It’s surreal to say it, but Missouri Republicans’ race to the bottom regarding the COVID-19 pandemic might have hit a new low last week.
State Attorney General Eric Schmitt, formerly known as a rational human, unleashed one of the most dimwitted lawsuits on record, seeking to prohibit local school districts from enacting mask mandates. We’re not talking daft politics here, the sort of thing Schmitt needs to win the Republican carnival primary for the seat being vacated by U.S. Senator Roy Blunt in 2022.
No, this one is about life and death, in the real world, for actual schoolchildren in Missouri. But they’re not on the GOP ballot next summer.
Schmitt has taken it upon himself to attempt to reject and override the professional judgment of public-health and medical experts around the world regarding the need for mask-wearing in schools. He would have the courts prohibit school districts from protecting students (and others) in the name of what he likes to call “the science.”
If Schmitt succeeds with the lawsuit, no school district could require masks, no matter how much the virus might spread and no matter what the parents in that district desired as a policy for their local schools. If Schmitt fails, he will still win red-meat bragging rights in his 2022 contest with disgraced ex-Gov. Eric Greitens and three other Trump cultists. He has nothing to lose.
By contrast, with kids under twelve unable to get vaccinated, the very real consequences to their health and lives posed by the delta variant could be devastating for them and their families. And now they face another risk factor: Schmitt’s lawsuit.
Recently filed in Boone County Circuit Court, it begins with his bullet points for a Republican fish fry:
“1. Mask mandates for kids in schools are not supported by the science and are an arbitrary and capricious measure. The cure should not be worse than the disease.
“2. The science shows that children are at a significantly lower risk of contracting a serious illness due to COVID-19 and that they do not generally spread the virus, even in school settings.
“3. The science shows that public mask use has little effect on community spread or stopping infection surges.
“4. The science shows that masks cause schoolchildren to suffer headaches, difficulty concentrating, impaired learning, drowsiness/fatigue, a reluctance to go to school, and less happiness.
“5. The science shows that mask use by young children is detrimental to their communication skills at a critical stage of their development.
“6. The science shows that school mask mandates are arbitrary and capricious.
“7. Parents have the right and the responsibility to make health care decisions for their minor children.
“8. Parents should have the freedom to choose whether their child wears a mask to school, not school administrators.
“9. Despite the science, some public school districts require all students to wear a mask on school buses, school property, and while engaging in school activities. These mask mandates are arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and unlawful, and such measures are unsupported by data or science.
“10. There is no evidence that Defendants considered the underlying data, science, and evidence that fail to justify issuing a mask mandate for schoolchildren at this time.”
If you think all that sounds stupid, and it does, try wading through the rest of it. The body of the brief rails on with a bunch of random nonsense about why kids are at such low risk from dying from the virus. And why masks don’t work. And that it’s the masks that pose the true danger.
No, really. The words “masks can harm children” are an actual argument made by the attorney general of the state of Missouri in the context of why the world’s health authorities are mistaken about their strategies to combat the pandemic.
Much of the data Schmitt cited was outdated or twisted out of context. One German study he cited, purporting to show that masks were damaging to kids, has been thoroughly debunked as “unsupported and misleading.” It was internet research of parents most likely biased against mask-wearing.
Here are some actual facts, recently published by actual scientists, as opposed to whatever Clorox peddlers Schmitt finds in the QAnon yellow pages:
“As of August 19, over 4.59 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. Over 180,000 cases were added the past week, reaching levels of the previous winter surge of 2020-21. After declining in early summer, child cases have increased exponentially, with over a four-fold increase the past month, rising from about 38,000 cases the week ending July 22nd to 180,000 the past week.” That’s from the American Academy of Pediatrics on August 23.
Three days later, the Yale School of Medicine published this: “‘A recent study from the United Kingdom showed that children and adults under 50 were 2.5 times more likely to become infected with Delta,’ says Dr. Yildirim. And so far, no vaccine has been approved for children 5 to 12 in the U.S., although the U.S. and a number of other countries have either authorized vaccines for adolescents and young children or are considering them. … Delta seems to be impacting younger age groups more than previous variants.”
The latest guidance for the fall 2021 school year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with layered prevention strategies in place.”
And from the Wall Street Journal on August 26: “Hospitals in the South and Midwest say they are treating more children with Covid-19 than ever and are preparing for worse surges to come. Cases there have jumped over the past six weeks as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads primarily among unvaccinated people. That is leading to more sick kids in places where community spread of the variant is high, public-health experts say.”
Last week, the Missouri Foundation for Health announced it was teaming up with pediatricians for a statewide vaccination campaign “sounding the alarm as pediatric COVID cases surge throughout Missouri and much of the country.” In Missouri, children make up 11.5 percent of the total number of COVID-19 cases in the state, it noted.
It makes one wonder about the timing of Schmitt going to court at this moment, trying to prohibit measures to protect those kids. How could he try to bar school districts from taking whatever steps they deem necessary — following real science — as pediatric COVID-19 cases are spiraling?
Well, the voting age is eighteen.
Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).