Kansas City Star. January 29, 2021.
Editorial: COVID ravages Missouri and Parson’s No. 1 priority is business liability protection?
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson spent a good portion of his state of the state speech Wednesday talking about COVID-19, which is a good thing.
He discussed the courage and hard work of health care workers. He bragged about providing the COVID-19 vaccine for 400,000 Missourians — never mind that, as of this week, Missouri trailed the first inoculation rate for every other state.
What was the governor’s first priority? Speeding up vaccinations? Better protection against the virus? Providing more funds to cash-strapped health departments?
Um, no. “I hope the first piece of legislation to hit my desk this year is a clean COVID-19 liability protection bill,” he said.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The governor’s enthusiasm for protecting business owners before anyone else has been clear for some time. He’s brought up this issue before, repeatedly.
But the governor’s business-friendly protectiveness ignores the much bigger issue: The coronavirus is still dangerous and deadly. The COVID-19 death rate in Missouri exceeds the rate in California, Ohio and Minnesota, among other states.
To date, more than 450,000 Missourians have caught the virus, a higher per capita infection rate than New York or Florida.
It seems fairly obvious that job one in Missouri — and all states — remains limiting the reach of the coronavirus. That means aggressive vaccinations, reasonable restrictions on public activity and a statewide mask requirement. Spending more on public health agencies would also help.
Parson seems less interested in these approaches than in protecting businesses from lawsuits.
It isn’t clear why. In purely practical terms, there does not seem to be a stampede to the courthouse to sue over COVID-19 exposures. The governor and his allies may be responding to a problem that doesn’t exist.
More importantly, though, there is no reason private enterprises should be exempt from scrutiny for their practices during the pandemic.
If businesses needlessly exposed their customers and clients to a deadly disease, on the other hand, victims deserve to have their cases heard. Jurors should be able to weigh evidence and allocate blame.
The Missouri legislature is currently discussing liability protection bills. The main measure would protect business owners from lawsuits unless “clear and convincing” evidence shows “recklessness or willful misconduct.”
If a business owner posts a sign, the bill says, the customer or client assumes all risk for COVID-19 exposure that may occur on the premises. It sets a one-year time limit for claims.
We think a better test is reasonableness: If a business owner or public agency unreasonably exposed workers and customers to the coronavirus, liability could be found.
Again, juries should be able to make the decision, not one-size-fits-all legislation or Gov. Mike Parson.
And while lawmakers should pay attention to this issue, it should not be the top priority. The Missouri economy will recover more quickly if fewer people get sick from COVID-19, not because businesses have been given carte blanche to leave customers to their own devices.
As we have said, Missouri is not fully awake from the pandemic nightmare. Mitigation and prevention remain at the top of the to-do list, and not protecting businesses from lawsuits that may never come.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch. January 30, 2021.
Editorial: Building public trust requires giving people accurate pandemic statistics
Missouri’s performance fighting the coronavirus pandemic already was pretty abysmal, thanks in large part to Gov. Mike Parson’s stubborn refusal to lead with measures known to keep the virus from spreading, along with GOP lawmakers’ mocking disregard of basic safety measures. But a bad situation could turn out to be much worse than Missourians knew because of the state’s deliberate exclusion of a large group of positive test results from official infection statistics.
It turns out the daily positivity rate is far higher than the state has acknowledged — 20% to 40% higher on any given day — because officials decided to set aside results from an increasingly popular quick-result procedure that is now used in nearly a third of coronavirus tests. As the Post-Dispatch’s Michele Munz reports, rapid-result antigen testing is a highly reliable method when the result is positive but less reliable for negative results.
Since positive results are the ones that really count when determining the pandemic’s rate of spread, excluding those numbers distorts the state’s performance and gives the public a false impression of progress in keeping the virus at bay.
Hospitals and clinics rely on antigen tests so they can test staffers on a daily basis and avoid the typical three-day delay for results from slower tests such as the PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, test. Both involve a nasal swab, and the PCR is more reliable for both positive and negative results. The antigen test can deliver results in 15 minutes, and because it is so accurate for positive cases, it helps medical personnel direct infected people more quickly into quarantine.
The exclusion of antigen results means the state likely underreported 20,083 positive coronavirus cases in December alone, with another 12,228 left uncounted in official statistics from Jan. 1-19. If positive antigen-test results had not been excluded, the state would now register more than 500,000 cases, as opposed to the 456,530 reported on Friday.
The lower numbers, of course, gave Missourians the false impression that Parson’s efforts were working to keep a tighter lid on a pandemic that most definitely was not contained. Department of Health and Senior Services spokeswoman Lisa Cox cited a lack of federal guidance but said last week that antigen test results would “become part of our standard public reporting” in coming days.
Skewing these numbers can only serve to undermine public confidence in the reliability of the information being delivered by the state at a time when public trust is essential to successfully keeping the pandemic at bay, especially as participation in a mass vaccination campaign requires a high degree of public trust. When lives hang in the balance, people need to know they’re not being fed sugar-coated bad news or good news that turns out to be inaccurate.
Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, Missouri Republicans, are taking the helm on duck boat safety.
It’s needed, and we’re glad to see them do it.
The Globe’s own investigation after the 2018 duck boat tragedy on Table Rock Lake as well as investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board made clear those 17 deaths were preventable. The industry knew about problems that existed with the boats because of previous accidents elsewhere, yet nothing had been done.
Among other things, the boats’ metal frame and heavy chassis and transmission combined with the lack of reserve buoyancy means they sink quickly, and their low freeboard means passengers have little time to escape in an emergency.
The NTSB ruled that the Coast Guard’s failure to require additional reserve buoyancy in the amphibious crafts was a contributing factor in the tragedy, as was the failure to require a safer type of overhead canopy that didn’t hamper passenger escape. In effect, the canopy and side curtains on the boats in 2018 acted like a net, trapping passengers.
Former U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., had pushed for some tougher rules, as have Blunt and Hawley. Last week, the two Republicans reintroduced legislation to improve the safety of duck boats following NTSB recommendations, including making sure all boats have reserve buoyancy in the case of emergency flooding.
Blunt said the safety measures “are long overdue and need to go into effect immediately,” and Hawley made the point that the best way to honor those who died “is to do our part in protecting safety on the water and passing this commonsense legislation.”
We agree. We also note that Southwest Missouri is a tourist and water playground, but the weather can turn quickly, as it did that day on Table Rock. Taking additional safety measures makes sense.
Lawmakers missed an opportunity 20 years ago to impose these safety standards, following the sinking of a duck boat on Lake Hamilton in Arkansas that left 13 people dead. Nothing happened then.
Let’s not miss another opportunity.