Trump’s COVID Coordinator: White House Failures Killed ~450K

Wave 4 vs. the vaccination surge + NC Dems want redistricting reform + NC Republicans are hooked on phonics + Fox gives Lara Trump a head start + keep Durham eating outdoors, please

Tues., March 30, 2021

Hola, amigos, and happy Tuesday.

Today’s Number: 90

In percent, the degree to which CDC researchers say the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are successful at preventing symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID infection under real-life conditions.

  • This indicates that it is extremely unlikely that fully vaccinated people can transmit the illness to unvaccinated people.

  • After one of two doses, the vaccines are 80% effective at preventing infection.


1. “Impending Doom”: Despite Vaccines, COVID Cases Rising

The vaccines work (see above). We’re vaccinating millions of people a day. Within three weeks, there will be a vaccination site within five miles of 90% of Americans. Within two months—two months!—every adult can be fully innoculated. Our long national nightmare is almost over. There is light at the end of the tunnel. We just have to hang in there …

And yet:

  • According to a New York Times database, the seven-day average of new virus cases as of Sunday was about 63,000, a level comparable to late October, and up from 54,000 a day two weeks earlier, an increase of more than 16 percent.”

  • “Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, issued perhaps her most impassioned warning to date about a possible fourth surge of the coronavirus, saying she felt a recurring sense of ‘impending doom.’ The nation has ‘so much reason for hope,’ she said, her voice trembling with emotion. ‘But right now I’m scared.’”

  • “President Biden on Monday called on governors and mayors to maintain or reinstate mask-wearing orders, saying that because of ‘reckless behavior,’ the coronavirus was again spreading fast, threatening the progress the nation has made so far against the pandemic. ‘People are letting up on precautions, which is a very bad thing,’ he said. ‘We are giving up hard-fought, hard-won gains.’” (NYT)

  • In the words of Indiana Jones: Don’t get cocky, kid.


On Sunday, CNN aired an illuminating, infuriating documentary featuring interviews with six Trump administration medical officials, including Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx. There was a lot of ass-covering. But the one thing they all agreed on: Trump lied, people died.

  • “‘When we said there were millions of tests available, there weren’t, right?’ said Brett Giroir, who served as the nation’s coronavirus testing czar, referencing the administration’s repeated claims in March 2020 that anyone who sought a coronavirus test could get one.”

  • “People really believed in the White House that testing was driving cases, rather than testing was a way for us to stop cases,” said Deborah Birx, who served as White House coronavirus coordinator. Birx also said that most of the virus-related deaths in the United States after the first 100,000 in the spring surge could have been prevented with a more robust response.” (WaPo)

  • That’s more than 450,000 deaths.

  • Trump responded with his expected grace and tact.

2. NC Dems Propose Redistricting Amendment

File this one under: Maybe if they’d won the Senate. Rep. Pricey Harrison and some other Dems have introduced a bill that would give voters a chance to decide on a “fair districts” amendment next November. If it passes, the amendment would create an independent commission to handle redistricting rather than the General Assembly.

  • It won’t pass.

  • It doesn’t matter that the bill would allow Republicans to gerrymander the hell out of districts for this decade. It doesn’t matter that it’s popular.

  • “Republican Senate leader Phil Berger said, after Republicans kept their legislative majority in the 2020 election, that he would back some changes, but not an independent commission, for the next round of redistricting.” (N&O)

  • Again, nothing like this will pass until Republicans believe their hold on power is threatened.


  • Following Georgia’s lead—always a grand idea—Florida is considering an elections bill that would make it illegal to give water to voters standing in line. (NBC News)

3. NCGA Wants to Mandate Phonics

Not having kids, I had no idea there was a huge battle in education academia over phonics versus a “whole language” approach to teaching kids to read, or that most U.S. schools were using “balanced literacy.” I spent way too much time yesterday reading about this stuff. For my fellow uninitiateds:

  • Phonics teaches kids to associate sounds with letters.

  • Whole language “primarily focuses on the meaning of words presented in text. Teachers are expected to provide a literacy-rich environment for their students and to combine speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Students are taught to use critical thinking strategies and to use context to guess words that they do not recognize.”

  • Balanced literacy is supposed to merge the two.

The education establishment is swinging hard toward phonics these days, but it’s not without detractors, who say phonics’s “one-size-fits-all program [will] never be adequate nor appropriate for all children,” whereas balanced literacy “centers the learner as instructional decisions are made based on the child's individual needs.”

  • “The standardization of reading instruction in the form of heavy phonics will come at the expense of engaging children in meaningful reading and writing experiences that will deepen their comprehension and develop them as lifelong readers.”

Obviously, what’s needed here is the expertise and gentle touch of the North Carolina General Assembly.

  • “North Carolina Senate Republican leaders want schools to emphasize the use of phonics to help deal with how many young children are having challenges learning to read. The Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021, which was filed on Monday, requires Pre-K and elementary school teachers to be trained in the ‘science of reading,’ a method of reading instruction that stresses phonics.”

  • “The legislation comes as reading scores have dropped in the state despite the efforts of the Read To Achieve program to improve early childhood literacy.” (The Read to Achieve program is Phil Berger’s baby. But since its adoption in 2013, reading scores have declined.)

  • The bill—which will use federal COVID money to retrain teachers—has the support of the superintendent of public instruction, Republican Catherine Truitt, a phonics backer.

  • “Truitt said ‘balanced literacy’ is used by 75% of the nation’s teachers and has caused a crisis of illiteracy, disproportionately impacting low-income students. She said schools need to go back to teaching using phonics, which she said has been proven by research to work and is based on how the brain works.” (N&O)

4. Fox News Gives Lara Trump In-Kind Donation

Lara Trump hasn’t yet announced her campaign for Richard Burr’s Senate seat. But while Republican Mark Walker is busting it on the trail and Pat McCrory watches from the sidelines, Rupert Murdoch’s Propaganda Machine has given the frontrunner-in-waiting the gift they could only dream of: a Fox News gig.

  • She’ll be a paid “contributor,” meaning she chimes in whenever they want a Trump to do so.

  • She gets a direct conduit and a chance to prove her conservative bona fides to the Fox viewers who will decide the GOP primary. That alone is worth millions in advertising, and it will save her the hard work of reintroducing herself to North Carolina once she relocates here. (She currently lives in New York.)

  • She’ll not only be a Trump, but she’ll be a member of the Fox fam. They’ll shower her with praise throughout the campaign.

  • Of course this decision raises a million journalism ethics questions, but hey, it’s Fox. They don’t care.


  • North Carolina’s soon-to-be-senior-senator, Thom Tillis, announced that he’s been diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer and will undergo surgery next week. I wish him well—and I wish he’d consider that by expanding Medicaid, hundreds of thousands of low-income men would have access to the kind of preventative care that might allow doctors to catch their prostate cancer early, too. (N&O)

5. Expand Outdoor Dining Forever

To accommodate struggling restaurant owners during the pandemic, Durham passed rules allowing them to set up outdoor seating on streets and parking decks and in parks and alleys—wherever, really. But those rules are set to expire in June. Now, restauranteurs are lobbying the city to make the pandemic rules permanent.

  • It’s about money: Even with indoor capacity back at 100%, they’ve got a year’s worth of losses to claw back. The extra seating helps.

  • It’s also about aesthetic: “We hear all the time about how much [diners] love this program, how they love sitting outdoors, how it makes them feel like a really cosmopolitan, vibrant space,” COPA’s Elizabeth Turnbull told WRAL.

  • Mayor Steve Schewel says he’s open to the idea, for the most part. Not dining in parks or bus zones. But “is the best use of that real estate in front of a restaurant the ability to park two cars there? I think that’s something we really need to rethink.”

  • Rule of thumb: There are almost always better uses for downtown streets than parking. For that matter, there are almost always better uses than cars (especially at night).


  • Forty-two employees of Duke University Press signed an open letter announcing their intention to unionize, citing “constant turnover, extended vacancies, disruptive reorganizations, lack of professional growth opportunities, patterns of discrimination, inconsistent enforcement of policies, and compensation that is not commensurate with our quality of work and years of experience as professionals.”