Stepped-up efforts to address the pandemic

The Examiner

It looks as if there is a new level of seriousness about getting a handle on the COVID-19 pandemic, made dramatically worse this summer by the highly contagious delta variant. 

More and more public and private employers are requiring vaccinations, and that’s a needed step. It’s especially important in places such a Missouri with stubbornly low levels of vaccination. 

Let’s underline what the medical experts are emphatic about: Face masks work. Wear them indoors and in crowded places outdoors. The vaccines work. Get the jab. No one thing stops COVID, but vaccines, masking, social distancing, good hygiene such as thorough and frequent hand-washing – all those steps – are effective. 

It is within our power to turn the tide, but at the moment the situation is worsening by the day. Hospitalizations and deaths are up, and hospitals here and elsewhere in Missouri are full. It looks a lot like fall 2020 again. 

The failed policy of relying on personal responsibility leaves everyone at the mercy of the least responsible among us, and that’s a major reason we are where we are. Mask mandates are unpleasant – made more so by the knowledge that things didn’t have to be this way – but they are back in Jackson County and Kansas City. Independence this week stuck with a mere recommendation – a risky policy but possibly the only one politically feasible at the moment. 

Missouri is now living under a new and profoundly wrongheaded state law that limits local health departments’ abilities to curb the outbreak of disease. Steps such as mask mandates can only run a few weeks before needing the approval of local elected officials, and those officials can step in an quash a mandate immediately if they choose. 

As is said, when you mix science and politics, what you get is politics. And here we are. 

As officials fuss over masks – a no-brainer – the community loses the opportunity to move to more productive conversations. Here’s one: How could we craft ways to protect restaurant owners and others from intense social pressure should they choose to demand proof of vaccination from customers? That would be good for safety and ultimately good for business. This trend is starting elsewhere, and maybe it will get here, but it won’t be easy. 

It’s clear that what we’re doing now isn’t working. School opens soon, and students – for a wide variety of reasons – need to be in class. Restaurants and other businesses can only take so much. People have a right to feel at least relatively safe. We have to do better. The simple things are tedious – onerous if that’s how you choose to see it – but they are what we have available to get through this.