The Kansas City Star, Nov. 30

Missouri Republicans need to make up their minds: Are COVID-19 regulations a local responsibility, or not?

Gov. Mike Parson believes the buck stops with local governments, as you probably know. Missourians have pleaded with the governor to enact a statewide mask mandate, but he has steadfastly refused to act.

“I’m always going to allow those local levels to make those decisions, and I think for the most part they are. All across the state, they understand the situation, and they are implementing policy,” Parson said recently.

Despite calls from public health officials, Parson isn’t going to budge.

That’s why it was interesting to learn that Missouri Rep. David Gregory, a St. Louis-area Republican, wants the state to retain the authority to override local COVID-19 restrictions.

Gregory says he’s heard complaints from constituents that mitigation orders from St. Louis County Executive Sam Page have gone too far. “I’ve just gotten requests from literally thousands of my constituents,” he told The Star Editorial Board, “just begging for us to give some sort of oversight.”

Gregory’s answer? He plans to offer a bill that would give a state committee the ability to hear complaints about local COVID-19 regulations, such as the ones in St. Louis County. The committee would rule on the complaints and would have the authority to overturn regulations it disagrees with.

Residents would have to sign a petition asking for state review. Gregory may ask the governor to extend this week’s special session to consider the idea.

Doesn’t that fly in the face of local control? “I completely see the argument,” Gregory said. “But I just simply don’t agree with it.

“I don’t think a checks-and-balance system from a state-elected legislature, to oversee any type of exercise of power … to be contradictory,” he said. “I think it’s actually required.”

Expecting logical consistency in Jefferson City’s is usually a fool’s errand, of course. Rarely, though, has the contradiction in approach been so obvious, and concerning.

Parson has bitterly opposed a one-size-fits-all approach to COVID-19. Now that local officials are exercising their discretion, state lawmakers want the power to overturn those decisions. They want to have it both ways.

There have been objections to Page’s orders, which have been aggressive. Restaurants cannot offer indoor dining, for example. Bars are closed too, except for carryout and delivery.

In general, no more than 10 people can gather in any one place, and even then must wear masks and remain socially distanced. Employees are asked to work from home if possible.

But the St. Louis regulations do not appear significantly more onerous than those in Kansas City, or Jackson County, or surrounding counties and communities. If they’re too burdensome for St. Louis County residents, they have recourse at the courthouse or the ballot box.

That’s true here, too. And it’s confusing and unnecessary to establish a statewide appeals process just because there is disagreement in St. Louis County. It is, again, a one-size-fits-all approach.

Let’s state the obvious: No one likes COVID-19 restrictions. Everyone will be happy when restaurants and bars reopen, schools hold all classes in-person and masks are unnecessary.

But that day isn’t here. It isn’t here in part because lots of Missouri counties, primarily in rural areas, have resisted COVID-19 restrictions. That has led to more cases, more sickness — and, since health care in rural areas is sparse, more demand for urban hospitals to treat the disease.

Urban mayors and executives are responding to those challenges with reasonable regulations designed to protect public health. They should not be second-guessed by state legislators, and Gregory’s measure should be quickly rejected.


The St. Joseph News-Press, Nov. 27

As a child, you may recall the pleasant surprise of putting a coin in a vending machine, pulling the lever and getting not one but two candy bars.

Was your response to seek out the manager and report the error? Life is tough and won’t throw extra candy at you every day. Even at a young age, you intuitively knew that when you enjoyed the sugar rush. Bedsides, it’s not like you tried to shake it loose. The purchase was made in good faith.

Imagine the surprise of the person in Holt County who found 12,000 candy bars tumbling out of the vending machine known as the federal government. This resident of Craig filed for federal disaster assistance after the flood of 2019. The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved $12,000 to help rebuild and recover.

The only trouble is that FEMA made a mistake. So even though this flood victim applied in good faith, the government wanted its money back.

In this era of the coronavirus, it’s easy to forget the devastation from 2019 flooding all along the Missouri River, with Holt and Atchison counties suffering a particularly heavy blow. Residents in these parts didn’t just experience the loss of property and livelihoods. They were forced to navigate a sometimes byzantine bureaucratic process with both private insurers and government disaster agencies.

Some particularly resented FEMA’s decision to assign a disaster declaration for a period beginning on April 29, a date that seemed arbitrary to those who started heading for dry land in March of that year.

This resident of Craig went through the application process, figured things out and got approved for funding after sustaining real damage. To have to think about returning the money, after the cleanup process begins, strikes many as both unfair and potentially damaging from a financial standpoint.

U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Missouri, is one of those people. He sponsored the Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act, which seeks to prevent FEMA from seeking the return of disaster assistance if the application was made in good faith, with no attempt to defraud the government. Otherwise, he said, the disaster victim is forced to fend off both the federal government and private debt collectors.

“People should not be revictimized because they relied on FEMA’s determination,” Graves said.

We’ve often heard the saying “there ought to be a law” when we hear about something outrageous. In this case, there really ought to be one.


The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 26

More and more coronavirus victims from rural Missouri are being transported to St. Louis or Kansas City hospitals, further straining already overwhelmed urban health care systems. Kaiser Health News reports that in one Kansas City health network, fully a quarter of its coronavirus patients are from outside the metro area, with two-thirds of those patients in need of intensive care. Some overwhelmed St. Louis hospitals have had to refuse transfers of rural patients.

Yet much of the populace in rural areas continues to act as if there’s no threat in the air. That is, until an ambulance ride into the city becomes necessary.

This situation is unsustainable.

It should qualify as common sense that coronavirus spikes around America are most pronounced where political leaders have resisted mask mandates and other precautions. A Sunday New York Times analysis confirmed a clear correlation between the strength of states’ pandemic policies and their infection rates. “The worst outbreaks in the country now are in places where policymakers did the least to prevent transmission,” the analysis noted. It was based on voluminous, detailed data gathered by the University of Oxford. “States with stronger policy responses over the long run are seeing comparatively smaller outbreaks.”

It’s a tragic oddity of American culture today that the strength of those policy responses so often differs with political ideology. States and cities controlled by Democrats have been quicker this year to implement mask orders and other directives. Republican-run jurisdictions have been slower to embrace such policies, based on some combination of general conservative philosophy against government mandates, along with President Donald Trump’s corrosive undermining of trust in science.

Kaiser Health News found that the spikes in small-population rural areas of Missouri and Kansas — where pandemic health mandates are rare, and where the few rules in place are routinely ignored — has been exacerbated by the fact that rural residents tend be older than the norm, with higher rates of heart disease, obesity and other underlying health problems.

Add the fact that three out of four rural counties in those two states have no intensive-care units, and it creates a deluge of rural victims crowding into urban hospitals. “We’ve had this huge swing that’s occurred because they’re not wearing masks” in rural areas, said Kansas City’s frustrated health director, Dr. Rex Archer, “and yes, that’s putting pressure on our hospitals, which is unfair to our residents that might be denied an ICU bed.”

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson still stubbornly rejects calls by medical professionals to issue a statewide mask order. But no policy will work if our rural neighbors continue to act as if the pandemic is some urban issue that doesn’t concern them. The virus doesn’t respect municipal boundaries — and these days, it’s spending time out in the country.