ANOTHER VIEWPOINT: Missouri politicians said COVID fight was socialism — now it’s No. 1 in new cases

This editorial was originally published Tuesday in the Kansas City Star.

The COVID-19 crisis isn’t over, and we shouldn’t act as if it is.

Yes, yes, we’re tired of masks and social distancing. Crowds at the Truman Sports Complex, in the 18th & Vine Jazz District and at the neighborhood pool reflect the hunger for normalcy. At the grocery store, the movie theater, churches and synagogues, masks are gone and grins are back.

Yet the latest numbers in Missouri suggest such overconfidence can be dangerous, or even deadly. The state has led the nation in its rate of new COVID-19 cases over the past week, worrisome evidence that the viral disease is still a problem.

The outbreak is especially concerning in rural areas, where vaccination and isolation are far less common. The new COVID-19 cases include the so-called delta variant, a highly-contagious mutation first found in India.

“It is clear that the variant has become prevalent in communities throughout Missouri,” the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said last week. The viral load found in recent wastewater surveys — a marker for the extent of community spread — has increased dramatically in southwest Missouri, including Springfield and Joplin.

There have been spikes in the Kansas City region as well.

Some of this can be easily blamed on relaxed regulations in cities and in the state. While we would not suggest mayors and Gov. Mike Parson reinstate all previous restrictions, the government must review the new data and be ready in case a partial shutdown is needed.

Missouri’s state of emergency remains in effect until the end of August. Parson should focus on the lingering challenge of the pandemic this summer, instead of engaging in foolish photo ops to endorse anti-constitutional folderol.

But governments can only do so much, particularly since Republican lawmakers have spent the year linking COVID-19 abatement with predatory socialism. The plain fact is going back to widespread masks and enforceable quarantines is politically impossible in Missouri and other Midwestern states.

That means individuals must take responsibility for protecting themselves. Vaccinated Missourians should be cautious as the delta mutation spreads — masks can be worn, and contact limited, particularly with the elderly and very young.

But the biggest single step Missourians could take to quash this COVID-19 upturn — and avoid more drastic restrictions — is to get a full round of vaccination against the virus.

To date, just 38% of Missourians are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. That’s far below the vaccination rate in Virginia, Colorado or California. It’s below the national rate. It’s below the rate needed to protect the state against the upsurge in COVID-19 cases.

In Pemiscot County, in Missouri’s Bootheel, fewer than 20% of residents age 12 or older are fully vaccinated.

“Vaccinations are the best way to stop this virus in its tracks,” said a statement from Robert Knodell, acting director of Missouri DHSS.

To date, Missouri has not offered blanket incentives, such as money or gifts, for those who get vaccinated. At some point, the state may want to provide those incentives. Sadly, for some residents, protection against a deadly disease apparently isn’t incentive enough.

There is simply no good reason to remain unvaccinated. The shot is free, and now widely available. It has proved remarkably effective. For most, there are no serious side effects. And a fully vaccinated population is the best way to slow the spread of new variants.

The COVID-19 crisis is now more than a year old. Life is slowly returning to normal, but it will never be normal unless all of us do what we can to stop the spread of the virus. That means diligence, caution — and getting the damn shot.

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