Thomas R. O'Donnell

Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

Framing: How Dickinson County denizens comprehended and handled the pandemic

In Government, University research on March 31, 2021 at 7:45 am
Antique postcard saying Greetings from Lake Okoboji, Iowa

Lake Okoboji (which is a misnomer; there is no Lake Okoboji, but there are West Lake Okoboji and East Lake Okoboji) postcard, circa 1939. Copyright 2012 by Steven R. Shook. Used with permission.

Emily Mendenhall arrived in Okoboji, her hometown in Iowa’s Great Lakes region, in June 2020 – just as the area became a COVID-19 hotspot. Confirmed cases burst from just eight to 200 in one month. As she later learned, there probably were even more, as many young people skipped testing, accepted their fate and nursed themselves back to health. Cases that tourists contracted in Dickinson County also may have been attributed to their home counties or states.

It was a drastic contrast to the situation Mendenhall, her husband, Adam Koon, and their two elementary school-aged daughters had left.

“I came from D.C., where everything was shut down and everyone was taking it so seriously,” said Mendenhall, a professor of global health in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. “And then I came to a place where everyone’s like, ‘whatever.’”

As I described in my previous post, Mendenhall and Koon, an assistant scientist in the International Health Department in the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, joined with others to understand why so few Dickinson County citizens heeded public health advice – sometimes with dire consequences. They interviewed nearly 100 residents of the summer destination, most of whom live there year-round.

We’ll look into their fascinating – but in some respects unsurprising – analysis.

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The COVID-19 pandemic “personal responsibility” political crutch

In Government on February 22, 2021 at 7:35 am
Des Moines Public Schools employee receives COVID-19 vaccination on February 13, 2021.

Des Moines Public Schools employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine on February 13, 2021. Photo credit: Phil Roeder Vaccinate to Educate via photopin (license).

In October, I wrote a letter to the Des Moines Register (which didn’t publish it, as often happens) about the rise in Iowa COVID-19 cases. I cited New York Times statistics, which showed with a seven-day average of daily new cases in the state that ranged from 638 to 927. Average daily deaths varied from a low of six to a high of 10.

The charts show the state never really got the pandemic under control. While it varied, by fall there were around a thousand new cases and about 10 deaths every day – 70 a week, 300 a month.

Yet it wasn’t until November, when cases hit a seven-day average of around 4,700, that Gov. Kim Reynolds enacted a loophole-filled mask mandate.

She abandoned that requirement, and other preventive measures, in early February, citing a decline in new case and hospitalizations. But the seven-day average of positive tests still is around 455 and even more people are dying – a seven-day average of about 16 (as of Saturday, February 20). That’s 112 a week, 480 a month.

Now we’d be grateful to lose just 300 people a month. The baseline for death has moved up, making what once was horrifying seem acceptable.

As she lifted almost all restrictions on Iowans, Reynolds returned to the mantra she chanted throughout most of 2020 to avoid mandating masks: “I trust Iowans to do the right thing,”  she said, relying on the conservative “personal resonsibility” slogan.

It sounds great, right? Our governor trusts us! We’re all going to be responsible!

If only it were that simple. The idea of “personal responsibility” is complex – and even moreso when it come to science-based pandemic restrictions. For many reasons, we can’t count on it to keep Iowans healthy.

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Iowa’s March for Science sets second event, looks to the future

In Government, STEM on February 14, 2018 at 7:16 am

Science backers listen to speakers during the March for Science Iowa on April 22, 2017 at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.

Science backers listen to speakers during the March for Science Iowa on April 22, 2017 at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.

Nearly a year ago, around 3,000 Iowans gathered on a sunny April day to support science – its role in public policy and improving the human condition – at one of dozens of marches around the world.

The March for Science Iowa, April 22 (Earth Day), united citizens, sent a message to government and provided insights into Iowa-based research. But its organizers say their dreams to continue advocating throughout the year haven’t panned out. Assembling the event left many of them exhausted. I was involved and, like others, the demands of work and family left me little time for activism. (Just look at the recent sparsity of posts to this site for evidence.)

Now, however, two of last year’s leaders are staging a revival, starting with a second event – to coincide, again, with a national March for Science. They’re also working to institute a formal structure that, with luck and hard work, could lead to a more enduring impact.

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Stepping up in Iowa to support science, facts and evidence

In Government, STEM on March 15, 2017 at 7:13 am

A postcard to President Trump from Deborah Bunka, via the March for Science Iowa Facebook page.

A postcard to President Trump from Deborah Bunka, via the March for Science Iowa Facebook page.

I authored this post, which first appeared on the Iowa Starting Line blog. – TRO

Even before he was elected, commentators and experts noted a strong anti-science streak in Donald Trump’s rhetoric. Now that he’s been inaugurated, they’re calling him the most anti-science president ever. Trump is enacting an agenda that, at best, selectively supports scientific evidence and research.

With the appointment of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency, it’s clear that climate change will be downplayed or dismissed in the Trump administration. Pruitt took a moderate stance in his nomination hearings, but now is proudly revealing his anti-science views. Earlier this month he said he disagrees with the overwhelming evidence that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global climate change.

Trump and Pruitt are putting their words into actions. The administration has offered a plan to cut the budget for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development by 40 percent. The EPA as a whole would get a 24 percent cut. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a major climate research agency, also would get a severe reduction. Other proposals under consideration would roll back Department of Energy financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy and for research on reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Trump’s disdain for sound science goes beyond climate, however, and spans political parties. He’s given credence to the disproven notion that vaccinations cause autism and met with noted anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (of the famed Democratic family).

It’s easy to pick on Trump, but in truth his election and views are just the culmination of years of attacks on science, evidence and research – attacks that aren’t solely from conservatives. Now, scientists and those who value research and evidence as a foundation for sound public policy are fighting back.

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March for Science: Iowans organizing rally for research

In STEM on January 30, 2017 at 7:08 am

A March for Science Iowa comic by designer Miles Greb (@goldrushcomic) via the March for Science Iowa Facebook page. I think the model looks like a dark-haired Scarlett Johanssen.

A March for Science Iowa comic by designer Miles Greb (@goldrushcomic) via the March for Science Iowa Facebook page. I think the model looks like a dark-haired Scarlett Johanssen.

Jordan Shaw was a lab technician working in food safety a few years ago when one of his supervisors, a researcher working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, published a study comparing eggs from organic and free-range chickens to standard eggs.

Time published her results: there was little difference in terms of safety or quality between the different eggs.

When the magazine posted the story on line, Shaw was stunned. “The comments on that were just unreal, like ‘you can’t trust the USDA because they’re the idiots who made the food pyramid,’” said Shaw, now a food safety consultant living in West Des Moines.

That made Shaw consider how to help the general public better understand science. “What we’re seeing now, really badly, is that science is elite, it’s liberal, all this stuff, and the problem is our populace just doesn’t understand, honest and truly, what is peer-reviewed science.”

His alarm increased when he read reports that the Donald Trump administration was suspending research grants and communications from key government science offices, especially those associated with the environment.

So Shaw – and others across the state – are taking action. They’re planning an Iowa version of a national march in Washington, D.C., to support science and research.

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