Hartmann: Missouri Cancels COVID-19

click to enlarge On the day Missouri COVID-19 cases spiked to record levels, Governor Mike Parson announced the pandemic was no longer a state emergency. - MISSOURI GOVERNOR'S OFFICE
MISSOURI GOVERNOR'S OFFICE
On the day Missouri COVID-19 cases spiked to record levels, Governor Mike Parson announced the pandemic was no longer a state emergency.

Governor Mike Parson apparently stumbled upon a genie to end the year 2021. After two years of trying next to nothing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 16,000 Missourians, the governor pivoted to a new strategy: wishing it away.

Parson rang out the old and rang in the new — on New Year’s Eve, to be precise — by declaring that the pandemic was no longer an emergency in the state of Missouri. Even the skeletal measures enacted by state government to resist COVID-19 would no longer be necessary.

Poof.

Admittedly, the timing was a bit clunky. In a perfect world, one might not select a week in which one’s state was approaching record levels of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations as the moment to call off the emergency. Would one?

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But Mike Parson is the man who coined the phrase “dang masks” as in the public-health advisory, “You don’t need government to tell you to wear a dang mask. If you want to wear a dang mask, wear a mask."

So, let’s not call it shocking that Parson chose the worst possible moment to make such as an unforced error in judgment. Still, there was one line in the governor’s news release that positively popped out:

“Thanks to the effectiveness of the vaccine, widespread efforts to mitigate the virus, and our committed health care professionals, past needs to continue the state of emergency are no longer present.”

Yes, Parson went there: He used the V-word in a complimentary context.

His previous references to the V-word had not been quite as glowing. Perhaps you remember some of these headlines:

“Parson Announces Missouri National Guard to Scale Back COVID-19 Vaccine Support.” (May 11).

“Parson signs bill banning vaccine passports.” (June 15).

“Parson Against Federal Door-to Door COVID-19 Vaccine Push” (July 8).

“Missouri Governor Clashes With Hospital Execs Over Vaccines Mandates” (July 14).

“Parson: Biden’s Vaccine Mandate is Unwelcome in Missouri” (September 9).

“Governor’s Executive Order and Missouri Lawsuit Challenge Federal Contractor Vaccine Mandate.” (October 28).

Now, it must be noted that Parson has maintained a tepidly pro-vaccine posture. He announced he was vaccinated and has repeatedly “urged” Missourians to get vaccinated as the “responsible thing to do.” He even rolled out a state vaccine lottery — a lukewarm effort, to be charitable — that at least gave modest lip service to the jab.

But “scoreboard don’t lie,” as the saying goes. During the very week Parson employed the phrase “thanks to the effectiveness of the vaccine,” the numbers weren’t pretty.

As of December 30, Missouri continues to rank near the bottom of the barrel among the states in vaccination rates. That’s in a nation scandalously below where it should be in the first place with just 61.5 percent of Americans fully vaccinated, according to CDC statistics delivered daily by the Becker Hospital Review.

Missouri’s vaccination rate of 52.7 percent by CDC metrics ranks 40th of the 50 states (and behind D.C.). That’s a full 15 percent below the paltry national average. It’s not a news flash that all of the top twenty states in vaccination rates are ones carried by President Joe Biden and all but two of the bottom twenty (Nevada and Georgia) voted for the last guy.

The political context perhaps can be rationalized to explain some of Parson’s irrationality on the subject. But with everyone — Parson included — at least acknowledging that vaccines are the best hope of slowing the spread of the omicron variant and COVID-19, it’s not a question of whose team is right.

It’s a matter of life and death. Missouri has generally fallen near the national median in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths throughout the pandemic — which notable exceptions such as last June when it was the worst hot spot in the nation — but more than 16,000 of its souls died from the virus (conservatively) in the past two years.

And a state of roughly 6 million people recently eclipsed the 1 million mark for COVID-19 infections during the pandemic. And things have never looked worse.

On the very day (last Thursday) that Parson announced COVID-19 would no longer qualify as an emergency in Missouri, the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported that new hospital admissions increased to 169, up from 136 on Wednesday, representing a new record for COVID-19 admissions in one day,” according to Stltoday.com.

And there was this: “Over the past week, hospital admissions have increased to 113 Thursday from 105 on Wednesday. Across the region’s hospitals, bed capacity is at 89%, with intensive care units at 80% of their total staffed bed capacity, the task force reported.”

A fine occasion for declaring there’s no emergency to see here any longer, don’t you think?

Now, one counterargument might be that these emergency declarations are mostly symbolic and don’t impact outcomes all that much, as Missouri’s pathetic record suggests. But don’t tell that to the people on the front lines. Missouri Hospital Association spokesman Dave Dillon suggests it matters plenty, according to reporting Thursday in the Missouri Independent:

“The most immediate impact will be on hospitals and other providers who are trying to cope with increasing patient numbers at the same time the omicron variant is spreading rapidly. The staffing relief that will end is coming as staff shortages are aggravated by infections among staff,” Dillon told the news site.

“That gets to the nut of the issue, which is the public health emergency allows for waivers for a significant amount of the activities that have allowed us to be flexible throughout the pandemic,” Dillon said. “They are in essence, many of them, are just going to completely disappear overnight. That part is going to be very difficult to deal with at the hospital level.”

One need not reside on those front lines, nor have a medical degree, to understand this: It’s pretty stupid to scale back any part of any effort to help combat the spread of a pandemic at the very moment it is spiking and threatening to kill more people.

That’s not a liberal point, nor Democratic Party messaging. It’s indeed a matter of good old common sense, the very trait Parson likes to pride himself as possessing in abundance as a down-home fellow from the country.

But the world has become turned upside down by wingnut irrationality. We’re told that refusal of lifesaving vaccinations amidst a deadly pandemic must be respected as a “personal health-care choice.”

You know, just like it ought to be fine if parents choose to send their kids to school without vaccination for smallpox or polio because they’ve made the choice to take chances with their kids’ health — and those of others — in the name of personal liberty.

Sound unbelievable? Not in a world that the governor can still get help from a genie.

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).