Here's to the governors who've led the way on fighting the coronavirus pandemic

I live in Washington, the state with the first official outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S. While my family lives several hours from Seattle, it was alarming to be near the epicenter—especially early in the pandemic when we knew even less about the coronavirus than we know now.

As tracking websites went up and statistics started pouring in, things looked hairy for Washington. But not for long. We could have and should have shut everything down faster than we did, but Governor Inslee took the necessary steps to keep the virus from flying completely out of control. He's consistently gotten heat from all sides, but in general he listened to the infectious disease experts and followed the lead of public health officials—which is exactly what government needs to do in a pandemic.

As a result, we've spent the past several months watching Washington state drop from the #1 hotspot down to 23rd in the nation (as of today) for total coronavirus cases. In cases per million population, we're faring even better at number 38. We have a few counties where outbreaks are pretty bad, and cases have slowly started to rise as the state has reopened—which was to be expected—but I've felt quite satisfied with how it's been handled at the state level. The combination of strong state leadership and county-by-county reopenings has born statistically impressive results—especially considering the fact that we didn't have the lead time that other states did to prepare for the outbreak.


Of course, not everyone sees it that way. We have the same anti-mask, anti-lockdown, anti-public health advice folks we see elsewhere. We have conspiracy theorists, COVID deniers, "masks are tyranny" protesters, and even a county sheriff who publicly refused to enforce the governor's stay-at-home order. But Inslee has stood firmly on the side of public health regardless of who whines about it. While pandemic responses are always going to be imperfect and filled with uncertainty and inconsistency (that's the nature of dealing with a novel virus), the comparative results speak for themselves.

We've seen other governors stand their ground under intense pressure from both constituents and the federal government as well. For example, Michigan's governor, Gretchen Whitmer, was criticized by President Trump for her response, yet when her state became one of the epicenters, she took an aggressive and consistent stance, didn't back down, and now Michigan's numbers are significantly lower than states that have taken a lax approach. For instance, Michigan's daily case increase is now a small fraction of what they are in Florida, where Governor DeSantis has moved aggressively toward reopening, focusing far more on economic recovery than limiting the spread of the virus.

Whitmer's leadership hasn't gone unnoticed, either. She's made a name for herself—as has Michigan's Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson—for standing strong in the face of criticism from the president. And she's using the spotlight to call for a stronger federal response and for the government to lead by example.

"I'd like a national mask-up campaign," she told CNN's Alisyn Camerota. "I think that if everyone endorsed this, it's a simple cost effective thing that we could do to really mitigate spread. But the symbols that come from the very top matter and it changes behavior. If we can take the politics out of mask wearing we can save a lot of lives and in doing so save the pain, the economic pain, that we are feeling across this country."

National leadership is vital in a pandemic, and our national leadership on coronavirus has been...well, lacking. A pandemic response was always going to be a challenge in a large country with 50 diverse states, but when state borders are invisible lines that anyone can cross at any time, we need to all be on the same page about how to prevent the spread. While outbreaks require a local response, a state-by-state approach to figuring out when and how to apply or ease mitigation measures makes little sense. (And making states compete with one another for needed medical equipment is just downright bizarre. Seriously.)

No response is going to win praise from every person, but epidemiologists, virologists, and infectious disease experts have prepared their whole careers for this moment. Political leaders must listen to them, follow their lead, and mold responses around their advice—otherwise we end up right where we are, with 25% of the world's COVID-19 cases and deaths, despite only being 5% of the world's population.

Thankfully, some governors are taking their public health responsibility seriously. Here's to the leaders who have stepped up and stood up in the face of resistance, allowing health professionals to guide the way and implementing protective policies accordingly, no matter how much or how loudly some people complain about it.

In the autumn of 1939, Chiune Sugihara was sent to Lithuania to open the first Japanese consulate there. His job was to keep tabs on and gather information about Japan's ally, Germany. Meanwhile, in neighboring Poland, Nazi tanks had already begun to roll in, causing Jewish refugees to flee into the small country.

When the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania in June of 1940, scores of Jews flooded the Japanese consulate, seeking transit visas to be able to escape to a safety through Japan. Overwhelmed by the requests, Sugihara reached out to the foreign ministry in Tokyo for guidance and was told that no one without proper paperwork should be issued a visa—a limitation that would have ruled out nearly all of the refugees seeking his help.

Sugihara faced a life-changing choice. He could obey the government and leave the Jews in Lithuania to their fate, or he could disobey orders and face disgrace and the loss of his job, if not more severe punishments from his superiors.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Sugihara was fond of saying, "I may have to disobey my government, but if I don't, I would be disobeying God." Sugihara decided it was worth it to risk his livelihood and good standing with the Japanese government to give the Jews at his doorstep a fighting chance, so he started issuing Japanese transit visas to any refugee who needed one, regardless of their eligibility.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.

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Gates Foundation

Once upon a time, a scientist named Dr. Andrew Wakefield published in the medical journal The Lancet that he had discovered a link between autism and vaccines.

After years of controversy and making parents mistrust vaccines, along with collecting $674,000 from lawyers who would benefit from suing vaccine makers, it was discovered he had made the whole thing up. The Lancet publicly apologized and reported that further investigation led to the discovery that he had fabricated everything.

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via Jess Martini / Tik Tok

There are few things as frightening to a parent than losing your child in a crowded place like a shopping mall, zoo, or stadium. The moment you realize your child is missing, it's impossible not to consider the terrifying idea they may have been kidnapped.

A woman in New Zealand recently lost her son in a Kmart but was able to locate him because of a potentially life-saving parenting hack she saw on TikTok a few months ago.

The woman was shopping at the retailer when she realized her two-year-old son Nathan was missing. She immediately told a friend to alert the staff to ensure he didn't leave through the store's front exit.

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