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OPINION

Reinstating health office is a good step

The Examiner

The city of Independence has taken a major step forward by re-establishing its own health department, meaning the city has a more direct role in public health issues. 

That reverses a step to eliminate the department two years ago. City officials never gave a full or adequate rationale for that, and it’s never been entirely clear that the move left the city in compliance with the clear intent of its own charter. Independence, like many Missouri cities reliant on local sales taxes, has been in a chronic budget crunch for years, and the city was looking for money to create a badly needed street crimes unit in the Police Department.

Now, with a pandemic, the Health Department is back. That is the right choice.

Let’s hope the city’s first move since reclaiming more control over health policies is a one-time misstep. The city is now letting bars and restaurants stay open two hours later, until midnight, despite the COVID-19 pandemic growing worse by the day.

To be clear: Right now, indoor gatherings with people outside your household are neither safe nor sensible. Disregard for masks adds to the risks. Considering how the country has mismanaged this disease from day one, imagining that people now will magically start doing the right thing on their own is foolish.

Still, in the end, the minority of Independence City Council members who have opposed Jackson County’s rules and favored a less effective response to the pandemic have gotten what they wanted. 

For the long term, this community and the country need a serious discussion about the role of public health. For a generation since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, experts, a few political leaders and others have warned of the need to defend against bioterrorism as well as the ever-present threat of pandemic. The old Independence Health Department used to have a relatively sophisticated means of tracking indicators of those things, as well as the flu or other diseases, on a local level. The city needs that again.

But the nation has lacked consistent resolve on this issue. Worse, those on the front lines of public health often have been vilified and targeted for speaking the truth and taking action during this pandemic rather than being thanked for their service and given the resources they need for the job. Who would go into this field under these circumstances?

There will be another pandemic, whether in a decade or a century. Our enemies will still try to hurt us. Will we choose to be ready?

Independence has taken one of many, many needed steps across the country to put our citizens in a better place.