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McCullers shines as Astros beat White Sox 6-1 in Game 1



McCullers shines as Astros beat White Sox 6-1 in Game 1


HOUSTON (AP) — Lance McCullers Jr. was terrific. Yordan Alvarez delivered, and Jose Altuve scored on a nifty slide.

The Houston Astros sure love October.

McCullers pitched scoreless ball into the seventh inning, and the Astros beat Lance Lynn and the Chicago White Sox 6-1 in Game 1 of their AL Division Series on Thursday.

Michael Brantley added two hits and two RBIs as the AL West champions showed off their playoff experience in an impressive opening performance. McCullers allowed four hits in 6 2/3 innings in his eighth career postseason start.

While Houston is in the playoffs for the fifth straight season, winning the World Series in 2017 and making it to the AL Championship Series last year, Chicago is making a second straight playoff appearance for the first time in franchise history. It lost to Oakland in the first round in 2020.

Game 2 of the best-of-five series is Friday in Houston. The teams also met in the 2005 World Series, with the White Sox sweeping the Astros for the title.

McCullers, playing the role of staff ace after the Astros lost Gerrit Cole in free agency and Justin Verlander to injury in recent years, struck out four and walked none. He set career highs with 13 wins, a 3.16 ERA and 185 strikeouts during the regular season, but he also led the AL with 76 walks.

The 28-year-old McCullers didn’t allow a hit until Yoán Moncada singled with one out in the fourth. The right-hander left to a standing ovation after giving up consecutive singles with two outs in the seventh. He waved to the cheering fans just before entering the dugout.

Alvarez hit an RBI double in the third and a solo homer in the fifth. Altuve wowed the crowd of 40,497 when he slid home and slapped the back of the plate just ahead of Yasmani Grandal’s tag in the third.

Lynn was making his first playoff appearance since 2018 after posting a career-low 2.69 ERA this season. But the burly right-hander relies on his fastball, and the Astros are one of the majors’ best fastball-hitting teams.

Lynn was tagged for five runs and six hits in 3 2/3 innings. Five of the six hits that he allowed came off his four-seam or cut fastball.

Rookie Jake Meyers had two hits and drove in a run for Houston. Brantley chased Lynn with a two-run single.

Chicago got on the board on José Abreu’s two-out single in the eighth. But Kendall Graveman retired Grandal on a liner to center for the final out.

Abreu was in the lineup after dealing with flu-like symptoms for the last few days. He did not travel with the team to Houston, instead arriving Wednesday night after multiple tests showed his illness wasn’t COVID-19-related. The White Sox weren’t sure if he’d be able to play before he went through pregame workouts, so they submitted two different lineups to the Astros — one with the 2020 AL MVP and one without him.


Houston left-hander Framber Valdez (11-6, 3.14 ERA) opposes Lucas Giolito (11-9, 3.53 ERA) on Friday.


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White Bear Lake middle school gets rid of ‘F’ grades. Parents raise concerns.



White Bear Lake middle school gets rid of ‘F’ grades. Parents raise concerns.

Under a new grading system at a White Bear Lake middle school, students no longer will be given an F grade — no matter how bad they did on an assignment or test or if it was turned in late or not at all.

Instead, the grading system that began last month at Sunrise Middle School will start out at 50 percent, with nothing below that for assignments, tests, quizzes and projects. School officials say the approach, which one teacher described as “equitable grading” and a districtwide initiative, is aimed at ensuring that grades accurately reflect how well the students know the material and take out behavioral factors.

But some parents say the White Bear Lake’s new approach won’t motivate kids to excel and get work done on time.

The new method is among several efforts to change the way schools grade students, especially during the pandemic. For the 2020-21 school year, the Minnesota Department of Education urged schools to maintain a “do-no-harm” philosophy. Students, the department said, should get to choose the option of receiving a letter grade if it’s going to help their grade-point average, or a pass/fail grade if it won’t.

In a Sept. 24 video to parents, Sunrise Principal Christina Pierre explained their thinking by offering up a common situation from the past, when an F grade was classified as an I, or incomplete. Say a student received a B on one test, a C on another and then missed a third, which resulted in an incomplete test grade, or zero percentage points toward the overall grade. Taking all three grades into account, the student’s grade would also be an incomplete.

“That doesn’t seem fair, if two of the three grades are already passing grades, and only one of them, the student missed,” she said, “they shouldn’t have an overall grade of an ‘I.’”

So, the “solution,” she said, is to treat the incomplete grade the same as the B and the C by giving it a 50 percent, instead of zero.

In an interview Thursday, Pierre said that students would still get an overall grade of incomplete in the class if they score less than 60 percent.

Students will be given 10 days to retake or revise tests and quizzes and projects to better their scores. That window will allow teachers to work with students so they can learn the material, instead of just taking them as soon as possible when perhaps they are not ready, she said.

“We realize that not every kid gets it the first time,” she said. “Some students need more time to learn something than others.”

Also as part of the new system, Sunrise is now going to include in overall grades “exactly what the student knows based on what we want them to learn,” she said, and therefore grades no longer will include behavior, attitude, tardiness and whether an assignment was turned in late.

“There’s other ways that we can communicate those things to parents, and so they’re not going to be included in grades,” she said. “We recognize that this is really increasing the rigor of grades, we’re insisting that students make sure that they learn the material.”


Rebekah Bradfield, a Sunrise parent and candidate for the White Bear Lake School Board, said she first was told about the new grading system from her seventh-grade daughter’s language arts teacher about a week into the school year. In the email, which Bradfield forwarded to the Pioneer Press, the teacher explains that it was implemented schoolwide this year “as we move forward with more equitable grading practices throughout the district.”

Pierre said Thursday that the term “equitable grading” is “just another word for standards-based grading, which has been been around for 20 to 30 years. Standards-based grading is just about making sure that the grades communicate exactly what the student knows and is able to do.”

When asked about whether “equitable grading” involves addressing racial disparities in education, Pierre said, “I wouldn’t say it has nothing to do with it, but I wouldn’t say that it has everything to do with it. With everything we do, we need to be cognizant of how it impacts all of our students and our sub-populations.”

Bradfield said she dug into the goals of the district’s equity policies and they have a lot to do with grading. According to the district’s latest workforce and achievement and integration progress report, which was presented to the school board Sept. 27, the district wants enrollment in advanced high school courses to mirror the general student population in terms of race and family income.

Bradfield also pointed to a recent news release on the district’s website announcing that Superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak was named this year’s “Superintendent of the Year” by the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. It states the district has conducted an equity audit and, “in light of the killing of George Floyd and how conversations across the nation have evolved during this past year,” the district is “positioned to develop and implement both meaningful and actionable equity strategies, including through grading.”

“Grading can be one of the largest areas in which systemic racism and inequities are perpetuated,” the release states. “Kazmierczak and WBLAS believe grades should be a measure of what a student knows and has mastered in a given course. Grading should not be a behavior punishment and should not be a measure of how well a student can survive stress at home. Under Dr. Kazmierczak’s leadership and in line with the district’s strategic plan and commitment to eliminating systemic racism, the district began tackling grading disparities a year ago when they dramatically changed their grading practices.”


Pierre said other secondary schools in the district are also doing some aspects of the new strategy, but was unsure Thursday to what extent.

“As a district, as any functional organization should, we are always reviewing our policies and our procedures and our systems to make sure we’re functioning as well as possible,” she said. “And so we should always be updating and improving what we do, and so this is just part of it.”

But Bradfield said the new grading system gives students little to no incentive to do the work on time — and she is not alone. She said she’s heard concerns from parents and has read them in parent Facebook groups.

“They have very similar concerns as I do,” she said, “where they’re saying that it’s going to look good on paper, but the kids are not going to be ready for real life.”

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Stillwater school board fills vacancy created by recent resignation



Stillwater school board fills vacancy created by recent resignation

Stillwater school board members voted unanimously Thursday night to approve a resolution to appoint Vivian Votava to fill an open seat on the school board.

Votava, a principal quality engineer at DiaSorin in Stillwater, will serve until a special election is held in November 2022. The seat had previously been held by Matt Onken, who resigned last month citing the political divide in the school district.

Votava was one of three candidates who applied for the open seat. She will be administered the oath of office following the required 30-day period for petition.

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Rem Pitlick’s homecoming with the Wild is all business



Rem Pitlick’s homecoming with the Wild is all business

As the clock on his dashboard approached midnight, Wild winger Rem Pitlick seriously considered pulling off at the nearest rest stop to get a few hours of shut-eye. He had a sleeping bag with him and everything.

Luckily for the 24-year-old Pitlick, his mom Lisa came through at the last minute. She found him a hotel near Quincy, Ill., meaning Pitlick did not have to sleep in his used Nissan Pathfinder. He slept for a few hours before continuing his trek to the Twin Cities.

After roughly 13 1/2 hours of driving, Pitlick finally checked into his hotel on Wednesday night before hurriedly making his way to Xcel Energy Center for a preseason game. Needless to say, it has been a whirlwind for Pitlick since the hometown Wild claimed him off waivers on Tuesday afternoon.

“Not really settled yet,” said Pitlick, who got placed on waivers by the Nashville Predators earlier this week. “I didn’t know if I was going to get picked at all. I actually had the time wrong with my agent, so I thought I didn’t get picked up. Then he called me and goes, ‘We’ve still got another hour.’ I’m like, ‘OK.’ Then I got picked up and finished the packing.”

Now that the dust is starting to settle, Pitlick is excited for the next chapter in his career, back where it all began. He cut his teeth on the outdoor rinks in Plymouth as a kid and starred for the University of Minnesota before turning pro.

Though his time with the Predators didn’t go as planned — he played in only 11 games in the NHL after signing on March 22, 2019 — Pitlick is excited that his path led him to the Wild. He grew up cheering for the hometown team and is pumped that he gets to wear the sweater for real.

That said, Pitlick made it clear that he’s not going to get caught up in the hoopla that can sometimes be associated with a homecoming.

“I’m here to play hockey and try to earn an opportunity,” Pitlick said. “It’s not trying to hang out with my family or my friends. I’m here to play hockey. And I’m going to take this very seriously.”

The biggest thing Pitlick has working in his favor is he already has been down this road. He arrived in Dinkytown as a prized recruit and managed to block out the distractions on his way to the next level. He’s confident he can do the same thing with the Wild.

“It’s like, oh my gosh, I’m here, it’s amazing, people are texting me, people want tickets,” Pitlick said of his time with the Gophers. “I was able to kind of figure out how to not be distracted during that time.”

Asked why he decided to bring Pitlick in so late in training camp, with the Oct. 15 season opener against the Anaheim Ducks right around the corner, Wild general manager Bill Guerin said he felt it was worth taking a chance on a highly-skilled kid.

“He’s the type of guy that we value,” Guerin said. “He can score. He’s got a great shot. He’s high character. In talking to people that know him well, like Bob Motzko at the U, they have great things to say about his character and his passion for the game. There’s very little risk. We just thought it made a lot of sense.”

In his conversation with Pitlick earlier this week, Guerin also made it clear that this is his job.

“I joked with him, I said, ‘You’re not coming home. You’re coming to work,’ ” Guerin said. “It can always be a big thrill playing for the home team. We are excited to have him.”

As for where Pitlick fits in the lineup, Wild coach Dean Evason said he wants to see him play before he makes that decision. The plan is for Pitlick to play in the preseason finale against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night at the United Center.

“He’s got a skill set that we think is untapped obviously at this level,” Evason said. “He’s very excited about the opportunity and, speaking to him, very thankful to get an opportunity. Obviously he got put on waivers with the opportunity to probably get sent down. He’s here, and he’s going to get an opportunity for us, so we’re looking for him to be what he is.”

What exactly is Pitlick? Well, he has been a top-tier goal scorer at every level, including as a pro in the American Hockey League. All that’s left for him to do is prove it at the highest level.

“Obviously, I’ve been picked up,” Pitlick said. “But I don’t expect anything. I’m here to work. I haven’t fully established myself in the NHL. I’m coming here to work and see if I can earn an opportunity.”


Matt Dumba scored the game-winner in overtime as the Wild earned a 3-2 win over the rival Chicago Blackhawks. Joel Eriksson Ek and Alex Goligoski had the other goals for the Wild.

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Minnesota’s hospital capacity continues to tighten due to COVID-19



Minnesota’s hospital capacity continues to tighten due to COVID-19

The number of available hospital beds, especially those for children, are dwindling across Minnesota because of increased demand and the ongoing fourth wave of COVID-19 cases.

Some parts of the state have no open hospital beds with the proper staff to care for patients, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Thursday. In other regions the number of available beds are in the single digits.

“We have been saying since the beginning of this pandemic that it is a top priority to protect the capacity of our health systems to make sure people are getting the care they need,” Malcolm said. “Capacity is tight everywhere, including pediatric hospital beds.”

Beds are full because of the nearly 900 COVID-19 patients requiring care and that larger-than-expected numbers of people are arriving with severe conditions like heart attacks and strokes. Health officials believe the increased need for hospital care now is due, in part, to people having deferred other care earlier during the pandemic.

Dr. Kevin Croston, CEO of North Memorial Health in Robbinsdale, said it was not unusual for a hospital to discharge 100 patients in a day only to see those beds immediately refill.

“It probably been the most challenging year I have experienced in my 30-plus year career,” Croston said. “Every element of our health system is incredibly stressed. It has been for a long time and it just keeps building.”

He noted that 75 percent of COVID-19 patients in regular hospital beds — and 100 percent of those in intensive care — are unvaccinated.

There are more people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 than any other time this year. The number of people requiring care is roughly half what it was at the peak of the state’s worst surge, in December, just before vaccines became available.

Hospitals leaders from across Minnesota say they are working together to find ways to maintain capacity and care for patients. In some cases that includes postponing procedures.

The biggest capacity challenge for providers is staffing shortages, something Croston said has hit a critical level. Nationwide, health care providers have been leaving the profession because of the strain of the 19-month long pandemic.

“The staff are exhausted and they are working harder than they ever have,” he said.

Dr. Marc Gorelick, Children’s Minnesota president and CEO, said there’s been a dramatic increase in pediatric patients over the past few months. This includes an unexpected rise in respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, as well as a rise in both trauma and acute mental health cases.

“We are doing everything we can. The good news is, it’s working,” Gorelick said. “It’s strained, but we are meeting the needs of the kids in the state.”

Rachelle H. Schultz, Winona Health president and CEO, said rural hospitals are experiencing the same capacity challenges as those in the Twin Cities metro.

Schultz, Gorelick and Croston all said that community members can help health care providers maintain hospital capacity by following coronavirus mitigation measures such as getting vaccinated, wearing masks in public and staying home when ill.

“We are here to help and we need the help of our communities to get through this together,” Schultz said.

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Timberwolves’ preseason road trip provides chance to bond and compete



Timberwolves’ preseason road trip provides chance to bond and compete

The Timberwolves’ first extended road trip of the season is taking place earlier than usual. Starting Friday in Denver, Minnesota will play three road games in three separate cities over a seven-day span.

The Wolves will be in Denver on Friday and Los Angeles on Monday to play the Clippers before heading to Brooklyn to play the Nets next Thursday.

It’s rare for an exhibition road trip, but the getaway checks a couple of traditional preseason boxes. Many teams will hold destination training camps away from their home bases. The Wolves, for example, used to hold training camp in Mankato. A few years back, in Minnesota’s first season with Jimmy Butler under former coach Tom Thibodeau, the team held training camp in San Diego before departing to play two preseason games in China.

Those trips provide bonding opportunities for a team to attempt to unite itself further before the start of a grueling 82-game regular-season grind.

This trip gives the Wolves a chance to do some of that. Some of it has already taken place. Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said Jarred Vanderbilt organized a dinner for the players Thursday night in Denver, where he started his NBA career. Finch and the coaches were not invited.

“Nor do I want to be,” Finch said with a laugh.

Timberwolves players gathered as a group in Miami before the start of training camp, where they worked out with one another, played some volleyball and spent time with new owners Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez. It was a similar trip to the one the team took a couple years ago to the Bahamas.

But not everyone was in attendance. Anthony Edwards, for instance, was filming his role in a movie. Everyone will be on this trip.

“Our guys are excited,” Finch said.

Karl-Anthony Towns said this week that what he loves most about this team thus far is its spirit.

“That takes care of a lot of things that may not be made up in talent is just our spirit is so good,” he said. “It makes up for a lot of things that we may be lacking.”

Finch has noted the team’s apparent chemistry on and off the floor. That’s why he thinks players are legitimately looking forward to spending time with one another. The trip also checks another box — getting prepared for the upcoming season. Minnesota’s three opponents — the Nuggets, Clippers and Nets — all won at least one playoff series last season.

While it’s still preseason, such tests figure to help the Wolves figure out where they are, and where they need to go.

“Kind of takes the place of the traditional go away for training camp. Covering a lot of ground on this road trip. And that was intentional,” Finch said. “We wanted to play good teams in good cities where our guys would feel like they could get out and be with each other.”

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High school football: Academy Force’s Peyton Gremmels is one of state’s top-producing receivers



High school football: Academy Force’s Peyton Gremmels is one of state’s top-producing receivers

Running the football is in the DNA of Academy Force head football coach Noah Dombrovski and his offensive staff members.

Traditionally, Academy Force — an east metro co-op team based out of St. Croix Prep — prefers to run the ball about 70 percent of the time.

But then came a play last fall against Minneapolis Edison in which Dombrovski and Co. knew for certain it was time to adapt.

On a deep ball down the sideline, receiver Peyton Gremmels made an acrobatic grab between two defenders. It was so good, in fact, that the Edison head coach made a point to ask Dombrovski after the game about where this wide receiver came from.

“It was kind of an acrobatic catch and it was just like ‘Holy cow, alright, we know we can keep going to him and he’s going to make some crazy catches,’ ” Dombrovski recalled this week.

And he made the routine catches ones, too. Frankly, Gremmels would make all the plays. In that game alone, Gremmels finished with seven catches for 124 yards and a touchdown.

“I think that was like ‘OK, we can rely on him to move some things up for us,’ ” Dombrovski said.

And in this season, Gremmels’ senior campaign, the receiver has become the focal point of the Academy Force offense — for good reason.

Through five games Gremmels has 34 catches for 533 yards from quarterback Ethan Petersen, putting him among the state’s top-producing pass catchers. He has accounted for half of Academy Force’s eight offensive touchdowns, while adding four more two-point conversions.

It’s a rarity in high school, but it’s true for Academy Force — the offense is centered on the 6-foot-1 wide receiver. Academy Force (1-4), which hosts Minneapolis Roosevelt at 7 p.m. Friday at St. Croix Prep, has other weapons, such as first-year receiver Josh Louis. But Gremmels is who makes the offense go.

“It’s definitely like, ‘Alright, we need one, what can we do to get Peyton open?’ ” Dombrovski said. “Peyton is the guy that we run through, so that’s how we’ve got to roll.”

“Coach always has a game plan of what they run, what routes will be open and what to run,” Gremmels said, “and I just execute it.”

His junior season was the first time Gremmels played wide receiver at the varsity level, though this is his fourth year starting for Academy Force. The Woodbury product was Academy Force’s second-leading tackler from the defensive back position as a freshman, per Dombrovski, but he quickly showed a knack at receiver when given the opportunity.

“I kind of played a little bit in like middle school. I don’t know. Just the offense that we’re running, it works well,” Gremmels said. “I like just like the competition, man on man against the corner.”

He put in work in the offseason, mastering his routes and footwork. It has paid off in a big way this season. Gremmels has at least four catches in every game this fall. Over the past three games, he has 25 catches for 441 yards and four scores. That includes a 195-yard, three-touchdown showing in Academy Force’s Homecoming victory over Concordia Academy — Gremmels’ favorite game to date.

“Every play we threw at him, he made it. So we’re just like, ‘Alright, let’s keep doing it!’ ” Dombrovski said.

Gremmels has earned that trust. The receiver/defensive back is being recruited by area Division III schools, and said he has roster spots offered by Hamline and Augsburg. Quiet, calm and smart, Gremmels is “the most chill good player you’ll ever meet,” Dombrovski said.

While not boastful, Gremmels does carry a quiet confidence. This is the type of statistical season he was planning to put together, and he’s hopeful more wins soon follow.

Defenses have started to shade coverages in Gremmels’ direction. It’s becoming common for the receiver to hear opposing coaches yell out for defenders to “Watch No. 13.” All eyes on him.

Dombrovski noted Gremmels has always been a quick learner. On defense, Academy Force will push him into the box against strong running teams, and have him serve as the surveyor of the secondary when an opponent is set to pass. He’s a swiss army knife of sorts.

Offensively, Gremmels doesn’t even need to see a route, but rather have it explained to him, and he’ll soon have it down. Dombrovski recalled a time when the coaching staff described a “whip” route to Gremmels in practice. He ran it in the game two days later for an easy score.

“He definitely has the football sense, the smarts, he’s a great route-runner,” Dombrovski said. “We can throw a fade to him, we can throw a whip route to him, we can throw any route to him and he’ll run it just perfect the first time and get open.”

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Michael R. Strain: Republicans need to be more than the party of Trump



Michael R. Strain: Republicans need to be more than the party of Trump

Republicans are apparently too busy stoking cultural grievances and recounting votes from the 2020 presidential election to craft a policy agenda for the next election. Looking forward instead of backward would be a better way to build political support and to channel the populism of former President Donald Trump into programs to help working- and middle-class voters.

The alternative for the GOP is to contest the 2024 election as a referendum on Trump’s personality and his false claims of election fraud. Republican partisans are convinced; nearly 6 in 10 Republicans and GOP-leaning independents state that believing the 2020 election was stolen from Trump is an important part of what it means to be a Republican, according to a recent CNN poll. And Trump’s fantasy is already a big part of the 2022 midterm elections.

But do Republicans really want voters to focus exclusively on Trump?

A healthy political party can’t be stuck in the past and it can’t be a cult of personality. This should be obvious from Trump’s loss in the personality-driven 2020 contest. That year, the GOP couldn’t even write a policy platform for its nominating convention. Instead, it released a bizarre statement of fealty to Trump.

If the GOP wants to make inroads among the many voters who aren’t loyal to the former president, it needs a policy agenda. Such an agenda would communicate the values the party stands for, as well as offering solutions to the challenges citizens face.

In addition to relitigating 2020, much of the party is sounding the alarm about the excesses of progressive social activism derided as “wokeism.” I, too, am concerned about the issue and think liberal society is undermined by treating people as members of groups rather than as individuals, and by shutting down the marketplace of ideas rather than engaging in it.

Some Republicans have attempted to marry the cultural grievances invoked by the “woke” label with policy. Take a new bill proposed by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio which, according to his press release, “would enable shareholders to hold woke corporations accountable.”

Cultural differences have a place in political debate, but they shouldn’t be allowed to push out other imperatives. They are not as urgent as improving the quality of education, figuring out how to retrain workers who have been displaced, or reversing the decades-long decline in workforce participation among men. And they are not the top challenges facing households that need better access to affordable child care or higher education.

The GOP is wedded to Trumpian populism, an outlook of grievance that pits “the people” against “the elites,” foreigners and immigrants. This analytically impoverished view of the world takes policy debates in unfortunate directions, as Rubio’s bill shows.

But there are manifestations of populism that point a constructive way forward. A focus on the working and middle classes could channel populist energy in a healthier direction. To keep its coalition together — to keep businesspeople and free market enthusiasts on board — Republicans need to marry that focus with traditional commitments to the free enterprise system, individual liberty, personal responsibility and advancing economic opportunity.

One opportunity is to shape policies that can highlight the shortcomings of President Joe Biden’s agenda. For example, if Biden is able to expand the size and scope of government involvement in health care, child care and higher education, as he has proposed, this gives the GOP the opportunity to offer alternative policies that are rooted in a commitment to free markets, but that still address the legitimate concerns that working- and middle-class households have.

A second major fault line exists over the value of workforce participation. The progressive left is quick to brand large swaths of the labor market as consisting of “dead-end jobs” and is eager to divorce safety-net programs from work requirements. A marriage of free markets and populism could push back against this, arguing for the value of employment and for the inherent dignity of work, even flipping burgers and unloading trucks.

An agenda around this wouldn’t just be laissez faire. Instead, it could consist of expanding earnings subsidies, redistributing income to encourage employment by subsidizing it. Or it could scratch the populist “anti-elite” itch by chipping away at employer power in the labor market, restricting noncompete clauses in employment contracts and loosening occupational licensing restrictions, all of which advance the interests of big firms and incumbents ahead of workers.

Defining itself against Biden’s agenda and rallying around a pro-work flag are just two of several ways that the GOP might create a coalition that includes stop-the-steal Republicans without alienating the party’s traditional interests, and that avoids the trap of betting the next election on anger and grievance.

But moving forward productively will require the right leadership. It’s harder to say where that will come from than where it won’t: the former president.

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Missouri Medicaid expansion: Less than a quarter of applicants now covered



Missouri Medicaid expansion: Less than a quarter of applicants now covered

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – It’s been almost a week since the state started processing applications for Medicaid expansion and a top official for MO HealthNet says thousands are now covered.

Last August, Missouri voters approved to expand Medicaid to anyone 19 years and older making less than $18,000. Lawmakers chose not to fund it during the legislative session, but the Missouri Supreme Court ruled the state must move forward with it. The state estimates roughly 275,000 Missourians are eligible under expansion.

Starting Oct. 1, the Department of Social Services (DSS) started processing applications. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the state has received around 17,000 requests to join Medicaid. Less than a week later, only 4,300 Missourians have coverage.

“There are still pending applications in the queue that are being evaluated for their eligibility,” the chief transformation officer of the MO HealthNet Division told Senate members Thursday. “As of two days ago, we had enrolled about 4,300 members in the expansion population. What the next few months look like, senator, is unknown.”

After a special session over the summer to renew the Federal Reimbursement Allowance (FRA), the tax from health care providers that funds Missouri’s Medicaid program, Senate leaders formed a committee to address some members’ concerns over Medicaid funds going to abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood and transparency issues.

The Senate Interim Committee on Medicaid Accountability and Taxpayer Protection met for a fourth time Thursday since July. Top Medicaid officials testified in front of the committee, fielding questions about the state’s program.

“I have concerns how well MO HealthNet is able to analyze the data they get in,” committee chairman Sen. Bill White (R-Joplin) said. “We need to have our Medicaid system work properly, we need to have the proper tools and we need to not be running on an archaic system.”

Roughly a sixth of the Show Me State’s population is on Medicaid.

Currently, the state’s application process to participate in all benefits, such as food stamps, childcare, and medical is 60-plus pages long but the department plans to streamline that process.

“We’re able to trim our 63-page application down to about 9 or 10 pages,” Mathews said.

Mathews said implementation was delayed but hopes the state will start using the new system the first of the year.

“We intentionally delayed that implementation because of the confluence of expansion,” Matthews said.

Lawmakers like White are still asking for more transparency from the department about the state’s program.

“That data, as the state is paying for that service, is data that is entitled that us as legislators and you as the department, definitely, should be able to analyze if the system is working,” White said. “I’m frustrated that the data isn’t out there for me as a legislator to know if we need to look at things differently.”

Mathews also explained to the committee how the division is working to create a new revenue source for rural hospitals. It would be called the “hospital health hub.” The initiative would be centered around the area’s population, meaning if a hospital helped a patient make the right health choices by referring them to a food bank if needed.

Last month the committee met to discuss changes that could be made to the program, giving DSS the ability to block abortion providers from Medicaid finding for unethical behavior.

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Suspected bank robber shot by police in Colorado Springs is taken to hospital



Suspected bank robber shot by police in Colorado Springs is taken to hospital

A bank robbery suspect was shot by a Colorado Springs officer Thursday in an exchange of gunfire, police said.

The police shooting happened at about 4 p.m. in the area of Palmer Park and Academy boulevards, according to police.

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Douglas County’s new health department may let students cast off masks in school



Douglas County’s new health department may let students cast off masks in school

Douglas County’s new health department, less than a month old, is expected to issue its first public health order Friday — to allow parents to exempt their children from the school district’s controversial mask mandate.

The order, which also raises the threshold for what would trigger a quarantine in the classroom, is the culmination of weeks of recriminations between county leaders and public health and school officials over COVID-19 mitigation measures in schools, a fight that last month led Douglas County to end a 55-year partnership with the Tri-County Health Department.

The directive, which was still being drafted Thursday night, will be discussed at the second meeting of the Douglas County board of health, which is scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday. Douglas County Commissioner George Teal confirmed for The Denver Post the substance of the health order even though the details were not available.

The new agency, which was formed just two weeks after Tri-County handed down a Sept. 1 mask order for all students 2 and older, hasn’t even had time to choose an executive director or launch any programs.

But mask mandates for students — those 17 and younger in Douglas County have seen only one death from COVID-19 since the pandemic started 19 months ago — was too much for many parents in this conservative county south of Denver. Teegan Braun, a mother of four from Castle Rock, pulled her children out of the Douglas County School District last year over the mask requirement.

“What we’re asking for is choice — and choice alone,” she said. “We have one (pediatric) death over the course of the entire pandemic, and the case numbers don’t support what’s happening. Our parental authority is not being respected.”

Douglas County this week had nearly 180 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population over a seven-day cumulative period, a rate that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention categorizes as high community spread and that triggers its masking guidance. It was outpacing Arapahoe and Adams counties, the other two members of Tri-County, in COVID-19 incidence rate.

J.B. Poplawski, a father of two who lives in Parker, said Douglas County is “following politics” in breaking away from the Tri-County Health Department and overriding the mask order. With the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment all recommending universal indoor masking for teachers, staff members, students and visitors to K-12 schools, the science is clear, he said.

“It’s not ideal when your local health department, which has zero experience, goes against the CDC, the AAP and CDPHE,” Poplawski said. “Not masking increases the likelihood that our kids are going to get sent home to do remote learning.”

In a letter the Douglas County School District sent to parents Oct. 1, it said that even though the county is no longer under Tri-County’s masking order, the district will continue to “require the wearing of facial coverings inside all school buildings.”

“Our focus continues to be on keeping our students and staff in the classroom while navigating the complexities of COVID,” the letter read. “This includes minimizing quarantines and working to avoid school closures and/or transitions to remote learning.”

But Teal, one of two county commissioners serving on the new board of health, said raw COVID-19 case numbers shouldn’t be the trigger for masking an age group that is largely spared the ravages of the respiratory disease.

“We’ve always insisted that severity should be the metric for public health action,” Teal said.

National and state data clearly show COVID-19 is a disease that overwhelmingly targets the old and the sick. COVID-19 deaths among those 18 and younger in the United States — 587 as of Wednesday — are a tiny fraction of the more than 700,000 Americans who have perished from the disease since early 2020, according to the CDC.

Closer to home, CDPHE has tallied 16 COVID-19 deaths among those 17 and younger in Colorado for the entire pandemic — that’s out of nearly 8,000 total COVID-19 deaths in the state. And of the more than 900 people who were hospitalized for COVID-19 during the week of Sept. 19 in Colorado, the most recent week for which data is available, just 24 were children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, in a recent online update, stated that “it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is uncommon among children.”

“This recognizes the realities of the continuation of the COVID health crisis as possibly being endemic with a severity level that is being mitigated by widespread vaccination of all eligible age groups,” Teal said. “And the data we’ve seen in 19 months show low severity impacts in Douglas County.”

Currently 78% of eligible Douglas County residents have received at least one vaccine dose, with that proportion leaping to 98.7% for the particularly susceptible 65-and-older cohort. An additional 38,000 people in the county have been infected, giving them natural immunity to the virus.

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