Friday, August 13, 2021

It's been quite a week

On August 6th, Tom Mars' temporary injunction against State Act 1002 of 2021 was a tentative success. The parents who sued the state with his representation were able to convince a judge to order a temporary injunction against the law, thus preventing its enactment for the time being. The law would have prevented local and state run agencies and governments from enforcing mask mandates. The law was signed by our Governor, Asa Hutchinson, last May. It seemed like the legislature and the Governor spiked the proverbial football at the time. Cases of COVID-19 had gone down and would continue to go down for a few more weeks. I thought the law was stupid at the time. It coincided with other laws which restricted any of my state's Governors from enacting common-sense state of emergency mandates. The optics of the Governor actually signing State Act 1002 of 2021 would look bad no matter what. Given the spike in cases that has led to a record number of children in ICUs and ventilators during yet another wave of COVID-19 cases, the whole thing smells of hubris. 

There was no good news or relief for those few school districts that had started school right around the end of July or the start of August. But once the temporary injunction was filed, the dominoes started to fall. A number of school districts across the state, including some that are considered to be "conservative" (whatever that might mean anymore) enacted mask mandates. My city's school district was one of those. University systems across the state enacted mask mandates over the course of this week. I think the city of Little Rock mandated masks on public indoor property. Private corporations with footprints in my state have not only enacted mask mandates of their own, but required their employees to show evidence of vaccination as a condition of employment. A standard of conservative governance in the past had been that policy decisions that had been mandated by Federal or state officials should be handed off to localities and private enterprise. Something has changed in the last few years. The conservative orthodoxy that I understood and even respected, albeit grudgingly, has been supplanted with something different. When it comes to public health and safety, apparently now the new orthodoxy is that the state can actively prevent local governments and state agencies, as well as private sector businesses from doing what is necessary to protect their employees, customers, etc. 

I have no doubt that our current state's Attorney General (Leslie Rutledge) will appeal the injunction against Act 1002. After all, she does have some political aspirations, including a run for the office of Governor. I am actually surprised she has waited as long as she has. I am no legal eagle, but based on how I understood the temporary injunction ruling, assuming the state's Supreme Court is even remotely functional, the law is dead in the water. We'll wait and see. Localities not wanting blood on their hands are not waiting. Nor are those in the private sector, even as our legislature plots to treat the corporations that employ the vast majority of our residents as ones that are only able to act under the whims of a command economy. We're not late-period USSR, or at least we should not be.

From what I've seen with parents on FB groups is that they're voting with their feet if they have the luxury of doing so (usually those with some financial means, which results in those who are relatively upper middle class). School districts that seem to be promoting health and safety my see an increase in students, and an increase to their funding. Colleges and universities that demonstrate a willingness to act in the interest of the health and well-being of their students will hopefully be rewarded for their efforts, regardless of how this current legal battle plays out. At least students and where relevant their parents will recall the systems who were willing to stand and be counted. 

In the meantime, we're recording consistently around 3k COVID-19 cases per day in my state, and the hospitalization rate and ventilator rate are both off the charts. Our vaccination rates have started to bump up a bit. I honestly don't know how much of that is due to the proverbial "fear of God" being put into some very reluctant folks given our current dire situation, and how much of that is due to private corporations and business just outright mandating vaccinations. 

Regardless, I am hoping that one of the lessons we learn from this debacle is that politicizing any efforts to mitigate a pandemic is simply an awful idea and should be avoided at all costs.

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