the group around 48 hours to claim their $500 payments. If they missed that very short window, they would have to wait until 2021 to get the money. Keep in mind that there was no direct communication with any of the federal benefit recipients about the tight deadline.

The IRS set another deadline of May 5 for people who receive Supplemental Security Income or Veterans Affairs benefits to claim their dependent children.

"A lot of people just had no idea that there was some sort of form that they had to fill out," Jennifer Burdick, an attorney with the Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, said in an interview. "A lot of my clients also are not going to be able to fill out an online computer tax form. This form is very hard to use on a cellphone."

The IRS said it rushed the process to ensure the additional $500 for dependents was included with $1,200 adult payments. The agency initially decided that once a stimulus payment has been issued, it would not send out a separate, supplemental payment for eligible children.

But the tax agency then reversed that decision because of its error, moving to send secondary payments to those who used the non-filers tool by May 17. When pressed by senators Tuesday, Rettig said: "We're sympathetic with these issues. . . . It's not an easy thing for us to accomplish."

But he would not commit to sending out the supplemental payment to low-income beneficiaries who have already received their $1,200.

Burdick said that wasn't enough. "I'm glad that the IRS has agreed to issue supplemental payments to some parents and caretakers, but their decision doesn't go far enough to help parents and caretakers who couldn't use the portal because of their disabilities, lack of computer access, or lack of notice," Burdick said. "The IRS appears to agree that the intent of the payments is to help as many families, as soon as possible. If that's the case, they should be willing to make supplemental payments right away to all parents and caretakers who haven't received payments for their children."

It's particularly important to get those payments out now, because by 2021, some of the children will age out of eligibility to receive stimulus funds, pointed out former taxpayer advocate Nina Olson.

"They've got the discretion," Olson said in an interview. "The statute doesn't say, 'make only one payment in 2020.' Some of these people are going to experience irreparable harm because they will lose eligibility for that payment and not because they did anything wrong."

By the time McGruder's daughter told him about the dependent payments, it was too late. He missed the deadline by two days.

"I was going to use the money to buy food and clothes," McGruder said in an interview. "I just wish they could get the money to me now."

---

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary). Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Better to let Trump talk than be unpleasantly surprised

By kathleen parker
Better to let Trump talk than be unpleasantly surprised

KATHLEEN PARKER COLUMN

Advance for release July 1, 2020, Wednesday and thereafter

(For Parker clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By KATHLEEN PARKER

(c) 2020, The Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- Few would argue that the cat's got Donald Trump's tongue.

He talks all the time. The president is so full of words that he needs multiple outlets. When his mouth isn't moving, he's tweeting. Or, in the annals of the unbeknownst, he's twitching. Yes, (BEG ITAL)twitching(END ITAL). Give the man credit for being (BEG ITAL)au courant(END ITAL) when it comes to social media.

Twitch, for the not-so-trendy, is Amazon's streaming platform, which the company purchased for nearly $1 billion in 2014. Amazon's founder, Jeff Bezos, who owns the Washington Post, is also a Trump arch-enemy. Trump has had an account since 2019, using his channel to post rallies and speeches. But recently, in a move sure to trouble free-speech connoisseurs, Twitch suspended Trump's account for "hateful conduct" related to his speeches.

I realize it's hard to miss something you didn't know existed (my hand is raised), but Twitch seems less virtuous than politically pragmatic. Trump's behavior is hardly new and his words, though often a syllabic tangle of wandering logic, haven't suddenly become offensive.

In defining "hateful conduct," Twitch leaves no base uncovered. It means "any content or activity that promotes, encourages, or facilitates discrimination, denigration, objectification, harassment, or violence based on … race, ethnicity, national origin; religion; sex, gender, gender identity; sexual orientation; age; disability or serious medical condition; veteran status." Any hateful conduct is considered "a zero-tolerance violation."

Otherwise known as "Donald J. Trump," in other words.

One example cited by Twitch comes from candidate Trump's 2015 speech in which he referred to immigrant Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers, as well as some who are "good people." This statement has become an oft-repeated indictment of the president's perceived xenophobia, racist-nationalist attitudes and his approach to governing.

Trump is notoriously clumsy with the English language, granted, but his supporters believe they know what he meant. Here's my translation: (BEG ITAL)If we don't strengthen our U.S.-Mexican border, criminals, including drug traffickers and rapists, will slip through along with the many good people who wish to live in the greatest country on Earth.(BEG ITAL) Full stop.

That doesn't sound hateful, does it? Without defending Trump, one can at least attempt to be fair. And, while we're at it, we in the media might try to avoid further undermining our credibility. When (BEG ITAL)they( END ITAL) know that (BEG ITAL)we(END ITAL) know what Trump really means, despite his obviously deteriorating facility with the King's English, distrust in "fake news" becomes reflexive and, ultimately, disastrous. What good is served by the legitimate, fact-checked media if those most in need of reliable information are turned off?

Censoring the president of the United States, even by a non-governmental entity enforcing its own rules of civility, is fraught with potential for collateral damage. Hate or nefarious purposes once revealed in daylight are banished to the darkness where they fester and become more foul. Suppressing someone's thoughts, especially the president's, leads to a suppression of public debate. As Syracuse University's Roy S. Gutterman (and others before him) have put it, the answer to hate speech is more speech.

It isn't the responsibility of social media companies to sanitize the village square, but does that mean they have no responsibility for content? Public opinion may be mixed, but pressures are mounting for companies to step up and clean up their communities. Advertisers, under the banner "Stop Hate for Profit," have begun boycotting Facebook because of its refusal to block the president's posts. Some companies have extended their boycott to rivals, including Twitter.

Reddit went further than Twitch and banned the pro-Trump community or "subreddit" account - "The_Donald" -- along with 2,000 other online communities in a "hate speech" crackdown. CEO Steve Huffman explained that users of the subreddit had been violating the company's policies for years.

So, why take a hard stand now? Politics, of course. Also, George Floyd's death while in police custody has led to a culture-wide awakening and a sense that America needs to clean up its act, not just concerning police brutality or systemic racism but everyday conduct that, untamed, cements a general coarsening and disregard for the human community.

It's about time, though I'd rather we eliminate foul language from the streets and airwaves, than worry about potentially hurtful speech. What is speech but the expression of thoughts? And, how, exactly, should we purge people's unacceptable thoughts?

Such is the quandary of a free society, and so my free thought is this: Let everybody talk, especially the president of the United States, so that we know exactly what they are thinking. Better that than to be unpleasantly surprised.

Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Could America's pandemic response be any more medieval?

By dana milbank
Could America's pandemic response be any more medieval?

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

Advance for release Wednesday, July 1, 2020, and thereafter

(For Milbank clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Dana Milbank

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second Milbank column moving today.

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Rand Paul doesn't much care what Anthony Fauci has to say. The Kentucky Republican gets his public health advice from Friedrich Hayek.

Hayek, the Austrian-born economist and libertarian hero, died in 1992. But Paul, an ophthalmologist before he took up politics, still takes medical guidance from the 20th-century philosopher.

"Hayek had it right!" Paul proclaimed at Tuesday's Senate health committee hearing on the coronavirus pandemic. "Only decentralized power and decision-making based on millions of individualized situations can arrive at what risks and behaviors each individual should choose."

Paul focused his wrath on Fauci, the U.S. government's top infectious-disease official. "Virtually every day we seem to hear from you things we can't do," Paul complained. "All I hear is, we can't do this, we can't do that, we can't play baseball."

Fauci assured Paul that "I never said we can't play a certain sport."

Unsatisfied, Paul demanded: "We just need more optimism."

So that's what we need. The United States is hitting new records for infection, largely because President Donald Trump and allied governors across the South and Southwest ignored public health guidance. While other countries beat back the virus, we're on course to have 100,000 new cases a day, Fauci said, and doing little about it. But we just need to be more upbeat!

Not for the first time, it feels as though 21st-century America is 14th-century Europe, reacting with all manner of useless countermeasures to the plague: balancing ill "humors" and dispelling evil "vapors" caused by planetary misalignment, religious marches and public self-flagellation, cures involving live chickens and unicorns, and the wearing of amulets and reciting of "abracadabra."

Now, we have science to tell us how to beat the coronavirus -- with face masks and social distancing. Yet our response is resolutely medieval.

The president ridicules mask wearing as politically correct and unmanly. His campaign staff tears down social distancing signs at his mass rally. Governors of hard-hit states tamper with data, sideline public health experts and blame the spread on Latino farmworkers, civil rights demonstrations and increased testing -- anything but their reckless and premature relaxing of restrictions.

And then there's Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House coronavirus task force. "I'd just encourage every American to continue to pray," he said at Friday's task force briefing.

I'm all for prayer. But prayer without face masks won't defeat the virus.

"The attitude of pushing back from authority and pushing back on scientific data is very concerning," Fauci told senators Tuesday, bemoaning a "lack of trust" in government. "We're in the middle of a catastrophic outbreak and we really do need to be guided by scientific principles."

A lack of urgency about the virus caused the testing debacle. A lack of regard for science caused the hydroxychloroquine debacle. A contempt for public health advice caused the reopening debacle. A president's vanity caused the anti-face-mask debacle. An immunology debacle likely comes next: If Trump rushes out a vaccine before the election, would anybody believe it's safe?

Belatedly, more than a dozen states have paused or scaled back their rash plans to reopen without heeding public health guidance. But we still have the White House proclaiming "remarkable progress" against the pandemic because the latest victims are younger - as though they won't infect the old and the sick. Trump insists he wasn't joking when he said he told health officials to "slow the testing down" to suppress the number of reported cases. He's proceeding with plans for an in-person, mask-optional convention in Florida, now a virus hot spot.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis blames street protests (even though New York, Washington and Minneapolis experienced no such surge in cases) and "overwhelmingly Hispanic" workers, and as cases spiked last week, he claimed that "nothing has changed." Like other GOP governors and the Trump administration, he also blames an increase in testing - which doesn't explain the higher rate of positive tests.

Pence, too, rejects the obvious conclusion that "the reopening has to do with what we're seeing" in the viral spread. (It's the evil vapors!) He said Sunday that it's a "good idea" to wear face masks -- just after attending a church event at which half the 2,200 people, including the choir, eschewed masks.

At Tuesday's committee hearing, Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who is retiring, urged Trump to "occasionally wear a mask" so his admirers "would follow his lead and help end this political debate."

But neither Alexander's pleadings, nor those of the various health officials testifying, are likely to break down America's medieval resistance to science. Paul, citing the successful reopening of schools in Europe, demanded U.S. schools reopen (ignoring that Europe has contained the virus). Invoking the superiority of Hayek's theories to the findings of public health officials, Paul said "we shouldn't presume that a group of experts somehow knows what's best."

Hayek must be right. After all, he never got COVID-19.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

James G. Blaine has another bad day

By george f. will
James G. Blaine has another bad day

GEORGE F. WILL COLUMN

Advance for release Thursday, July 2, 2020, and thereafter

(For Will clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

WRITETHRU: In 3rd and 6th graf, fixes to "Tuesday" (sted Monday)

By GEORGE F. WILL

(c) 2020, The Washington Post

(BEG ITAL)Blaine, Blaine,

James G. Blaine

The continental liar from the state of Maine.

Burn this letter!

-- Democratic campaign doggerel, 1884(END ITAL)

Because of his grandiloquence, House Speaker Blaine was called "the Plumed Knight" by a man suggesting Blaine's nomination at the Republicans' 1876 convention. Despite Blaine's participation in the fragrant politics of the Gilded Age, when railroads showed their gratitude to helpful legislators (hence Blaine's instruction concerning an inconvenient letter), he eventually came close to being called "Mr. President."

But in 1884, after he had been a senator and secretary of state and was at last his party's nominee, a supporter, a prominent protestant minister, characterized Democrats as the party of "rum, Romanism and rebellion." Catholics - waves of whom had been arriving for decades as immigrants, many settling in New York - voted their umbrage. Blaine lost New York, and hence the presidency (to New Yorker Grover Cleveland), by 1,047 votes out of more than a million cast.

On Tuesday, 127 years after his death, Blaine had another bad day. The U.S. Supreme Court held, 5-4, that a Montana policy based on the state constitution's "Blaine Amendment" violates the U.S. Constitution.

In 2015, Montana's legislature, seeking "to provide parental and student choice in education," enacted a program similar to ones in 18 other states - a small (up to $150) tax credit for individuals and businesses donating to private, nonprofit organizations that dispense scholarships to help children attend private schools. Children like those of Kendra Espinoza, a single mother and office assistant, who took a second job, as a janitor, to enable her two daughters to attend a non-denominational (not Catholic) school. The Institute for Justice's libertarian litigators supported her when she challenged Montana's Department of Revenue ruling that scholarship recipients could not use their funds at the 70% of Montana private schools that are religious.

The department, validated by the state Supreme Court, said this prohibition was required by Montana's constitutional stricture (adopted in 1884, readopted in 1972, and similar to 36 other states' provisions) that no "direct or indirect" public monies shall be spent "for any sectarian purpose" or to support any institution "controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination." Such "Blaine amendments" - so named because of his pandering to anti-Catholic (a subset of anti-immigrant) sentiment - were widely adopted, and for a while were required by Congress for the constitutions of new states entering the union. Protestants resented the impertinence of Catholics who founded schools that taught their faith as forthrightly as public schools ("nurseries of piety," said many 19th century educators) then taught Protestantism via the King James Version of the Bible.

On Tuesday, Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by the other conservatives (Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh), held that Montana had violated the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of the free exercise of religion: "A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious." Social conservatives might suspend, for a moment, their despair that Roberts and Gorsuch have defected to the Dark Side.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined in dissent by Elena Kagan (Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor also dissented), said that Montana did not make the decision that Roberts said it made. Because Montana's Supreme Court had struck down the entire scholarship program, all private-school parents were "in the same boat," so the U.S. Supreme Court "had no occasion to address the matter."

Perhaps, but Roberts's language will splendidly annoy the annoying teachers unions, which oppose choice programs that dilute the public-school monopoly: Roberts said that parents have a constitutionally protected right to direct their children's "religious upbringing" by sending their children to religious schools.

The court has split many hairs about tangential contacts between government and religious schools. When it held that government can fund religious schools' textbooks but not maps, a bemused Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1978 wondered: What about atlases, which are books of maps? The good news, especially today, is: Fevers - those of cranky secularists as well as anti-Catholic bigots - burn out.

Blaine exploited a longstanding prejudice. As early as 1855, Massachusetts's governor, the entire state Senate and all but three members of the state House were members of the anti-Catholic Know-Nothing Party, and the legislature's Nunnery Committee searched for underground dungeons in convents. Today, Blaine's portrait hangs in the U.S. Capitol's Speaker's Lobby, unmolested by the cancel culture's enforcers, who probably admire his truculent spirit.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

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