Starting Wednesday and continuing through April, police will be cracking down on motorists who use cellphones or other mobile electronic devices while driving.
The enforcement is part of the nationwide “U Drive. U Text. U Pay” enforcement campaign that combines intense enforcement of distracted driving laws with advertising and media outreach to persuade people to obey the law, according to a Maui Police Department news release.
The focus is on the idea that “if you’re texting, you’re not driving.”
Under state law, anyone using a mobile electronic device while driving faces a $297 fine, which increases to $347 in a school or construction zone. In addition to cellphones, mobile electronic devices include tablet computers, digital cameras and gaming devices.
Police are urging drivers to use a hands-free device, pull over or wait until they reach their destination before using a mobile electronic device.
“Our primary goal during the operation is to make the roadways of Maui County safe for the entire public to use by reducing the number of motor vehicle collisions caused by distracted driving,” police said.
In 2017, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated 3,166 people were killed by distracted driving.
“Over the years, millennials have become the worst texting-while-driving offenders, using their cellphones to talk, text and scroll through social media while behind the wheel,” police said.
According to NHTSA, drivers ages 16 to 24 have been observed using handheld electronic devices while driving at higher rates than older drivers since 2007. In 2018, 8 percent of people killed in crashes by drivers ages 15 to 19 died when the drivers were distracted at the time of the crash, police said.
“Texting is the most alarming distraction,” police said. “Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.”
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Des Moines Public Schools custodian Cynthia Adams cleans a desk in a classroom at Brubaker Elementary School, Wednesday, July 8, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. As the Trump administration pushes full steam ahead to force schools to resume in-person education, public health experts warn that a one-size-fits-all reopening could drive infection and death rates even higher. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
As the Trump administration pushes full steam ahead to force schools to resume in-person education, public health experts warn that a one-size-fits-all reopening could drive infection and death rates even higher.
They’re urging a more cautious approach, which many local governments and school districts are already pursuing.
There are too many uncertainties and variables, they say, for back-to-school to be back-to-normal.
Where is the virus spreading rapidly? Do students live with aged grandparents? Do teachers have high-risk health conditions that would make online teaching safest? Do infected children easily spread COVID-19 to each other and to adults?
Regarding the latter, some evidence suggests they don’t, but a big government study aims to find better proof. Results won’t be available before the fall, and some schools are slated to reopen in just a few weeks.
“These are complicated issues. You can’t just charge straight ahead,” Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday during an online briefing.
Children infected with coronavirus are more likely than adults to have mild illnesses, but their risk for severe disease and death isn’t zero. While a virus-linked inflammatory condition is uncommon, most children who develop it require intensive care, and a few have died. Doctors don’t know which children are at risk.
“The single most important thing we can do to keep our schools safe has nothing to do with what happens in school. It’s how well we control COVID-19 in the community,” Frieden said. “Right now there are places around the country where the virus is spreading explosively and it would be difficult if not impossible to operate schools safely until the virus is under better control.”
Zahrah Wattier teaches high school in Galveston, Texas, where cases and deaths have been spiking. Until the state recently said schools must reopen to in-person classes, her district had been weighing options many others are considering, including full-time online teaching or a hybrid mix.
Wattier’s school has mostly Hispanic and Black students, many from low-income families; almost 70% qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches and many have parents who work in “essential” jobs that increase potential exposure to the virus. Online education was hard for many with limited internet access, and Wattier knows in-person classes can help even the playing field.
But she’s worried.
“My school has over 2,000 students. That’s over 2,000 exposures in a day,” she said. “It’s a lot to think about. It’s my job. It’s something I choose to do, it’s something I love. Now it comes at a really high risk.”
She also worries about her 2-year-old twins in day care and a 4-year-old who has asthma and is starting preschool. Her parents live with the family and they’re both high-risk.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, whose guidance the Trump administration has cited to support its demands, says the goal is for all students to be physically present in school. But it says school districts need to be flexible, consult with public health authorities and be ready to pivot as virus activity waxes and wanes.
“It is not that the American Academy of Pediatrics thinks this is a done deal because we have put out guidance,” said Dr. Nicholas Beers, a member of the academy’s school health council. “But what we do know is that we need to have a more realistic dialogue about the implications of virtual learning on the future of children. We have left whole swaths of society behind, whether it’s because they have limited access to a computer, or broadband internet,” or because of other challenges that online education can’t address.
Following academy guidelines would mean big changes for most schools. Mask-wearing would be strongly encouraged for adult staff and students except the youngest. Desks would be distanced at least 3 feet apart; the CDC recommends 6 feet. Both the academy and the CDC suggest limiting adults allowed in schools, including parents, and canceling group activities like choir and assemblies. Staggered arrival and dismissal times, outdoor classes, and keeping kids in the same classroom all day are other options.
President Donald Trump has threatened federal funding cuts for districts that don’t fully reopen. While most funding typically comes from state and local sources, experts say schools will need more federal funding, not less, to reopen safely. Masks, extra cleaning supplies or janitors, additional classroom space, mental health support for students and staff traumatized by the pandemic are among potential costs. And with more parents out of work, more children will qualify for federally funded school lunches.
Lynn Morales, 49, teaches 8th grade English at a high-poverty public school in Bloomington, Minnesota. Her district is considering several options including in-person classes; a final decision is expected Aug. 1.
Some colleagues are considering not returning to the classroom because their children’s day care centers aren’t reopening. Some say they won’t come back until there’s a vaccine.
“I am concerned and it’s because of the age group,” Morales said. ”Middle school students … are lovely and I love them, but they touch, they get close, they roughhouse. It is their nature. They’re 13 years old. They are defiant.”
“If masks are required and a kid isn’t wearing a mask, is my job description going to be to chase down this kid and insist they wear a mask? And what if they don’t?”
She’s heard outrage from parents angry at the prospect of some schools not reopening or incredulous about sending kids back into classrooms.
”There is no win-win,” she said. ”Teachers are used to being scapegoats. This is just a whole new level of anger.”
Dr. Emily Landon, a University of Chicago infectious disease specialist, is helping the university and a campus preK-12 school decide how to reopen safely.
“Things are evolving from, ‘We can’t do it unless it’s perfectly safe’ to more of a harm reduction model, with the caveat that you can always step back” if virus activity flares, Landon said.
Single-occupancy dorms, outdoor classes, socially distanced classrooms and mask-wearing by students and faculty are on tap for the university. Face coverings will be required at the school too. Policies may change depending on virus activity.
She dismisses complaints from some parents who say masks are a loss of personal freedom.
“It’s not harmful for your child,” she said. “If you see wearing masks as a loss of personal freedom, then you have to think the same of pants.”
Dr. Tina Hartert of Vanderbilt University is leading a National Institutes of Health-funded study aiming to determine what role children play in transmitting COVID-19. Almost 2,000 families are enrolled and self-test every two weeks. The idea is to find infected children without symptoms and see how easily disease spreads within families. Results may come by year’s end.
“If we don’t see significant transmission within households, that would be very reassuring,” Hartert said.
She noted that in other countries where schools have reopened, evidence suggests no widespread transmission from children.
In France, public schools reopened briefly before a summer break, with no sign of widespread virus transmission. Masks were only required for upper grades, but students stayed in the same classroom all day. Frequent hand-washing was mandatory. A better test will be when the new school year starts Sept. 1.
In Norway, schools closed in March for several weeks. Nursery schools reopened first, then other grades. Children were put in smaller groups that stay together all day. Masks aren’t required. There have been only a few virus cases, said Dr. Margrethe Greve-Isdahl of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, but she noted virus activity is much lower than in the U.S.
Kati Spaniak, a realtor in Northbrook, Illinois, says her five teenage daughters have struggled to cope with pandemic fears, school closures and deficits of online learning. She strongly supports getting kids back in the classroom, and all her girls will return to some form of that in the fall.
It’s been hard for her high school senior, Kylie Ciesla. Prom, graduation and other senior rituals were canceled, and there were no good-byes. “Just to get ripped away from everything I’ve worked for 12 years, it’s really hard,” Kylie said.
At college, classes will be in person, masks mandated and a COVID-19 test required before she can move into her dorm. Kylie isn’t sure all that is needed.
“I hate that this thing has become so political. I just want the science. I want to know what we need to do to fix it,” she said.
Daimler will need to cut more jobs than the 15,000 previously announced, the company’s head of human resources told German news agency DPA in an interview.
While he didn’t want to give an exact number of jobs that would need to be eliminated, Wilfried Porth said the figure was higher than 15,000, and was necessary for the Mercedes-Benz maker to avoid operational layoffs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The willingness of the works council to grant really significant measures is unfortunately not particularly pronounced,” Porth said in the interview.
Daimler CEO Ola Kallenius warned last week that the company will have to widen cost cuts amid one of the biggest slumps in demand for cars and trucks ever. An original restructuring plan announced in November called for 10,000 jobs to be eliminated through 2022.
Daimler needs to negotiate the reductions with union and worker representatives who make up half of the members on the company’s supervisory board. The company had previously agreed to avoid operational layoffs until the end of the decade, but the plan leaves open the option to renegotiate in the case of severe economic changes.
Automakers globally have been pushing deep cost to survive the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down dealerships and factories and brought global car sales to a virtual halt. Though sales have started recovering slowly, predictions for the year see sales falling by double-digit percentages.
Two sisters started working for the city of Blue Earth last week.
On Monday, July 6, Mary Kennedy officially started her duties as the new city administrator in Blue Earth.
Just a day later, on Tuesday, July 7, Kennedy’s sister, Amy Schaefer, started working as the economic development specialist for the city of Blue Earth.
Mary Kennedy, left, is the new Blue Earth city administrator, and her sister, Amy Schaefer, right, is the new economic development specialist for the city’s EDA, hired through CEDA. Both started work last week.
Kennedy had been the economic development specialist for the city, until she was tapped to be the new city administrator.
The economic development specialist is actually employed by Community Economic Development Associates (CEDA) and serves the city of Blue Earth under a contract between CEDA and the city.
With Kennedy leaving her CEDA employment in order to become the city administrator, CEDA hired Schaefer to be her replacement.
“There were three applications for the position,” Blue Earth mayor Rick Scholtes told the City Council last Monday night at their regular meeting. “They were all interviewed twice by the CEDA management and once here in Blue Earth last Wednesday (July 1).”
Scholtes says all three were unique in their own way but Schaefer stood out above the other two.
Schaefer grew up in Mankato and is a graduate of Mankato East High School. She then attended Mankato State University for one year and South Central Technical College for one year.
“I worked in the surgery department at the hospital in Mankato,” Schaefer says. “Then I met my husband, Marty Schaefer, and he was from Buffalo Center, Iowa, so we moved there.”
She worked 12 years in the Buffalo Center City Hall. Three years ago she switched jobs and started working at the North Iowa School District to be more on the same schedule as her children.
The Schaefers have three sons: Max, 17, a junior; Charlie, 14, a ninth grader; and Henry, 9, a fourth grader.
“We go to lots of sporting events,” Schaefer says. “The boys are in lots of sports, and there is baseball here in Iowa, including high school baseball this summer.”
Another summer activity for the Schaefers is camping.
“We try and get away to go camping, but, of course, this summer has been a little different,” she says. “We had a big long camping trip planned, but then we decided to postpone that until next year.”
When this EDA position opened up, Schaefer decided she would apply.
“I really missed city government, and missed learning about the community and being involved with it,” she says. “This was a unique opportunity to get back into it, and work with Mary. It was good timing for our family, too.
Schaefer says she is a little familiar with Blue Earth, especially the stores and restaurants.
“We have shopped here quite often over the last 20 years,” she says. “I’m familiar with most of the stores, especially Bougars. We also go to places like Cedar Inn and Double Play and other restaurants.”
She is eager to get out and meet the business owners and the rest of the citizens of Blue Earth.
“I want to listen to community members and learn what they want done, and what they think about things,” she says. “I know I have a lot to learn and I plan on spending time getting to know everyone and what projects are currently in the works. I am ready to jump in and get going.”
Her sister, Mary, the new city administrator is no stranger to Blue Earth or the businesses and citizens here.
Kennedy came to Blue Earth in January of 2018 to be the CEDA-employed economic development specialist for the city.
Kennedy grew up in Fairmont, graduated from Fairmont High School and then went off to St. Cloud State, where she majored in Planning and Community Development.
After two years she transferred to Minnesota State University, Mankato, and graduated from their Urban and Regional Studies Program.
She interned with the city of Jordan in their city planning department, and then was hired by CEDA and came to Blue Earth under their contract with the city to supply an economic development specialist.
Kennedy applied for the city administrator position last December when then administrator Tim Ibisch resigned to take a position in Kasson.
Kennedy was a finalist, but the council decided to go with a more experienced person, Kim Moore. When Moore resigned on May 27, the council opted to offer the position to Kennedy and not advertise the position again.
“I am very excited about being the city administrator here in Blue Earth,” Kennedy says. “I get to work with a great city staff who I already know well. And I have worked with a lot of the businesses in the city and have gotten to know a lot of people here.”
Kennedy says she is ready to work hard for the city of Blue Earth.
“I am going to be a very strong advocate for whatever the citizens, department heads, staff and City Council members want to see happen here,” she says. “I have a feeling great things are about to happen, and I am just lucky to be here, help where I can, and be a part of it.”