We like to think that COVID has been banished ... but is it?

Posted 3/22/22

STORY OF THE WEEK: The approach of nicer spring weather makes it easy to think that COVID has been banished. But surges are sparking lockdowns in other parts of the world, and the Omicron BA.2 …

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We like to think that COVID has been banished ... but is it?


STORY OF THE WEEK: The approach of nicer spring weather makes it easy to think that COVID has been banished. But surges are sparking lockdowns in other parts of the world, and the Omicron BA.2 variant is gaining traction around the U.S. At the same time, the White House says it’s running out of money for COVID tests and vaccines. The good news is that more people may have immunity or reduced risk thanks to vaccination, and warmer weather provides an opening for more outside socializing. But more than 2,000 people get sick with COVID across the U.S. each day, as life-saving drugs sit on the shelves. Now that the nation is largely moving on, experts who follow the pandemic closely warn about the dangers of this happening too quickly, without money for a backup plan. As Ed Yong writes in The Atlantic, “The virus is invisible. The ruin it inflicts is hidden from public view. The pandemic has gone on for two long years, turning tragedy into routine and breeding fatalism from failure. Older, disabled, poor, Black, or brown Americans, whose excess deaths were tolerated long before COVID, have borne the brunt of the pandemic, while privileged people have had the swiftest access to medical interventions—and have been quickest to declare the crisis over. A country that so readily forgets its dead is surely prone to also forgetting the lessons of the all-too-recent past, setting itself up for further failure in an all-too-imminent future.”

JHA RULE: Boston might be the Hub, but here’s further evidence that Rhode Island is the center of the universe: Dr. Ashish Jha, lured away from Harvard to lead the School of Public Health at Brown University, was named as the new White House COVID adviser. The native of India, who became a ubiquitous media presence and whose Twitter is must-follow, will take a leave from Bruno Uno. In a statement, Brown President Christina Paxson said, “Ashish will bring to President Biden and our nation what he has brought — and will bring back — to Brown: an unrivaled commitment to improving public health equitably, effectively, creatively, with heart and a commitment to science. The work he has begun at the School of Public Health will continue, with the strong team he has recruited and the full support of the University. And it will advance even further with the benefit of this experience in national and global leadership.”

CABLE WARS: A battle erupted this week between Cox Communications, the big outfit that provides cable TV in Rhode Island, and some lawmakers. During a Newport news conference on Monday, Cox announced plans to “invest more than $120 million over the next 3 years to deliver multi-Gigabit symmetrical speeds over high-speed broadband connections to residents and businesses of Rhode Island. More than $20 million of the committed funds will go towards 100% fiber-optic build outs on the Aquidneck Island communities of Newport, Portsmouth, and Middletown, as well as Jamestown.” Reps. Deb Ruggiero (D-Jamestown), Lauren Carson (D-Newport) and Terri Cortvriend (D-Portsmouth) responded by questioning whether Cox was mostly engaged in a PR stunt to paper over gripes about lackluster service. “Is this really enough money to address the years of neglect?” asked Cortvriend. “I have many constituents complaining that their cable and internet bills have seen significant increases over the last few months and the service is still poor.” The New England Cable & Telecommunications Association defended Cox, saying that a reliance on public funding would invite other problems. As the debate continued over the merit of private vs public financed cable improvements, Ruggiero responded to the association, saying in part, “I’m a collaborator and look forward to a meeting with Cox and other stakeholders to discuss future municipal projects. Competition benefits all our constituents.”

RAIMONDO’S RECORD: Speaking of the Ocean State being at the center of it all, former Gov. Gina Raimondo returned to Rhode Island to give a lecture at Brown last week. That offered an opportunity for some rewinds of her time as governor. Critics who protested Raimondo’s visit distributed a bunch of news clips, including my story from last year on how Rhode Island still faced the same familiar economic challenges after six years of her leadership. In the Glober, Dan McGowan pointed to how one of Raimondo’s signature efforts, the proposed Lifespan-CNE merger, was rejected by regulators, and another, the state takeover of the Providence schools, hasn’t exactly shined. Elsewhere, as the ProJo’s Patrick Anderson reports, questions remain about the effectiveness of the incentive programs championed by Raimondo. So while the former governor has a full plate at Commerce – where she’s encouraging U.S. production of microchips and at the center of big issues involving the global economy, Rhode Island remains a work in progress.

GOP THUNDER: State Sen. Jessica de la Cruz (R-North Smithfield) used her campaign launch last week to emphasize her self-description as a regular person, a working mom and daughter of Portuguese immigrants who wants to fight for the everyday economic concerns of Rhode Islanders in Congress. By staging her event in Cranston, de la Cruz signaled that she’s aiming right at the former mayor of that city, Allan Fung, who is considered the favorite in a three-way CD2 GOP primary that also includes former Cranston Rep. Bob Lancia. In some ways, this race will resemble a Rorschach test for the RI GOP since de la Cruz may be more in step with past and present supporters of Donald Trump, while Fung, who wanted to be a Democrat early in his political career, has a more moderate profile.

DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY: Then there were two: about a week after Tina Spears unveiled a Democratic challenge for the state rep seat held by House Minority Leader Blake Filippi (R-New Shoreham) – his first challenger since 2014 – a second Democrat announced plans to run. Victoria Gu said she grew up in South Kingstown as the daughter of Chinese immigrants. In a news release, Gu said she chairs the Climate Resiliency Commission in Charlestown, adding, “As a professional software engineer and data analyst, Gu has worked on health technology ranging from training doctors to make better diagnoses to helping expectant mothers have a healthy pregnancy. In all her work, she and her team used a data-driven approach to decision-making. She wants to bring this evidence-based approach to the Rhode Island state legislature.”

BLACK BUSINESS: Lisa Ranglin, founder and president of the Rhode Island Black Business Association, sees a lot of unfinished business when it comes to promoting greater equity in the state. About $500,000 was spent on a 2021 study that documented a lack of compliance with the state’s Minority Business Enterprise/Women Business Enterprise law “to tell us what we already know,” Ranglin said on Political Roundtable -- and things have not improved since then. “I can tell you, the businesses that we’re serving, they’re shut out, and they are not gaining access.” Ranglin said her organization is calling on Attorney General Peter Neronha to do more to enforce the MBE/WBE compliance law. When it comes to the legacy of the discriminatory banking practice known as redlining, Ranglin said that only about a third of Black people in Rhode Island own their own home – a key for building generational wealth. She said racial-based differences for home lending persist, and that banks and credit unions need to do more to serve people of color. “It’s all about lip service, for years, and we’ve seen it,” she said, “and they can do better with creating products that actually work for underserved communities.”

BOOK CORNER: John Rathom might be the most fascinating Rhode Islander you’ve never heard of. This former ProJo editor – who played an outsized role in World War I” – is the subject of “The Imposter’s War: The Press, Propaganda, And The Newsman Who Battled For The Minds of America,” a great new book by old friend Mark Arsenault. Give a listen to my discussion with Mark about his first non-fiction effort, a project that he credits with helping to make the pandemic a lot more bearable.

RI SENATE: President Dominick Ruggerio’s team is championing legislation to bring universal pre-K to Rhode Island by June 2028 and to take other steps to strengthen early childhood education. Just the pre-K element will cost an estimated $120 million a year. So the challenge is getting this done, particularly if an expected funding source – President Biden’s Build Back Better initiative – doesn’t come to fruition.

KICKER: “How ‘The Godfather’ used Italian culture to reinvent the mafia story” – via NPR’s Eric Deggans: “Fifty years ago, The Godfather helped prove that authenticity made a movie better. That casting a big name in an epic film wasn’t as important as casting the person who best inhabits the character. ‘The Godfather’ bridged old and new Hollywood to save American moviegoing. And giving audiences the sense they were watching a Mafia story rooted in the culture of Italian immigrants, who had a code  imported from the old country, helped humanize the characters and make us care for them even more.”

Ian Donnis can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter @IanDon. To sign up for email delivery of his column, visit www.thepublicsradio.

politics, Donnis


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