Cartoon 11/19

The map is red for a different reason in Missouri. Yes, while conservatism still dominates the political landscape of rural Missouri, there is another reason red is engulfing the state: COVID-19.

Missouri, like most of the Midwest, is doing very poorly in its handling of COVID-19. Cases and hospitalizations are peaking all over the state, and Nodaway County is being ravaged by the virus. Naturally, now is the time to loosen restrictions and safety protocols.

Gov. Mike Parson’s administration released new guidelines for Missouri K-12 schools on Nov. 12. These guidelines eliminated the need for close contacts of those who tested positive for the coronavirus to quarantine if both parties were wearing a mask at the time of contact. This would only be implemented in school districts that require masks to be worn and districts would be allowed to continue under previous quarantine guidelines if they choose.

Parson stated that he wants to keep schools open as long as possible, it seems a little late for him to start valuing education, teachers or students now. Parson’s administration oversaw the slashing of the K-12 education budget by over $130 million earlier this year. This drastic reduction of the education budget was one of the few things Parson actually did as governor of the state since the start of the pandemic. 

The leader of our state’s government also made comments in July to a radio show saying students would “get over it,” if they contract COVID-19. Hopefully, their parents and grandparents will also be able to get over it when the child brings it home with them.

While it’s clear that education has never been a priority of his, he claimed that the new guidelines would promote more proper mask use saying they would help in “encouraging proper mask usage.”

An actual mask mandate for the state of Missouri would likely encourage proper mask usage, but of course, Parson would not do that either. He preferred to leave that decision to localities probably so he couldn’t be labeled as a communist by some of his far-right supporters in the state.

Parson actually won’t wear a mask himself in public and has been caught multiple times on camera talking closely to constituents while maskless. Surely if they contracted the coronavirus from the governor — who contracted it himself in September — they would get over it as well. 

It’s clear that the highest executive in the Show-Me State has no intention of actually doing what’s best for students or teachers. Their lives being at risk is of little consequence to him as long as he can say he kept schools open. He has proven himself a feckless and ignorant leader, but what’s more concerning is that local education leaders are siding with him.

Maryville R-II School District Superintendent Becky Albrecht called the new guidelines “exciting news” in an interview with the Missourian. In stark contrast, an anonymous teacher in the region told The Missourian that administrators were “protecting themselves while turning a blind eye to sick kids.”

Albrecht has been in support of loosening guidelines for a while, so much so that she wrote a letter to the governor urging him to do so. Meanwhile, actual medical experts are urging Parson to tighten them, as the Missouri Hospital Association pleads for him to implement a statewide mask mandate.

While it certainly looks good for an administrator to keep high attendance during this time, it looks better to actually keep kids and teachers safe. This change in guidelines will most assuredly result in more risk for teachers. Working in a profession that the general public complains is undervalued before voting for politicians who undervalue it, teachers will again be put at risk by those above them. Being underpaid and undervalued is not enough: they need to be in direct danger.

They now must hope that the students who came in contact with a positive case were actually truthful when they claimed to wear a mask during the interaction. They must hope that students properly wear masks at all times of the school day and that they aren’t exposed or exposing others while eating lunch or getting a drink.

Expecting a high schooler to self-report exposure when not wearing a mask is a taller order than expecting Parson to become an effective leader. Neither seems likely. In a fight that pits a deadly virus against the people of Missouri, it’s unclear whose side Parson is on.

The inevitable will take place in schools across the state. Students and teachers won’t quarantine after being exposed under the new guidelines. They will further expose others who will expose others who will unwittingly expose others. Cases and hospitalizations will rise and fatalities will follow, but at least schools will stay open. 

The new rules for quarantine are indicative of the problem the state as a whole has had when dealing with COVID-19. We would rather see an immediate return to “normalcy” over protecting others. Parson is not on the side of Missourians. He is on his own side, and inexplicably, Albrecht and other government employees paid to keep students safe are in his corner.

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