It was perfect weather here in Durham this weekend: 80s and sunny, low humidity, fresh breeze. Y'all know the South only gets a few of those days a year and they must be treasured. I wanted to go somewhere, anywhere, to hike, or swim, or let our dogs run. But we're still under a stay-at-home order in North Carolina, and most of the closest state parks are closed. We settled on biking to Duke University's campus for a picnic. I laid on the ground and looked up at the pines swaying in the wind, wispy clouds scooting through the sky above them. I listened to birds kicking around leaves, digging to find twigs for their nests.
So many of us are in a privileged a situation during this pandemic, in a safe spot with a roof over our heads and enough money to eat well and donate or spend on local businesses and organizations. Still, being cooped up for more than two months is difficult. It's getting harder to find the moments of peace, the space to breathe through it — especially while governors lift orders at the expense of the poorest and most at-risk, while coal companies get bailed out as small businesses suffer, while industrial agriculture companies are keeping workers on the job but refusing to confirm information for them.
Damage from Hurricane Michael in Alabama. Photo by Alabama Emergency Management Agency
What gets me through is knowing people still need information. That even if they don't want to listen and say they're safe from COVID-19, or if they live in a place where those in power aren't taking this seriously, they can't make informed decisions without thoughtful, accurate stories that show them what's happening and why. This is especially the case for people who are always at the highest risk for public health and environmental hazards and often left out of the conversation: people of color, immigrants, rural folks. This week, Carly Berlin wrote a story on how emergency managers along the Gulf Coast are working tirelessly to educate people about how to prepare for a hurricane during a pandemic. Protocols are changing, and folks in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama are scrambling to find funding and space to accommodate people in hurricane shelters while still social distancing. They're trying to get information out both virtually and in-person in a safe way.
Read the story, and check out this flyer we made to share via social media or print out. For folks on the Gulf Coast, it has need-to-know phone numbers, how to make hurricane plans, online resources, and more. If you are on the coast, or have friends and family who are, please share it with them.
My friend Benny Becker was a Harvard Nieman fellow for the last year, focusing on producing journalism that allows people in Appalachia to tell their own stories. He wrote about the experience for Nieman Reports. "I made one core commitment — to spend a lot of time on the road listening to people who want to share their stories, and to making sure that their words are the foundation of whatever I would end up crafting." Here's the story, which was published in March.
Bragging on my mom, who is a respiratory therapist in Louisville: She was featured in this Scientific American piece about grief and anxiety among healthcare workers on the front lines during the pandemic. "I think most things like this make you stronger, unless it breaks you. It might scare some people into stepping away from the profession or taking retirement a bit early. This virus is fairly mild overall, but what if the next one is extremely dangerous? In our department the therapists are mentors to future graduates in local respiratory therapy programs. The students I've talked to feel very fortunate to be a part of this--it's good for them to see how we adapt and take care of each other and come up with ideas for how to improve readiness. No one goes through trauma without learning from it."
Mississippi Today has the second and third of their series on the Bonnet Carré Spillway and how Mississippi River flooding in the last two years has affected the livelihoods of shrimpers and fishers living on the coast.
The Village de L’Est Green Growers Initiative, known as VEGGI Farmers Cooperative, started after the BP oil spill as an alternative form of employment for Vietnamese-Americans living in New Orleans East. Now they're helping people weather the pandemic. “The vegetables [we] are growing might not be available in a grocery store,” one farmer told Civil Eats. “And for the community members here, it’s natural to grow food. It’s a form of resilience, and it’s also deeply cultural.”
‘They didn’t tell us anything’: North Carolina poultry plant workers say Butterball isn’t protecting them from COVID-19
As the virus spreads through meatpacking plants across the U.S., immigrant communities struggle to get answers from the company or state about cases at a Mount Olive facility. Read the story.
These coal communities are protecting sick miners from COVID-19 and pushing Congress for more support
In rural east Tennessee and Kentucky, community networks and mutual aid efforts are supporting vulnerable people who need transportation, internet access, and food. Read the story.
News flying under the radar
The Decatur, Alabama, school system sold a school to chemical company 3M for $1.25 million, as part of a settlement over a lawsuit. The school sits on a closed landfill used several years ago to dispose of chemical byproducts from 3M. Recent evaluations found chemicals still detectable in surface water there. Now, the testing is up to 3M. “We’re excited to sell the property and eliminate the expense of maintenance and upkeep of the site,” the school superintendent told WAFF.
A pipeline exploded in a forest near a compressor station in Kentucky. No one was injured, but WKYT interviewed a man who lives less than a mile away.
TVA and Jacobs Engineering, a contractor on the utility’s 2008 coal ash spill, were ranked by a labor coalition as one of the nation’s worst workplace safety companies, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.
A Louisiana scientist is studying the trends around personal protective equipment, or PPE, litter, which he thinks has increased since the coronavirus pandemic began. Tristan Baurick spoke to him for the Times Picayune | New Orleans Advocate. "The project’s data collection methodology involves each participant using a fitness app to track their movements. When they spot PPE, they take a location-tagged photo with their phones. Since the project’s launch in early April, Benfield has received more than 2,000 images from New Orleans, Seattle, Oahu, Tulsa, Chicago, New York and cities in Canada, China and Turkey."
The scrub-jay is the only species of bird found exclusively in Florida — and it has been in steady decline due to development. A Florida research team is using a new technology to analyze the birds to figure out how to keep them in existence. Miami Herald has the story.
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