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Things I have learned while covering the coronavirus

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Here are some things that have occurred to me during the coronavirus pandemic.

A remote meeting is only as good as the technology behind it, and on that score, Johnston County’s many elected and appointed boards can certainly do better.

Amid the pandemic, I figured our readers might have more than a passing interest in the doings of the Johnston County Board of Health, and yet when I tried to cover a meeting of the board remotely, I quickly grew so frustrated that I hung up.

The meeting was by conference call, and clearly, not all phones and phone carriers are created equally. Some board members sounded like they were a hundred yards away, their words a strain to hear. With other board members, I could hear maybe every other word, suggesting they were on cellphones with spotty signals. Had the board announced a cure or treatment for COVID-19, I would not have heard it.

This past week, I watched the school board’s most recent meeting, which included a unanimous vote on a local budget request. I don’t know for sure, but I figure it was a Zoom meeting the board streamed on YouTube. By and large, that meeting went well. A couple of board members weren’t aware that the microphones on their laptops were on mute, but once they figured that out, I could hear them just fine. Still, the meeting had a few moments where voices came and went, much like the Health Board meeting, though nowhere near to that degree.

My fellow Johnstonian News reporter, Tyler Stocks, has been dialing into the Smithfield Town Council’s recent budget meetings, and he said the quality of the audio has been very good, though last week’s meeting got off to a rocky audio start. His only complaint is that council members don’t identify themselves when they speak, which they should do, recognizing that folks listening can’t see them.

My best experience so far has been with Johnston’s County Commissioners. They aren’t meeting remotely, opting instead for a Facebook stream from a large meeting room at the Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield, where they can distance themselves socially. For the most part, the audio gets a thumbs-up, in part because Chairman Ted Godwin does a good job of reminding folks to speak into their microphones. Only occasionally does the audio waiver, which I attribute to a brief blip in bandwidth.

I write all of this simply to say that 2020 likely won’t be the last time the county’s many boards have to meet remotely. And because of that, boards need to give more thought, and likely more money, to how they conduct those meetings so that Johnstonians can easily hear them even if they can’t see them.

I suppose I should have seen this coming, but my Facebook friends are just as divided over the response to the pandemic as they are the president of the United States. On the one side are those working-from-home friends who are OK with leaving the house only for groceries, takeout meals, walks in the neighborhood and doctor appointments. They all wear masks when out and about and fret when they see others not wearing them.

On the other are friends who think Gov. Roy Cooper has sacrificed hundreds of thousands of jobs in the name of protecting all North Carolinians against a virus that actually threatens a small segment of the state’s population. That side also includes folks opposed, often vehemently, to the government taking away their freedoms, including their constitutional rights to peacefully assemble and worship.

I’m somewhere in the middle. I don’t mind wearing a mask when I’m in the grocery store, though it occurred to me the other day that when I smile at a fellow customer or the cashier, they can’t see it. But I don’t care much for the government telling me where I can and can’t go.

Don’t tell anyone I said this, but I’m looking forward to the day when my Facebook friends get back to arguing only about Trump. Those were simpler days.

I like celebrities as much as the next person. I don’t subscribe to People magazine, but I read the online headlines when a well-known actor or musician makes news for reasons either good or bad. But I’ll confess to not caring much for those public service announcements in which celebrities remind me that we’re all safer at home and that we’re all in this together. We might all be safer together, but we’re certainly not in this together.

A celebrity who has made $20 million a movie or $1 million per TV episode is not in the same boat as a restaurant server who has lost her job or a barber who has had to close his shop. While one is comfortable staying at home, the other is worried about losing that home.

I don’t know who came up with the idea for the PSAs, but they clearly have nothing in common with those millions of Americans who have lost their jobs. Simply put, the haves shouldn’t be lecturing the have-nots about have to behave.

Scott Bolejack is editor of the Johnstonian News. Reach him at sbolejack@johnstoniannews.com.

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