It’s hard to know which news sources are balanced in a media environment where everyone can pick their favorite outlet. I routinely get 90% of my news from the Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio, which I consider to be mainstream outlets. Now, I’m a liberal, so when a conservative friend told me at the end of February that this COVID-19 was way overhyped by “the media,” I wondered: Was I misinformed, or was he?
The last five weeks have proved that mainstream media got it right. The Rash Report (“Global pandemic and ‘infodemic’ converge,” Opinion Exchange, April 4) bears out the disturbing effect that polarized media sources have on people’s opinions. John Rash reports that 79% of Fox News viewers said the news media have exaggerated the risks of COVID-19, even though it’s the first worldwide pandemic since 1918. Really?
Still, I wonder sometimes whether the Strib is balanced. Then I saw Katherine Kersten’s April 5 commentary (“Density in a time of coronavirus”) skewering New Urbanism and those who advocate for increased density, transit, and pedestrian- and bike-friendly design. It’s pretty easy to take shots at density and greener transportation during the fear and loathing of a pandemic. Nevertheless, many of us support these changes because of a greater long-term threat to human life — climate change. Our climate’s inexorable change is only several years away from irreversible disruption to humanity, both with sea rise in coastal areas and with massive storm/flood risks to interior areas. Regardless, I appreciate seeing Kersten’s starkly different worldview. Now, am I misinformed or is she?
Michael Darger, Minneapolis
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So, Katherine Kersten, let’s look at density in a time of coronavirus. The U.S. has six times more people yet has had 27 times more coronavirus cases at the same point in the pandemic than South Korea, which is 15 times more dense than the U.S. And although the U.S. spends 3.5 times more per person on health care, we have less than one-quarter the number of hospital beds per 1,000 people.
What matters in a pandemic is the density of hospital beds, not the density of buildings. But Kersten’s real target is transit, not health care, so let’s again compare the U.S. and South Korea. Although transit use in U.S. cities has increased 33% in the last two decades, we have a $90 billion maintenance backlog, with only 45% of transit costs paid through fares. In Seoul, more than 70% of the population uses transit daily, most live within 500 yards of a station, they pay less than half of what transit riders pay in New York and maintenance is excellent. South Korea has the world’s fifth-largest auto industry, so the people there are not anti-car, but they are much more efficient than the U.S. in both their health care and transportation expenditures, with much better results: All as a result of density.
Thomas Fisher, St. Paul
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With the spread of COVID-19, we have seen the downside of high population density. The Metropolitan Council has spent or committed to spend billions on light-rail transit. When new pathogens arise, proper social distancing is not possible on trains or buses.
There are literally hundreds of coronaviruses that routinely spread among bats and other wildlife. People in other countries eat dogs, cats, rats, bats, palm-faced civet cats, monkeys, snakes and other types of wildlife. While most Americans find eating these animals to be repulsive, those in many cultures do not. In China, exotic wildlife markets are reopening, so it is likely not a matter of if, but when, another deadly pathogen transfers from the animal kingdom to humans.
The Star Tribune has reported that highway traffic in the metro area has been 34 to 55% below normal levels under the stay-at-home orders. Our highway system accommodates this level of traffic nicely. Major highways are in the right place. To handle normal levels of traffic, divided highways that are two lanes in each direction should be expanded to three lanes in each direction. Highways that are three lanes in each direction should be expanded to five lanes in each direction. Now is the time for the Met Council to reconsider plans for future residential development in the metro area. America has achieved energy independence, and the push for higher population density and costly light-rail train lines needs to be revisited.
Andrew Moller, Eden Prairie
Why does it take this to get us to do things we should have done?
The Feb. 5 editorial (“Cultural impacts of the virus crisis”) refers to a crisis producing some sweeping change that can lead to positive, beneficial results for society. It cites the GI Bill coming after World War II to help millions of returning veterans establish themselves in their communities.
Today, I would point to the COVID-19 crisis uncovering weaknesses in the safety net we have for our families and communities here in our country. The Minnesota Legislature recently moved to shore up those weaknesses when it provided more funding for child care assistance and support, something it failed to do in the 2019 session when there was a crying need for it. And, Gov. Tim Walz, through executive order, preserved access to health care for those who can least afford it, as well as paid family leave for government employees and making it easier for Minnesotans to file for unemployment.
Why does it take a crisis to compel us as a nation and a state to act to do the right thing when it comes to how we treat one another as humans? Can these emergency measures not become a permanent way that we can make life better for all of us?
Arline L. Datu, St. Paul
WHO’S TAKING A HIT
Students. Even CEOs. But as for University of Minnesota coaches?
The April 5 Sports column “Fleck staying dynamic, connected” and the spread elsewhere in that day’s section “Power not on pause” mentioning the University of Minnesota football coach’s $4.7 million annual salary, not to mention the basketball coach’s $2.5 million salary, come at a time when students at the U have had to plead for refunds of unused housing and meals (“U students to get bigger refunds: Regents revise their payback plan for fees, unused room and board,” April 4).
It required the regents to meet and authorize proper refunds to students who I am sure struggle to make necessary payments.
CEOs of numerous companies have been coming forward every day, forgoing salaries for various periods during this difficult time for all. Hundreds of thousands are applying for unemployment, but the U continues to pay the head coaches, though we do not know if there will be an athletic season this year. What if the coach and assistant coaches had to apply for unemployment?
Leadership of a Big Ten university is in question.
Charles Stennes, Edina
COMPLIMENTS TO …
Patrick Reusse, Steve Sack
I’m writing to let you know how much the six sisters of Luther Dorr enjoyed reading Patrick Reusse’s April 5 column “The (Target) field of dreams: Perfect place to have a perfect day”). One sister each in California, Arizona, Wisconsin and Indiana, and two here in Minnesota. It brought a lighthearted feeling to all of us as we communicated via e-mail.
Rebecca Stueland, Anoka
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Steve Sack’s April 5 cartoon “I miss you too, Gramma …” was absolutely beautiful, simple, and powerful. And it made me cry. Thank you for something so perfect, Steve.
Ronell Laitinen, St. Louis Park
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