COVID Numbers Declining: A summary of the governor’s weekly press conference

Governor Dan Mckee and other public health leaders gave the weekly COVID-19 response briefing today.

Rhode Island’s COVID numbers continue to be on the decline. There have been 200 new cases of the coronavirus since yesterday, for a percent positive test rate of 1.1%. The weekly average has declined to 1.6%. There are 118 people hospitalized for reasons related to the virus. The weekly average for new hospital admissions is 112, down from 134 just last week. Twenty-three people are in the intensive care unit, and 16 people are on ventilators. 

“Things continue to get better, I remain cautiously optimistic,” said DoH’s Dr. Philip Chan. The B117 variant continues to be the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the Ocean State with public health leaders estimating it causes about 50% of current infections. Ninety percent of teachers in the state are vaccinated, and as a result, infections among educators have declined. Rates of COVID-19 among children are going up, mirroring national trends. A vaccine safe for under-16s is not expected to be consumer ready for many months.

Around 95/96% of people getting the first dose of a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine are returning for their second shots, COVID response director Tom McCarthy told Motif today. More than 581,000 people are at least partially vaccinated, not counting those who live out of state. There are 428,823 people considered fully vaccinated, which the state counts as two weeks from the final dose of any of the three vaccines currently available. 

Two of the state’s vaccine sites have performed 2,500 walk up appointments of the vaccine, with the state still working on at-home vaccine shots for residents older than 75 who have not received the vaccine. Approximately 280,000 people are left in the total eligibility pool, 13,500 of them are over the age of 75. “We have an ample supply of vaccines,” said Dr. Chan.

The first round of COVID restrictions are scheduled to be lifted starting tomorrow. Here are the highlights:

  • Mask wearing is still required indoors in public areas, but not outdoors if you are vaccinated and can socially distance at least three feet from others.
  • The social gathering limit is being raised to 25 for indoors and up to 75 people outdoors. 
  • Restaurants, venues, houses of worship, fitness centers and other businesses will see capacity limits lifted to 80% indoors with three feet of spacing, and 100% outdoors.
  • You can also start sitting at bars again without ordering food, but plexiglass is still required. 
  • Catered events can have up to 250 guests indoors and 500 guests outdoors with rapid on-site COVID testing still recommended. Standing service will only be allowed outside.

These loosened restrictions will remain in place until May 28, when many of them will be lifted. In other news, Gov. McKee announced today the state will reinstate and enforce work search requirements for people on unemployment starting May 23. State officials had previously waived the requirement for duration of the pandemic. 

Finally as the state reopens itself for business later this month, Gov McKee hinted that the state may seek a change of venue. For most of the pandemic, the state has hosted reporters at The Vets giving live updates, but McKee said today it may change soon to the State House, another sign of state leaders’ confidence in the handling of the pandemic.

Do You Take Democracy with Your Coffee? White Electric takes on a radical new experiment

A Providence favorite reopened its doors on May 1 under new ownership. White Electric has been a Westminster Street mainstay for years. Like many other local businesses, in the last year it’s been the victim of intermittent hours, COVID regulations and state-mandated lockdowns and pauses. Now it’s back for good, and the workers have transformed it into the state’s first workers’ cooperative coffee shop and a radical experiment in workplace democracy.

“It’s about having a meaningful impact in your workplace, having an actual voice and an actual say in how your workplace should be run,” said Danny Cordova, a member of CUPS Cooperative Inc, the workers cooperative that now owns the shop. The cooperative was born out of the original service workers union White Electric workers created last year. White Electric is now the first workers cooperative coffee shop in the city and the state. “We live in a democracy. We vote for our representatives, we vote for senators, we vote for a president and why can’t we do the same thing [at work]? We can’t vote for CEOs, we can’t vote for managers, and you can get fired for any reason,” continued Cordova.

Under the new cooperative structure, there’s no single owner of the business. Each worker is also an owner with equal say in how it is run. There are no managers, and no one is above anyone else in the workplace. Day-to-day operations behind the counter were largely self-directed before it became a cooperative, as all the worker-owners draw from a rich past experience in food service. Much of the division of labor for them now comes from tasks that management or owners typically would do.

“Working in a cafe is not inherently a menial job, there’s no reason for it not to be a respectful  job,” said Amanda Soule, another worker-owner of the cooperative. “People don’t respect coffee shop workers generally, and I think that that is often inherent in the structure of the cafe itself.” 

White Electric’s workers didn’t originally intend to form a cooperative. Last year the shop closed due to COVID restrictions, and reopened in June. In the interim, George Floyd was murdered and protests for racial justice were kicking off everywhere. Inspired by the movement, White Electric’s workers started reaching out to managers about workplace issues. Then-employees also wrote an internal letter asking for diverse hiring practices, anti-racism, sick pay and wheelchair access to the shop, among other requests. 

Management soon after laid off a lot of the workers. In response, workers started to organize and form a union. “[We wanted] to make sure people’s jobs would be protected beyond any of us as individuals and to make sure the things we had been asking for would actually be implemented,” said Chloe Chassaing, a worker-owner.

Workers received a lot of community support at this time as they formed the union, and much of the customer base of White Electric are fellow service workers. White Electric’s then-owners voluntarily recognized the union. In August, the union performed a card check so that it would be officially recognized by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). That same night, the owners sent out an email listing White Electric for sale.

But the owners were willing to sell to a worker’s cooperative, which was one of the suggestions workers made in they letter they wrote earlier in the year. Efforts to form a union changed gears entirely to start a cooperative. CUPS started raising money that autumn. A GoFundMe with the explicit mission of turning White Electric into a workers’ cooperative raised $25,000, and other funding came from bank loans. For months, it was not clear the shop would become a cooperative, with CUPS only reaching a sale agreement this past January. Closing date was mid-April, and the cooperative has been rushing to get the necessary permits to reopen.

The cooperative started with eight worker-owners. When White Electric announced they were hiring, they got more than 60 applicants in the first three days, seemingly defying the current popular media narrative of people preferring to stay on unemployment. The worker owners have pledged to pay above minimum wage, but see workplace democracy and culture as integral to its attractiveness for prospective employees.

“It’s not that people don’t want to go back to a food service job, it’s that people don’t want to go back to being disrespected by their employers and their customers every day,” said Soule. “There’s a bunch of people we interviewed on unemployment because they know this is a different kind of work environment.”

Any new employees will be tried out for six months before receiving the full share of ownership in the cooperative. The system for pay increases in the past left a lot of inequities, and the cooperative intends to make the process transparent and fair. In addition to base pay and tips, each worker-owner of the cooperative is entitled to a share of the money left over every year. But as with any new business, it might take a year or two before that happens. Worker-owners can also expect a set schedule, as opposed to some of the flexible schedules found in most mainstream coffee shops.

“We just work as a team, and that’s been a very winning strategy for a very long time,” said Cordova.

Our State of Public Health: A narrative beyond the pandemic

On the morning of February 28, 2020, a day before the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Rhode Island, the Block Island Chamber of Commerce promoted the island’s largest rental property as a destination for family vacations, retreats, reunions and weddings. Featuring 12 bedrooms and 11.5 bathrooms, Hygeia House was built during the Gilded Age and run by a doctor-cum-hotelier who used the building for a period to house his medical office. He promoted “a salubrious island getaway, where sea breezes, fresh water and clean air would restore health.”

The name of the one-time hotel conjures an ancient character: Hygieia, the goddess of cleanliness and self-care in Greek and Roman myth. Today, her legacy lingers in language and in symbol, and not only on Block Island. In Athens, a shrine in her name sits within the Acropolis. In Rome, her statue stands with a wreath of laurel at the Trevi Fountain. In Providence, she kneels chiseled into the seal arched above the central window of the former home of the Rhode Island Medical Society, across from the State House.

Dr. Newell Warde, executive director of the Rhode Island Medical Society, said the symbolism of Hygieia could be seen as a shift from emphasizing treatment to prioritizing prevention and public health.

At a briefing on Capitol Hill that afternoon, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, awaited the COVID test results of students and faculty from Saint Raphael Academy in Pawtucket who had returned from a winter break touring from Milan to Barcelona by way of the French Riviera. In the meantime, and in line with the World Health Organization, she encouraged the practice of good hygiene — advice harkening back to its namesake Hygieia and the art of health.

Since the first confirmed cases traced to the Pawtucket high school’s European trip, COVID has infected at least one in seven Rhode Island residents. Of the more than 3 million dead worldwide, nearly 2,700 people locally have lost their lives. But statistics alone can’t measure the physical and emotional tolls, and while no community has been spared, the distribution of suffering mirrors longstanding inequalities. 

Sustained health inequalities, in terms of both access and outcomes, gave way to the language of “health equity” among policy makers. In 1990, U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island co-sponsored Senator Barbara Mikulski’s bill, the Women’s Health Equity Act, to coordinate initiatives “relating to disease, disorders, or other health conditions that are unique to, more prevalent in, or more serious for women, or for which risk factors or interventions are different for women.” The bill didn’t move forward. In 1993, U.S. Senator John H. Chafee of Rhode Island proposed the Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act, shortened to the HEART Act, as a bipartisan proposal for universal health insurance. It, too, proved unsuccessful.

Across the Atlantic, England introduced a framework of Health Action Zones to spur investment in areas with high rates of “social exclusion.” A US proposal to define similar Health Opportunity Zones across the country failed to gain enough support, but while it was under consideration the CDC collaborated with other federal agencies to convene its inaugural Weight of the Nation conference to minimize the health risks resulting from obesity rates. During opening remarks, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), introduced a pyramid for understanding and improving public health. At the foundation of his framework, the most influential factors were socioeconomic: poverty, education, housing and inequality.

The “Health Impact Pyramid” model resonated with a representative in attendance from Rhode Island. And in 2012, the state health department’s division of community, family health and equity introduced its own version. Three years later, with $2.15 million in funding from the CDC, Rhode Island defined 10 urban and rural areas as Health Equity Zones (now 11), allowing nonprofits and local governments to qualify for financial support to develop “innovative approaches to preventing chronic diseases, improve birth outcomes and improve the social and environmental conditions of our neighborhoods.”

Announced by the Rhode Island Department of Health two months before her confirmation as director, the responsibility for the implementation of Health Equity Zones fell to Alexander-Scott. Growing up in Brooklyn, Alexander-Scott witnessed neighborhoods with shifting demographics — and their influence on the state of public health. By the time Alexander-Scott turned 5, the borough’s population had shrunk by 14%, losing more than 650,000 white residents and gaining 66,000 Black residents within the span of a decade.

Alexander-Scott attended St. Saviour High School, a Catholic all-girls college preparatory school in the neighborhood of Park Slope. She co-captained her varsity basketball team, played varsity volleyball, served in student government, and participated in math league, mock trial and the earth club. She made National Honor Society and the Société Honoraire de Français. 

“I remember her at the altar,” said Rita Draghi, an art teacher at St. Saviour. “She reminded me of a queen. At such a young age, she was so full of poise and confidence. I knew she would go far.”

At Cornell University, Alexander-Scott majored in human development and family studies. On the Dean’s List, she also worked for a summer in AIDS advocacy in the Bronx and witnessed the university grapple with the fifth on-campus suicide of a student in a span of four years. Following in her mother’s footsteps, who was a nurse, Alexander-Scott attended medical school at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, an hour north of her alma mater. There, she received the James L. Potts Award in honor of a doctor who helped develop Upstate as one of the country’s first programs to increase the opportunities for historically underrepresented students in the field of medicine. She began her residency at Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island weeks before September 11, 2001.

Alexander-Scott arrived in Providence in 2005, during the city’s hottest summer on record. A fellowship placed her for two years in the pediatric departments of the Alpert Medical School and at Hasbro Children’s Hospital followed by a rotation in adult medicine at hospitals affiliated with Brown University. She traveled to Kenya and South Africa on medical missions, and moderated a conference on disparate healthcare issues for people of color in Rhode Island. Her first contribution to a medical journal detailed a local outbreak of an atypical form of bacterial pneumonia. Although the infection was found at school, she concluded “interrupting household transmission should be a priority during future outbreaks.”

As Rhode Island’s economy and employment buckled following the Great Recession, Alexander-Scott taught at Brown, served as a physician at multiple hospitals, and consulted with the Rhode Island Department of Health’s division of community, family health and equity. She first stepped into the public eye when defending Rhode Island’s shift in policy to move HIV testing from opt-in to opt-out. As a physician tending to infectious diseases, she witnessed the H1N1 swine flu pandemic. She also started her Master of Public Health degree at Brown.

“She always challenged me to look outside the medical room we were in and think about how we could best serve patients in their everyday environment,” said Dr. Sando Ojukwu, an attending physician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, whom Alexander-Scott mentored at Brown’s Alpert Medical School.

In October 2014, Dr. Alexander-Scott provided public briefings on Ebola while then-director of the health department, Dr. Michael Fine, led the state’s response, including addressing Rhode Island’s Liberian community to ask for help in sharing health advice even as they worried and mourned for loved ones as the epidemic swelled in West Africa.

“Health is not possible without community,” Fine said in a statement introducing Health Equity Zones.

When Alexander-Scott stepped into her role as director of the Rhode Island Department of Health in May 2015, she inherited a budget for the fiscal year of almost $126 million and responsibility for nearly 500 full-time employees. Only 18% of the department’s budget came from the general fund allocated by Rhode Island’s elected officials. More than half came from federal government sources. Programs involving family and community health and equity accounted for 57% of the annual budget, an annual increase of 27%, broken out across health disparities, healthy homes and environments, chronic care and disease management, health promotion, preventative services, and perinatal and early childhood health. 

A sold-out Health Equity Summit hosted more than 300 attendees representing “every aspect of the determinants of health,” Alexander-Scott said in a video. In a Providence Journal op-ed, she championed the implementation of Health Equity Zones, writing “regardless of where we live, the costs of disparities are felt throughout our state.” She cited racial, economic and educational gaps in health: Black infants in Rhode Island were twice as likely to die before their first birthday than white infants, and residents without a high school diploma were twice as likely to smoke cigarettes than college graduates.

“Your ZIP code should not determine your life expectancy,” Alexander-Scott told the Rhode Island Health Center Association annual meeting during her first year, repeating a refrain spoken by others before her.

A 2018 health department brochure highlighted examples of “immediate impact” in the communities designated as Health Equity Zones, including training in mental health first aid and suicide prevention in Washington County, the passage of a cigarette and vaping ban in Bristol’s town parks, and a “Walking School Bus” program to improve elementary school attendance in the Providence neighborhood of Olneyville. A 2019 factsheet credits the model with contributing to a 44% decrease in childhood lead poisoning in Pawtucket, a 24% decrease in teen pregnancy in Central Falls, and 46 people in West Warwick diverted from the criminal justice system to receive opioid treatment. Amidst the COVID pandemic, Health Equity Zones informed community testing, education and vaccination programs, including the distribution of 400,000 surgical masks. And for 2021, the health department solicited proposals from municipalities and organizations in 15 additional communities to establish new Health Equity Zones with grants starting at $150,000 for infrastructure and $50,000 for capacity building.

But not all tides have lifted in the Ocean State. Since 1995, the percentage of adults with diabetes grew from 4.6% to 10.8% — affecting those without a high school diploma three times more than those with a university degree. United Health Foundation placed Rhode Island as the least healthy state in the country in measures of housing and transit. The age of housing in Rhode Island left 31% of homes with the potential of elevated lead risk, the second highest after New York. In 2019, the health department found that only 20% of the physical spaces licensed for infant and toddler care met its definition of quality, with 18 of the state’s 39 municipalities altogether lacking any quality care.

Since Alexander-Scott’s column in The Providence Journal, the racial gap in infant mortality she cited has more than doubled: The latest state data found Black infants in Rhode Island were 4.2 times more likely to die in their first year of life than white infants. In response, the health department convened an advisory group. The educational gap in smoking rates also doubled: In 2019, 5.4% of Rhode Islanders with a college degree smoked while the number climbed to 21.9% among those who didn’t complete high school.

Despite a vision that “all people in Rhode Island will have the opportunity to live a safe and healthy life in a safe and healthy community,” even before COVID the health department noted that “for the first time in modern years the current generation of children may have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.”

The current pandemic revealed how better public health could minimize individual harm. A draft of the state’s vaccination rollout cited estimates that accounted for Rhode Islanders living with high blood pressure, 10% with asthma, 9% with diabetes and 6% with heart disease — conditions that could benefit from testing, data reporting and prevention efforts refined during COVID. In terms of health insurance, 4% were uninsured and 29% were underinsured, leaving a third of the state more likely to need guidance for preventative care.

Over the past year, reported rates of domestic violence, opioid deaths and substance abuse climbed. Even with vaccination progress, the virus and its variants will define the health landscape for years, with its long-term impact yet to be seen or measured in education, foster care and special needs programs.

The costs associated with managing the pandemic tripled the Rhode Island’s Department of Health budget from $193 million during the 2020 fiscal year, which covers July 2019 to June 2020. With a 2021 budget of $642 million — 85% from federal funds and 63% allocated to COVID care — Alexander-Scott now manages an organization of more than 500 employees. (Note: Although that number seems large, it’s 37% of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island’s 2020 revenue.)

In every crisis is a struggle for the narrative that lives on. As public officials and the general public have turned the pages following an uncertain plotline, there’s a temptation to close the book on the pandemic altogether. But COVID is only a chapter that speaks to the past and the future of public health — of whose stories are remembered and whose suffering is remedied. With or without the sea breezes of salubrious island getaways, all communities need more than hygiene, clean water and fresh air. For too many still, even those foundations remain a myth.

“At the beginning of COVID everyone was linked together, but now it’s about ourselves,” said Ojukwu. “Until we can view others as part of us, that’s what really pushes empathy and the change we need.”

True North: The story of North restaurant’s response to COVID

“As a restaurant, we’ve never made any money … ever. So [the pandemic’s financial strain] is less scary because we’re used to the task of running at the edge of a broken system. I don’t want to exploit people or put up financial barriers for customers to access the experience/culture we’re creating. And that’s always been my choice.”

James Mark, the owner of north restaurant and big king tells the story of the year 2020. He took action before the state required it and remained steadfast in his resolve to remain take-out only, even when the state opened again (and then closed again). I recently spoke with him about how his values and his business coexisted in the midst of a pandemic. 

“The year 2020 started really, really well for us. January and February had much better sales than in years past. We’ve spent the last eight years building and expanding — each year it was something new — so it felt like finally it was going to be a good year.

“We were paying attention to what was happening in Europe and Asia, and the severity caught me off guard. We all kind of thought, ‘Yeah, that would suck, but I’m not too worried about it.’

“Then you start seeing the death tolls, and it becomes serious.

“Three days before the state shut everything down, I was working at big king on the floor. I remember talking to guests — students at Brown — who were interested in sake. Then later that night I was looking on the computer at the news and saw confirmed cases at Brown University — and that’s when it hit.”

Mark’s restaurant model is built around face-to-face seating. “That’s intentional,” he explained, “because we believe in human connections. But this is an airborne virus and it’s incredibly dangerous for myself and my staff. That night we shut everything down. We did double our normal business that night, but there was no other choice. 

“We took a week to decompress and think about what being closed means. I immediately got everyone into unemployment before the system got overloaded.

“After a week, Andrew, my chef at north, asked, ‘How do you feel about takeout?’ We knew we wanted to do takeout, and there was a ton of support [in the community] for it, but it was scary because around town you’d see lines of people forming. We didn’t want that, so we scheduled pick-ups so there was only one pick-up every 15 minutes. This helped us feel more comfortable from a community safety standpoint.

“This approach also let us run the restaurant with fewer people — not so we could save costs, but so we could spread people out. It just made sense on a whole bunch of safety levels.”

They started their takeout format with a small menu for big king. “After we realized it was working,” Mark said, “we started the same system at north. We rehired about 80% of our full-time staff, keeping them at pre-COVID wages or higher. That’s huge for us, and we’re proud of that.”

Regarding future plans, James Mark says, “Fifty percent of our staff is vaccinated. By summer, hopefully 100% will be. But it’s still tricky, indoor dining. I have questions surrounding community spread. Do I want to be responsible if a spread event happens among guests, even if my staff are safe? It seems unlikely that big king can open, but north, maybe in the summer we can take over the parking spots in front [on Fountain St.] That will allow us to do a lot.”

In addition, north has always included a financial contribution as part of their business model. When their sales decreased due to COVID, the north and big king team still found ways to give back.

“In 2013 I read a book by the original owner of Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco, Anthony Myint, and his wife, Karen. Part of what Mission did was collect 25 cents on every dish they sold, and they donated it to the local food bank. He talked about using his business to affect the community in a positive way — that it could be more than just a transaction between customer and business owner. I found it eye opening. So from the beginning, a portion of sales from each plate went to the Amos House or the food bank.

“During COVID I got involved with activist groups in the city, and learned that there are hungry people downtown every weekend who aren’t benefiting from non-profits. It got me thinking: There are multiple levels of hunger that need to be addressed, and it inspired me to do something. For the last eight months, we’ve been cooking 50 to 60 meals every Monday and walking them down to Kennedy Plaza. This doesn’t address underlying problems and conditions, but if the work we do is a Band-Aid, people still need a Band-Aid.”

When I asked Mark if he’s accepting donations for the Monday meals, he said yes, but his most important suggestion was to “organize yourselves. Meet your neighbors. If you band together with your neighbors, can you address an issue in your neighborhood? Learn to talk to your neighbors. We’re simultaneously more connected and less connected than ever before.”

At the end of the story, it all comes down to values. Here are James Mark’s top three. 

“It’s important to not devalue the work that people do in the restaurant industry. Paying our staff a real wage has always been important to me.

“Second is the culture, and the work that produces culture: food that facilitates conversation, inspires new things, opens people up to try new things and leaves them feeling happy.

“But we value, number one, the people who work for us. They give their time and their life to the restaurant. The first thing in my head when deciding how to do takeout was, ‘How do we keep ourselves safe?’ If no one dies, no one’s family gets sick, then I’ve won. I’ve beat this pandemic. There’s no dollar value to assign to someone’s life, and I will always put them first.” 

Mommy Dearest: Mother’s Day isn’t always so nice

I’d argue that there are three words that cause turmoil in a lot of individuals. It’s not “I hate you” or even “I love you,” but simply, “Happy Mother’s Day.” Mother’s Day is a holiday that carries weight.

From social media posts that clog up timelines about how great some mothers are to the pressure to buy your mom the perfect gift or make sure her day is above and beyond the normal — it’s a lot. And it carries a stigma that I feel not a lot of us are aware of. Mother’s Day currently sees an increase in suicide attempts, making it one of the highest-risk holidays, following New Years Day, Labor Day, and Memorial Day.

This holiday makes us examine our relationships, not only with our parent, but also with many around us who may be struggling to navigate the holiday.

A History

Mother’s Day started with feminist roots. Suffragist Julia Ward Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870 as a way of calling for mothers to unite for world peace. However, what we now know as Mother’s Day didn’t come until the start of the early 20th century, when another woman, Anna Jarvis, wanted to honor her late mother and the sacrifices that women make for their children. In 1914, Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day a national holiday – always the second Sunday in May. Now, this is where Mother’s Day became controversial. Despite all of her work, Jarvis was denouncing Mother’s Day by 1920. She felt it had become commercialized, and she actively campaigned against the holiday she helped create. Still, Mother’s Day persisted and has grown to be a conglomerate of merchandise that you cannot escape, but little attention is paid to the difficulty of the day.

Mother’s Day and Miscarriage or Infertility

Another topic that makes Mother’s Day difficult for a substantial number of people is infertility and miscarriage. Currently it’s estimated by the Mayo Clinic that between 10% and 20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, or, broken down by SANDS (an organization dedicated to miscarriage, stillbirth and newborn death support) pregnancies that end in miscarriage typically are one in four.

While many miscarriages may not involve a hospital stay, a number do, and at its core, it’s a loss. The same goes for infertility, or those who cannot get pregnant. It’s said that 12% of women ages 15 to 44 have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying that pregnancy to term.

Women who suffer a miscarriage tend to report a substantial amount of guilt and grief, with the feeling that their body is the reason that they cannot have a child. There are numerous support groups for this topic alone.

Child loss doesn’t come just from miscarriage, but from tragic circumstances. There are many women who have to face Mother’s Day every year knowing that their child has passed.

Toxic Family Relationships

There are also many family relationships that aren’t the stereotype of a Hallmark commercial and they struggle with their relationship with their parents. Not every mother is a good mother, and it falls on the child to decide how to navigate that relationship. Support groups are rapidly popping up online, such as Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, books with similar titles and websites dedicated to helping adult children with painful relationships. While I’m certain I could write a doctoral-level thesis on how these relationships are managed, what I want to say is simple: If someone identifies a difficult relationship with their parent, it’s their choice what they do with that. That being said, that’s looking at adults who may not want to celebrate Mother’s Day because of a strained or non-existent relationship. There’s also something crucial to be said about the experiences of children.

According to JAMA pediatrics, 14% of children experienced maltreatment from a caregiver, with 4% experiencing physical abuse. Critical studies have been coming out that address trauma in childhood and how it affects us as adults. You may have heard of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES), which, overly simplified, means that the more trauma that you experience as a child, the more likely there are to be adverse repercussions in adulthood.

The CDC currently reports that limiting or eliminating childhood trauma (the ACES) could prevent up to 21 million cases of depression, 1.9 million cases of heart disease, and up to 2.5 million cases of obesity. High levels of childhood trauma have also shown links to cancer, autoimmune issues and chronic pain, as well as higher levels of unemployment and risky behaviors such as smoking or chronic drinking. Abusive childhoods are not good for us, and many adults made the decision to cut ties due to the need to take care of themselves. 

Additionally, there are some adult children whose parents have cut them out because they don’t agree with their child’s lifestyle. Parental rejection is common among the LGBTQ+ community. It is a parent saying, “I don’t approve of you and your choices, and I won’t support you.” Sometimes the parent cuts off all ties and abandons the child (typically a teenager or an adult). Studies have now shown that this population is 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide due to parental rejection, and there is a sense of abandonment within the community.

Non-Traditional Families

For some, Mother’s Day can be awkward. Blended families, in which a child lives with a biological parent and a stepparent, currently make up 50% of family situations for children under the age of 13. Many stepmothers attest to the pain of Mother’s Day with the whole “I’m not their mom, but I do a lot for them…” type of thinking. And I’m sure that the initial retort is that “Well, stepmoms get their own day too…” Well, kind of. Stepparents’ day is September 16. Stepparents are lumped together into one day, while biological parents get a mother’s and a father’s day, and please tell me the last time you saw a card for that holiday. Mother’s Day for blended families leads to a lot of feelings that can be complex, hard, and above all: messy.

Stepparents aren’t the only type of non-traditional family that can struggle with Mother’s Day. Consider adopted children who have never met their biological mother. Adopted children tend to feel more guilt and shame surrounding their identity, with focus on the idea of, “Why did my parent do this?” or “Am I not good enough?” Currently 135,000 adoptions per year happen in the US, the majority of which come from the foster system.

Loss of a Parent

Many face Mother’s Day without their parent, and that grief comes flooding back each Mother’s Day simply because many people who have lost their parent find that Mother’s Day excludes them. No longer is it about a relationship that someone had, but about one they can never have again.

Relationships are complicated. And although may have the best relationship possible with your parent, remember that the weight of Mother’s Day may be affecting others. So before you post on social media about your mom being your best friend, bragging about how your children did something for you, or talking about how wonderful the day is, remember some are fighting a silent battle that you may not be aware of.

And to those of you fighting that battle: I see you. And you can get through this.

This Mini EP Packs a Big Punch: Fast by Rather Nice showcases wall-to-wall micro bops with meaning

Rather Nice day in the forest

If you’re at all familiar with this indie band, you’ll know their songs are always a Rather Nice blend (see what I did there?) of cleverly presented humorous angst layered against bright melodies. Although I’ve never listened to an EP quite as short as four minutes before, I must say that the boys have stumbled across a new art form. There’s something to be said about showing art in such a concise manner. As much as I love getting lost in a song for a while, these sound bites bring a whole new element to the music industry. Each song has a unique sound, while still somehow staying consistent with the rest of their catalogue. 

In celebration of their new EP, I’m taking a deep dive into this mini album that packs a big punch. As you listen, you’ll notice how incredibly talented Joe Johnson, Mike Tenreiro, Nick Reagan and Oliver Littlefield truly are – and they won’t even need much of your time to prove it!

Ripping guitar riffs courtesy of the incredible Mike Tenreiro launch listeners into “Flippin’ Out.” Then the catchy melody comes in with goofy lyrics that make me smile: “I’m tripping over my words and flippin’ out in the street.” Then it ends with “Haven’t you heard I’m a dummy,” which sounds like something straight out of some PSA announcement. It’s so random and funny, and begs to be plastered on their band merch.

Easily the most romantic song on the EP, “Alright,” is a very sweet song with beautiful guitar melodies mimicking the vocals. No wonder these guys joked they’ve had to move many times to avoid getting overrun by fangirls (read this recent interview with Rather Nice HERE: This song sounds like something Jason Mraz or John Mayer might release, with the addition of ending harmonies that immediately reminded me of the Beatles. This song is also the most jazz-infused of the selection, with a good bossa nova vibe in it that you can sink into despite its brevity.

My favorite on the EP is “Stupid DMV,” probably because it has the most varied dynamics. After starting off with vocals and a light acoustic guitar (or perhaps it’s a ukulele), the drums and electric guitar quickly join the mix. The tongue-in-cheek subject of whining about being stuck at the DMV is something basically anyone can relate to (“Is it so much to ask / for this line to move an inch”). And that guitar solo is something so special, especially with Joe’s vocals layered behind it in the mix. I hope these guys keep bringing such joy and hilarity to the most mundane things. 

“Thai Food” has a bit of a romantic quality to it as well, but with a lot more angst: “Laying here twenty dollars down the drain / shattered heart and a mouthful of Lo Mein / I’m sitting here with a ruined mood / eating Thai Food in the afternoon/” The guitar riff feels like something more in the pop-punk realm, so that means I immediately love it — obviously. Again, it’s something very typical, but these guys have managed to infuse so much emotion into a super short song with a pretty simple concept. But the thing is, when you dig into it, there are layers of poetic emotion within those inventive rhyme schemes. Don’t discount it for seeming simple – I’ve found sometimes the most effective art forms are straight to the point. 

As you take the four minutes required to listen to this very brief EP, I think you’ll notice how smart and slick it is. These guys have said so much by saying so little, and that says the most of all. 

Listen to Rather Nice on Spotify HERE:; And on YouTube:–kIq0aPEZGUxEGvOs2cQA

44% of RI Fully Vaccinated: A summary of the governor’s weekly COVID-19 press conference

State leaders gave the weekly COVID press conference today, updating Rhode Islanders on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic and local government response.

Numbers continue to drop as the state’s vaccine campaign ramps up. “We’re in a really good place right now,” said Dr Philip Chan, filling in today for DoH director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. DoH reports 264 cases since yesterday, with a percent positive in tests of 1.4%, the lowest since the week of October 11, before this past winter’s second surge. Fatalities and hospitalization rates have dropped significantly for at-risk groups locally. There are 150 people hospitalized as of today; 32 people are in the intensive care unit and 20 people are on ventilators. State leaders have also reported one additional death since yesterday. Daily deaths overall have hovered in the mid-to-low single digits since early February.

Two-thirds of eligible Rhode Islanders have received at least one vaccine dose as of today, with 44% now considered fully vaccinated. State leaders today also announced that last week, more vaccines were administered than any week since the start of the campaign. COVID vax czar Tom McCarthy stated the state was now transitioning quickly into phase three of  vaccine operations, with the intended goal of meeting people where they are. The governor announced they were partnering with local businesses, universities, schools and others to bring vaccine events and get the word out.

Appointments for vaccinations will also not be required at retail pharmacies, McKee announced today. Walk-up, same-day appointments will be available at participating retail pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and Stop and Shop as supply allows. This is a big expansion after the state tried walk-up appointments at state sites in the Dunkin Donuts Center and Sockanosset.

Governor McKee had only a few new announcements today. The CDC updated its guidance earlier this week to loosen some mask-wearing recommendations for fully vaccinated people. Rhode Island health officials revised state guidance to align with the CDC effective tomorrow, April 30. Mask wearing will be required indoors, but only recommended outdoors in big crowds for folks who are fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated in Rhode Island terms means two weeks after receiving your final shot, whether it’s a second shot for Pfizer/Moderna vaccines or the single Johnson and Johnson. J&J vaccines are also back in the rotation. CDC and FDAs gave the green light for the single shot vaccine to start being administered again after a temporary pause from reports of six cases of extremely rare blood clotting disorders in certain patients. Rhode Island public health leaders today emphasized the vaccine is safe, and urged citizens to bring any concerns to their health care provider.

State leaders announced today that Rhode Island state beaches would be open at full capacity this summer, with masks not required for fully vaccinated residents except in congregate settings such as concession stands. Rhode Islanders can expect Roger Wheeler State Beach, Scarborough State Beach and Third Beach to open on May 15. All other state beaches will be fully opened starting Memorial Day weekend. “It’s not a Rhode island summer without Rhode Island beaches,” said McKee.

The governor today also stressed the need for Rhode Islanders to get back to work, citing concerns from local businesses that allege a labor shortage in certain precarious industries like food service. The governor, with partners in the state legislature, has introduced legislation that would enable people to work some hours and still “keep connected” to the unemployment insurance system. Toward the end of next month, McKee said they would start enforcing work search requirements for those on unemployment. “It’s time to get Rhode Islanders back to work safely,” said the governor.

Schools can expect to reopen fully in the fall, Commissioner Green announced today. Most schools across the state are back learning in person, after a robust campaign to get educators vaccinated. State education leaders will also be announcing in the future free summer programs for students statewide. The state is also starting a vaccine campaign in high schools to get of-age students and their families vaccinated. The state is running vaccination clinics at schools across the state if the municipality and district asks, and in the next week will be at schools in North Kingstown, Cranston, Cumberland (“Go Clippers!” chimed the governor) and others to come.

J&J vaccine use to resume next week, CDC committee recommends

Janssen vaccine policy adopted by Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the US CDC, April 23, 2021

Use of the Janssen (also known as Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccine should resume next week after a “pause” begun on April 13. At the end of a six-hour meeting today, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) voted, 10-4-1, to recommend resumption of the use of the Janssen vaccine with no specific restriction by age or sex. By Tuesday, the CDC director is expected to decide whether to accept the recommendation, ordinarily a formality, and if so it will be published by the agency as formal guidance for public health systems throughout the nation.

The pause was in response to six cases of an unusual blood clotting condition accompanied by a drop in blood platelet count, all in women ages 18 to 49, an incidence below one-in-a-million out of nearly seven million doses. (See “Don’t panic! J&J vaccine pause and rare blood clots: One-in-a-million risk”, by Michael Bilow, Apr 14, 2021.) During the pause the total of identified cases increased to 15, of which three were fatal.

Asked for comment by Motif, the RI Department of Health (RIDOH) responded this evening, “RIDOH is aware that the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has made a recommendation about continued use of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine. We will review all of the information and data and will make a decision next week. RIDOH is storing roughly 5,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as we were instructed to do. We would not expect to get another shipment of Johnson & Johnson vaccine for another two to three weeks. We do not expect this to have any impact on Rhode Island’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts because the state’s weekly allocation of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines has been increasing.”

The ACIP quickly dispensed with other options on the table, including stopping use of the Janssen vaccine entirely. The ACIP concluded that restricting the vaccine to men would be unwise, both in terms of practical constraints on how to do that at points of dispensing (PODs) and because the tiny number of cases made it impossible to quantify the risk to men as opposed to women.

Eventually the ACIP reached a consensus that individuals should be given the choice whether to accept the Janssen vaccine, subject to informed consent about its known risk, in consultation with their healthcare provider, and therefore decided against restricting use to age 50 and older. In the end, members of the committee differed only as to whether their recommendation should explicitly mention that women younger than 50 may want to consider choosing an alternative vaccine, but there were concerns this would be misinterpreted and no such proviso was appended.

The ACIP made clear that there was an understanding patients who receive the Janssen vaccine in the future would be given explicit warning using language approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) listing the symptoms of the rare blood clot reaction, detailing what to watch for and what do.

Janssen vaccine warning by FDA to patients, exhibited at CDC ACIP meeting, Apr 23, 2021.
Janssen vaccine warning by FDA to clinicians, exhibited at CDC ACIP meeting, Apr 23, 2021.

Because the Janssen vaccine is the only one authorized by the FDA for use in the US that needs a single dose and can be stored in ordinary refrigerators rather than deep freezers, it is valuable for providers dispensing small numbers of doses, especially in rural areas, and for reaching populations for whom it would be difficult to arrange a second dose, such as the home-bound, the homeless, migrants, transients and the incarcerated. As a result, the CDC internally concluded that the loss of use of the Janssen vaccine could result in more deaths due to the virus than cases of the rare blood clotting reaction, as well as tens of times more intensive care unit (ICU) unit admissions and hundreds of times more hospitalizations.

The ACIP meeting included a half-hour of public comments, limited to three minutes each, chosen by lottery from applicants in advance. A significant number of the commenters appeared to be anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists, and the members of the ACPI made no response beyond the moderator thanking them for their comments.

COVID Restriction Relaxations on the Horizon: A summary of the governor’s COVID-19 press conference

Memorial Day weekend, the state of Rhode Island is opening for business. Governor Dan McKee and state leaders announced today the relaxation of most major business restrictions by May 28. Today’s announcement is a big step up from the state’s prior goals. State officials were hoping to hit 70% vaccinations of all eligible adults by May 15 and 70% of all Rhode Islanders by June 5, but as of today, those goals have officially moved up one week.

“It’s a little early to put up the ‘Mission Accomplished’ sign,” said the governor. “But we’re getting ready to order the sign.”

On May 7 comes the first wave of COVID restriction relaxations. COVID mask-wearing orders for outdoors will go from required to recommended. Mask wearing will still be required across the state for indoor settings. Capacity limits across all industries will rise starting in early May, with businesses allowed up to 80% pre-pandemic capacity. Catered events will have limits capped at 200 for indoors, 500 for outdoors. Testing requirements for catered events will have their testing requirements removed except for cases of student catered events, such as proms or graduations. Outdoor bars can allow people to congregate.

On May 28 comes a big erosion of restrictions just in time for Memorial Day weekend. All capacity limits everywhere will be lifted as long as there is three feet of spacing. Masks still will be required for all indoor settings. The last group of high-risk school sports will also be allowed to open up with few safe modifications. This includes activities like karate. Out-of-state teams can start competing in state again, and spectators can include people beyond immediate family members. Additionally, plexiglass barriers can come down at bars, and dance floors can officially re-open.

“We recognize it’s time for our businesses to get some relief,” said DOH director Dr. Alexander-Scott during her announcements today.

More than half a million people have received at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of this week. One third of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, and state leaders stressed today the economic reopening was for fully vaccinated people. Seventy-five percent of appointments recently made thru the state’s vaccine site were for people between the ages of 16 and 39, the latest age group to be eligible. Twelve thousand new appointments go live tomorrow at and state-run sites. Coronavirus vaccine supply far outstrips demand, with thousands of appointments still available every day.

COVID response czar Tom McCarthy announced the state is piloting walk-up vaccination appointments at certain sites as the state continues to pile on its supply. The pilot program will be this Friday and Saturday at the Dunkin Donuts Center and Cranston sites. His team also is looking ahead toward integrating coronavirus doses into traditional medicine, akin to how flu shots are distributed every year. State leaders have nothing official to announce on a possible booster dose regimen for later this year.

“Vaccinations keep you safe. If you’re not vaccinated, you’re at risk.” said Governor McKee.

DoH reports 318 new cases of COVID-19 since yesterday out of more than 19,000 tests. The test positivity rate was 1.6%. New hospital admissions rose slightly compared to last week. There are 114 people hospitalized with the virus; 23 people are in the intensive care unit and 20 are on ventilators. State health leaders also report two additional deaths.

While state leaders presented a lot of good news today, they also constantly reminded the public that all of the relaxations count for people who are fully vaccinated. Dr. Alexander-Scott especially encouraged people to get vaccinated while acknowledging it was a personal choice. She asked people who are not fully vaccinated to think twice about going to busy places or into large crowds. The DoH director also warned that having COVID-19 in the past does not grant you immunity from new variants like the vaccines do. Fully vaccinated, health officials said today, means two weeks after your final dose of any vaccine regimen. 

“We’ve been together long enough,” said Dr. Alexander-Scott. “That we are confident that you have the information you need to make the right decision you need to make.”

Solidarity!: Protesters march for Adam Toledo

Activists flocked to the State House last night to hold a solidarity rally and march for Adam Toledo and other victims of police brutality. Toledo was a 13-year-old shot and killed by a Chicago police officer last month, with explicit body cam footage of the event only released last week. State and city law enforcement watched from inside the State House and the end of the mall.

The event was organized by Enriques Sanchez, a political activist and organizer with local direct action groups, shortly after he watched the body cam footage last Thursday. “It just continues the same pattern that Black and brown people continue to be pushed around, continue to be killed, continued to be executed by the police around the country,” he said in his opening remarks. There were no specific speakers for the rally, and there was an open invite to the crowd to speak.

“We have a right to rebel, we have a right to exist,” said one speaker from the Party of Socialism and Liberation (PSL). Others invoked the name of those killed by police violence: Tamir Rice, George Floyd and others. Youth advocates from the Providence Student Union strongly argued for the removal of student resource officers from public schools, alleging that the guns they carry were not the most dangerous thing, but the psychological impacts when students are arrested by officers in the school and taken out in handcuffs.

One speaker, an older, female POC, recounted the time a Providence College student called law enforcement on her after she asked the student to move his car from the front of her home. According to her account, five police officers showed up. “The system is broken,” she said. “It’s been broken.”

Protesters soon after marched across downtown, keeping to the right lines when possible, but for the most part taking up the street. The crowd marched down Francis Street passing the mall, with police cruisers slowly following behind. The march took a right onto Sabin, before going down Empire Street and turning northeast onto Weybosset. Protesters stopped in front of PPAC to hold a moment of silence. 

Throughout the march, protesters chanted, “No justice, no peace,” and promised the “pigs” (law enforcement) that “we’ll be back!” as they passed police stationed along the route.

Two members of noted far-right extremist group the Proud Boys were embedded inside the march from the beginning. While the march was stopped in front of PPAC by the corner of Richmond Street, Sanchez identified them in the crowd for the benefit of the marchers and politely asked the two Proud Boys to walk away. The crowd chanted, “Fascists go home, racists go home,” and a small segment chased them back down Weybosset where they got into a car and drove away.

The march resumed without any other incident. Protesters went down Weybosset, pausing at the corner of Westminster and Exchange streets, before crossing over to Memorial Boulevard where they followed the river back to Providence Place. Back in front of the State House, there were a few more speakers and a third moment of silence.