Missouri's COVID-19 response needs a reset

The Examiner

The country is two and a half months away, at least, from a meaningful coronavirus strategy. Missouri can and should act more quickly.

The entire approach needs a reset. This disease continues to spread relentlessly, and it is a shameful commentary on us as Americans that we have allowed ourselves to blithely write off the lives of the thousands who are dying each week.

Each life has meaning, dignity and worth. We need to do what we reasonably can to stop COVID-19 from killing and maiming people.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has presented us with a false choice from day one. The stay-at-home orders in the spring, limited as they were, helped. In the political and media rhetoric those have now been transformed into “lockdowns.” Even going back to that step for a few weeks is politically impossible.

But Parson has presented this as a choice between lockdowns and doing nothing meaningful beyond empty talk about personal responsibility.

Relying on people to think of the community rather than their immediate wants and desires is what's gotten us where we are. Missouri has been in the red zone for months now. The state has thousands of new cases daily. The positivity rate – 15.2% as of late this week – is triple the number we should be aiming for.

Parson needs to recognize that the election – his last election, he says – is over, and he is now free to do the right thing. There are steps between lockdown and nothing, and he should pursue them and persuade other leaders to come along.

Here are just two:

• Masks work. The White House has recommended a statewide mask mandate for Missouri for weeks. Some hospital leaders urged the same thing to Parson directly last week. His silence and inaction are the wrong choice.

He could start with wearing a mask in public himself. He's been inconsistent, at best, on that. Right or wrong, the optics matter.

A statewide mandate would also give local leaders needed political cover and would lessen the intimidation factor that keeps so many from taking the common-sense step of masking up.

• The state needs to issue clear, consistent and frequent guidance about the dangers of gatherings, whether it's fans at a basketball game or a dozen people at Thanksgiving. This is especially worrisome as we head into winter.

Here's where people are not getting COVID: hospitals and schools. Those places, and many businesses, are following effective protocols. The problem is large gatherings, at least those where people are not spread out. It is not realistic or feasible to think every school district or family will take this to heart, but, again, political cover to do the right thing can help significantly overall.

In the public square, politics almost always shouts over the top of science, math and reason. But this disease is still what it is. If we are ever to get the economy on safe footing, people and their government have to act.