A hurricane of misinformation

A hurricane of misinformation

As tropical storm Fred slammed into the Florida panhandle on Monday, a different type of storm was engulfing the Louisiana House Committee on Health and Welfare. Lawmakers were meeting to hear from medical professionals and state officials about the efforts to combat the latest surge in Covid-19 cases. But the hearing was overtaken by lawmakers and audience members who irresponsibly cast doubt on vaccinations and mask wearing, which help reduce the spread of the deadly virus. Just as warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico strengthen storms, misinformation strengthens these dangerous views. The Advocate editorial board notes that if we reacted to hurricanes the same way we’re fighting Covid, we would all drown. 

There would be less sandbagging, no stockpiling of emergency supplies, fewer lines at gas pumps. We would belittle the expertise of the hurricane center, and the meteorologists who have dedicated their lives to keeping us safe. If an evacuation were ordered, people would object and publicity-seeking politicians would rush into court. In August 2005 and 2016 and 2020, we overcame cruel storms by seeing ourselves as a community and appreciating our obligations to our state and our neighbors. This year, we seem to see ourselves as a collection of individuals, concerned chiefly with our own rights.

Lack of paid sick leave stymies vaccination efforts
Misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccine is arguably the lead contributor to low vaccination rates among Americans. But America’s labor policy choices also help the virus spread. Without paid leave, many low-income workers don’t have the ability to take time off to get the jab, or to deal with potential side effects. The Washington Post’s Eli Rosenberg and Jeff Stein explain

“There is a share of the public that does not want the vaccine, but among those in the wait-and-see group the lack of time off is a major problem,” said Ashley Kirzinger, associate director for the Public Opinion and Survey Research team at Kaiser. “And it disproportionately affects those with lower levels of income and those unable to take time off.” Daisy Berrospe, 30, the manager of a vaccine clinic run by La Clínica de La Raza, a nonprofit focused on the Latino and other underserved communities in Oakland, Calif. said it’s an issue they hear about regularly. “It’s a big deal — it’s either miss work and get the vaccine, or continue to go to work to keep up with your paycheck,” Berrospe said.

Polluters shouldn’t monitor themselves 
Far too often, the state agency charged with regulating pollution prioritizes the emitters of harmful toxins over the communities the agency is supposed to protect. In some instances, the Department of Environmental Quality actually lets chemical plants monitor their own emissions, which predictably leads to companies underreporting the toxic emissions they spew into local communities. Now, as The Advocate’s David J. Mitchell reports, U.S. Rep. Troy Carter is calling for an end to self-reporting of emissions in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley.

“Some business groups and community leaders, however, have claimed that data does not support certain labels placed on the communities in my district,” Carter, D-New Orleans, wrote to the EPA administrator on Aug. 12. “Until we fully understand what the impact of industrial emissions are on the health and safety of our environment and communities, we cannot begin to claim that upholding the health and safety of our constituents is our top priority.” In a statement, EPA officials said Monday that they and Carter “recognize that achieving environmental justice starts with improving our understanding of the impacts of pollution, especially in overburdened and historically underserved communities.”

Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, in a guest column for The Advocate, explains that deceptive tactics by polluters isn’t new, but reiterates how Louisiana has an opportunity to maintain its status as an energy state without harming the environment. 

We are an energy state, not just an oil and gas state. We have a climate change task force and are promoting offshore wind. Our coastal industries are building a wind-power sector and utilities are investing in renewables. Al Gore was right on climate. Louisiana is vulnerable to rising seas and damaging storms. We can fight climate change, develop new industries and jobs, and prosper. It is not too late.

BESE wants to shelve school letter grades 
Louisiana’ top school board voted on Monday to ask for federal approval to end school letter grades. Educators have been calling on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to shelve the grades, which are used to show the public how schools are performing, because of a sharp decline in student performance in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports

Backers of the request said this year’s test results are so flawed that it makes no sense to issue letter grades, and that the results also highlighted inequities among the 700,000 or so students on internet access for distance learning and other issues. “We are not sure the results are purposeful or accurate,” said Janet Pope, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association.

Number of the Day 
$36.24 – Average per-person increase in benefits for SNAP (formerly Food Stamps), following the modernization of the formula the U.S. Department of Agriculture uses to calculate the cost of a nutritious meal. This adjustment marks the largest ever increase in SNAP benefits—roughly $1.19 more in food benefits, per-person, per-day. (Source: The Advocate)