The media response to the COVID-19 pandemic has not exactly been stellar. While calling out President Donald Trump's pathetic pandemic job performance, the mainstream media has been unjustifiably kinder to Governor Andrew Cuomo. Ross Barkan has been the main exception here. Will they give Joe Biden a pass too?
When it comes to covering President Joe Biden's new travel restrictions, I was a little surprised to read a piece critical of the new restrictions in the NY Times.
This is from the Times, The Morning, by David Leonhardt:
Good morning. Travel restrictions have been one of the most effective pandemic responses — if they’re strict.
‘Viruses don’t care what passport you carry’
One of the biggest lessons of the pandemic has been the success of travel restrictions at reducing its spread. And this is a moment when they have the potential to be particularly effective in the U.S., given the emergence of even more dangerous coronavirus variants in other countries.
President Biden seems to realize this, and has reinstated some travel restrictions that President Donald Trump lifted just before leaving office.
It’s not yet clear whether Biden will impose the kind of strict rules that have worked best elsewhere. So far, he has chosen a middle ground between Trump’s approach and the approaches with the best global track record.
Many of the places that have contained the virus have relied on travel restrictions. The list includes Australia, Ghana, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Canada’s four Atlantic provinces. At key points, they imposed severe restrictions on who could enter.
There is a crucial word in that sentence: severe. Travel bans work only when countries don’t allow a lot of exceptions.
Barring citizens of other countries while freely allowing your own citizens to return, for example, is ineffectual. “Viruses don’t care what passport you carry,” my colleague Donald G. McNeil Jr., who’s been covering infectious diseases since the 1990s, told me.
Voluntary quarantines generally don’t work either, since many people don’t adhere to them. Some take mild precautions and still describe themselves as “quarantining.” As Donald says: “For it to work, it has to be mandatory — and actually enforced. And not at home.”
Australia versus the U.S.
Australia crushed the spread of the virus in the spring partly by ending its voluntary quarantine and requiring all arrivals, including Australian citizens, to spend two weeks in a hotel. The military then helped enforce the rules. China and some other Asian countries took similar steps. In eastern Canada, tough entry rules were “one of the most successful things we’ve done,” Dr. Susan Kirkland, a Nova Scotia official, has said.
Travel bans had such a big effect, Dr. Jared Baeten, a prominent epidemiologist, told me last year, that public-health experts should re-examine their longtime skepticism of them. “Travel,” he said, “is the hallmark of the spread of this virus around the world.”
Last year, the U.S. became a case study in the ineffectiveness of limited travel rules after Trump announced a ban on entry from China. Because it didn’t apply to U.S. citizens or their immediate family members, among others, and because Trump did little to restrict entry from Europe, the measures had little effect.
The Biden administration now risks a repeat.
Infectious variants of the virus that are spreading in Brazil and South Africa could be even more dangerous than a strong new variant found in Britain, scientists say. In response, Biden is restricting entry from Europe, Brazil and South Africa, but the policy has multiple exceptions: Americans can return home from these places if they have recently tested negative, even though the test result may not be current.
The politics of travel bans are certainly thorny. Businesses worry about the economic impact (as The New Yorker’s Lawrence Wright noted in a fascinating radio interview with Terry Gross). Progressives worry about stoking anti-immigration views. And it’s already too late to keep the variants out of the U.S. entirely.
Yet travel restrictions can still save lives. The U.S. is in a race to vaccinate as many people as possible before they contract the virus, and the new variants are the biggest new challenge in doing so. “I am worried about these variants,” Dr. Vivek Murthy, the co-chair of Biden’s virus task force, said on the first episode of Ezra Klein’s Times podcast.
The U.S. travel restrictions will almost certainly have some impact by keeping out some infected people. But Biden’s policy stops short of minimizing the virus’s spread.
Contrast this to New Zealand where two possible community cases (not confirmed because the two were travellers staying in a quarantine facility upon arriving back in New Zealand) sparks major action.
Am I to understand that the US is incapable of having all travellers who come into our country spend two weeks in quarantine in nice hotels? Can't our military be used to control our ports and borders?
It looks to me like the US half-assed response is continuing although maybe getting a bit better under Biden. We can call it a three-fifths-assed reaction now.
With regard to the pandemic's impact on the public schools in NYC, the NY Post looks like it wants public schools open no matter what but they don't have any criticisms of charter school buildings that stay closed. Today, the spin of the Post coverage of lower NYC enrollment this year seems to be that the sky is falling because there is a 4% enrollment drop during the pandemic.
From the NY Post:
The city Department of Education has long hailed its pandemic performance as a “gold standard” — but an increasing number of parents appear to disagree.
The nation’s largest school district shed 43,000 kids this year — or 4 percent of overall enrollment, according to preliminary DOE figures.
With birth rates shrinking and charter popularity rising, city school enrollment has been eroding for years.
But this year’s drop — accelerated by ongoing coronavirus upheaval — has been marked.
Some parents have opted for city private or charter schools with more stable schedules while others bolted the boroughs completely.
Family flight was sharpest among those with younger kids just beginning their education.
City kindergartens saw a decline of 9 percent this year, while pre-K enrollment fell by 13 percent.
No mention that these two grades are non-mandatory school attendance grades so it would be natural they would have the biggest decline during a pandemic but also not a word on how NYC is not unique in facing declining enrollment.
Gothamist at least gave a more complete picture in their coverage:
While New York City still has the largest school district in the country, enrollment now stands at 960,000 students compared to the reported 1.1 million students in the 2018-2019 school year. Other school districts have seen similar declines in enrollment -- Dallas public schools were down 4% in December, according to the New York Times. In October, Washington state reported a 2.82% decrease in enrollment statewide, with a 14% drop in kindergarten, NPR reported.
Media reporting of just about everything has to be in the context of the pandemic.