Sunday, May 31, 2020

Covid hospitalizations return to peak levels in Southern Maine

The number of Covid-19 inpatients at Portland's major hospitals returned to the peak levels of early April last week, data collected directly from Maine's hospitals show. York County's largest hospital also saw increases.

The story -- the latest in my exclusive weekly Press Herald round-ups of the hospitalization situation in Maine -- follows weeks of steadily increasing Covid case counts in Cumberland and Androscoggin counties, suggesting the disease is having a resurgence as social distancing requirements are loosened. The upward case trends in these counties began before the Maine CDC increased testing and the hospitalization trends, of course, are not a product of how many tests were performed (which is why they are valuable to have.) York counties trends are also not encouraging, but Maine's other 13 counties looked relatively good, including Penobscot County (Bangor).

The story also includes an update on the promises the Maine CDC made last week in regards to releasing better data on the pandemic; short answer is they're still working on it.

The spike in hospitalizations in Portland -- now in its second week running -- followed more than a month of declining of flat cases in much of April and the beginning of May, when Gov. Janet Mills began the phased reopening of parts of Maine's (heavily damaged) economy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Early reviews of Union, my forthcoming book

Looking at the calendar, I realize the on sale date for my new book, Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood, is less than a month away. While the in-person book tour is pretty much cancelled by the ongoing pandemic, there have been the early reviews, and this seems as good a time to share them.

Publisher's Weekly says Union is "a fluid narrative that manages to make abstract intellectual concepts tangible. This enlightening and character-driven account will resonate with progressive
history buffs." (The reviewer also says "Woodard oversells his argument by treating pride in the nation’s constitutional legacy as historically discrete from pride in America’s cultural heritage," a sentence I've been scrutinizing for the better part of a month and still have no idea what they are talking about in the context of this book...but I digress.)

Kirkus calls it "Sturdy American history" and says "Woodard manages to bring all of his disparate biographical threads together in a coherent narrative, using as his apotheosis the life of Woodrow Wilson, Southern-born writer of his own Anglo Saxon–centered History of the American People and proponent of D.W. Griffith’s white supremacist film Birth of a Nation (1915)."

I hope you'll consider reading it. More details as pub date approaches. Union is available for preorder,  with links to various retailers from Penguin-Random House's page for it.

[Update, 6/7/20: Two more early reviews out now from Library Journal and The American Scholar.]

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Exclusive: pandemic appears resurgent in southern Maine

To kick off your Memorial Day weekend unpleasantly, I have this story in today's Portland Press Herald showing that Covid-19 has been having a clear resurgence in two of Maine's most populous counties, Cumberland (e.g.: Greater Portland) and Androscoggin (includes Lewiston-Auburn) and doesn't look out for the count by any means in York County, which is close to southern New Hampshire and eastern Massachusetts, which both have far higher prevalence of the disease than anywhere in Maine.

Talked to Maine CDC's director late Friday afternoon who agreed the weeks-long new case trends -- detailed in the article -- were worrisome and had started before Maine ramped up testing levels. Two top national experts said the state shouldn't be reopening these counties further until the new case counts were under control.

Also in today's paper, my weekly exclusive update on hospitalizations, hospital-by-hospital, day-by-day, show a sharp increase in Covid-19 inpatients at Portland's two major hospitals, Maine Medical Center and Mercy. (Curiously, CMMC in Lewiston did not have such a trend.)

Enjoy your weekend, but stay safe, wear masks when around people outside your bubble, and keep reading.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Maine CDC to improve its pandemic data reporting

Over the past couple of months, I've reported on a variety of shortcomings in the way the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention collects and/or shares data on the pandemic, from early problems keeping track of ICU bed capacity to being the only state in New England to not report cases by town and the only state in the entire Union incapable of calculating and reporting full test results (and positivity rates) daily.

As I reported in today's print edition of the Portland Press Herald, the agency has taken steps to improve and increase the data it shares and has promised to soon start releasing daily testing data and make even town-level case information. Details in the story.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Talking with the AP about individual liberty, the common good, and the coronavirus

Had an enjoyable conversation with national Associated Press writer Ted Anthony recently about a topic close to my heart: the conflict between individual liberty and the common good and how it applies to the politics of the pandemic here in the increasingly disunited United States. It's something I wrote a book about -- minus the Covid-19 part -- called American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good.

Anthony's story came out yesterday and, I'm happy to say, has been picked up by dozens of newspapers and the webpages of television stations across the country including The Miami HeraldDenver Post , Minneapolis Star-Tribune, San Diego Union-Tribune, Fox-5 (NYC), Seattle Times, Yahoo News and Real Clear Politics. The Chicago Tribune kindly translated it into Spanish.

I've only written one piece on coronavirus political geography -- how the response falls along American Nations lines -- which appeared over at Washington Monthly last month.

[Update, 5/26/20: The Bangor Daily News published this staff editorial on this issue, centered on the AP article and, to some extent, my contribution to it.]

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Maine reopening despite missing benchmarks, lacking adequate testing regime

In today's Maine Sunday Telegram I wrote about how Maine has been reopening even as it has missed the prerequisites set by the White House, the testing thresholds advised by public health experts, and some of the benchmark metrics set by Gov. Janet Mills's administration itself. Leading experts from across the country warn such a tact has risks for both the economy and public health.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention refused to answer written questions for this story and denied interview requests with its director, Niav Shah, for nearly two weeks. Gov. Mills's office also did not directly answer questions, sending instead a statement that didn't address most of them.

Earlier this week I reported on how Maine is now the only state in the country that cannot compile and present daily testing data.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Maine alone in the country in not compiling Covid-19 testing data every day

A month ago I wrote about how Maine was the only state in New England unable to post negative test results counts each day, a number that allows the calculation of positivity percentages and the ability to gauge if upticks in cases are related to increased testing.

In yesterday's Portland Press Herald I reported that Maine is now the only state in the entire country that is -- a month later -- still unable to do this, and that it is now Maine CDC policy to keep it that way.

The reasons this is a problem - and reaction from national experts -- in the story.

Also, for those tracking our exclusive data on hospital-by-hospital Covid-19 in-patient counts, I've reported on these for the fourth and now fifth weeks running. They remain essentially flat, which is great news, though hospitalizations are a lagging indicator of infection by about two weeks.

Finally, because I'm waiting for dinner to come out of the oven, here are the updated pandemic burdens on Maine hospitals, measured by total confirmed Covid-19 patient days:

1. Maine Medical Center (Portland) - 1068 patient days
2. Southern Maine Health Care (Biddeford) - 217 patient days
3. MaineGeneral (Augusta) - 186 patient days
4. Mid Coast Hospital (Brunswick) - 164 patient days
5. Eastern Maine Medical Center (Bangor) - 139 patient days
6. Mercy Hospital (Portland) - 133 patient days
7. York Hospital (York) - 129 patient days
8. Central Maine Medical Center (Lewiston) - 110 patient days
9. Waldo Memorial (Belfast) - 24 patient days
10. Franklin Memorial (Farmington) - 12 patient days

No change in the top four rankings since I did this two weeks ago, but lots of changes thereafter.

Monday, May 11, 2020

How New Brunswick stopped Covid-19 in its tracks

The Canadian province of New Brunswick has weathered the pandemic with zero deaths and no long term care outbreaks and is currently down to just two active cases and no hospitalizations. There was a sixteen day period in late April and early May when they didn't have any active cases at all.

How did a province of 750,000 with an aged population manage to outperform its neighbors -- including Maine, Nova Scotia, and Quebec -- to virtually contain a global pandemic? As I reported in Saturday's Portland Press Herald it was a combination of acting very early, closing its borders with the United States and with other provinces, not being as close to major hotspots and, well, a lot of dumb luck.


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Seattle Times takes up American Nations

The ongoing decomposition of the republic may be a terrible thing for humanity, but it has driven interest in the American Nations thesis, which provides the historical background for the United States's existential crisis.

Case in point: this Sunday's lead story in the opinion section of the Seattle Times. That paper's staff cartoonist, David Horsey, is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and devoted both his artistic and literary skills to this package on how American Nations describes how we got here.

Here's a taste:

"Is it any surprise then that, in Left Coast Seattle, business leaders have rallied in good Yankee fashion to support hospitals and Gov. Inslee’s social distancing measures while, over the mountains in the “Far West” counties of Benton and Franklin, officials have tried to defy Inslee’s stay-at-home orders?

When we wonder why Americans seem so disunited, even in the midst of a pandemic that threatens us all, the answer may be simple: We are one country composed of several nations that have seldom seen things eye to eye."

Thanks to Horsey for giving voice (and a face) to the book and for doing such an excellent job summarizing its lessons for this moment.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Maine's reopening plan not backed by big enough testing regime, experts say

On Friday, Maine took the first cautious steps toward loosening restrictions that slowed the growth of the coronavirus here, protecting hospitals from being overwhelmed. The four-phase plan opens many parts of our economy between now and August.

But experts say the scale of testing the state is intending on deploying is far too small to ensure success -- like maybe thirty times too small -- and say its likely to doom the state to have to keep opening and shutting, as asymptomatic carriers will spread it in many settings.

I have the story in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram, and also online here.

As an aside: the Press Herald's subscriptions and viewership have dramatically surged during this crisis, but the pandemic is battering newspapers around the country as the pandemic closes advertisers' businesses, theaters, and venues. The paper provides pandemic coverage free of charge, but if you value it and can afford to, please subscribe or even donate (tax deductible through this mechanism) so it can continue to provide it.

[Update, 5/17/20: The testing regime remains too small, experts say, despite a doubling of the state lab's capacity through a partnership with veterinary medical manufacturer IDEXX.]

Friday, May 1, 2020

Maine Covid-19 hospitalizations contine to fall for third week

In the absence of widespread testing, its difficult to know if trends in new pandemic cases are an indication of the actual spread of the disease, or if the ups and downs have to do with who is and isn't being tested. But hospitalizations are less fuzzy: if you're really sick, you probably wind up there whether somebody tested you when you weren't symptomatic or not.

Is I've been gathering, combining, and publishing daily confirmed Covid-19 patient counts for each of Maine's hospitals for each of the past three weeks and am pleased to report -- in tomorrow's Portland Press Herald -- that patient counts continue to gently decline or plateau at almost all Maine hospitals. You can also read my report from a week ago on the patient count, which included some (still relevant) expert feedback on what it means: that social distancing is indeed succeeding in flattening the curve and protecting our hospitals from being overrun.

Bonus blog factoid: as of Thursday, April 30, the hospitals that have had the most Covid-19 inpatient burden (measured by cumulative patient days) were:

1. Maine Medical Center (Portland) - 879 patient days
2. Southern Maine Health Care (Biddeford) - 200 patient days
3. MaineGeneral (Augusta) - 152 patient days
4. Mid Coast Hospital (Brunswick) - 138 patient days
5. York Hospital (York) - 122 patient days
6. Mercy Hospital (Portland) - 88 patient days
7. Central Maine Medical Center (Lewiston) - 77 patient days
8. Eastern Maine Medical Center (Bangor) - 73 patient days
9. Waldo Memorial (Belfast) - 16 patient days
10. Inland (Waterville) - 8 patient days

My first dispatch on hospital counts was here.