Friday, August 13, 2021

We got lucky, for now

Early last week, a lawyer, Tom Mars, filed a lawsuit in a state court to seek at least a temporary injunction against the Arkansas state legislature's efforts to forbid local state agencies (such as school boards) from independently mandating masks or facial coverings as a means of mitigating the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19. The temporary injunction succeeded. I had expected our state's Attorney General to mount an immediate appeal to the state's Supreme Court. So far, that has not been forthcoming. I am under the impression that the Governor has sought outside legal counsel in order to make the next move. If the external counsel is smart, the state-level leaders (if we can call them that) have been informed that the nature of the temporary injunction is one that suggests that the Tom Mars suit will succeed on its merits. We'll have to wait and see.There is reason for optimism.

Not every state agency will issue a mask mandate, even as this latest wave of the pandemic ravages our state. But many will. My city's school district acted quickly and on Monday mandated masks for all who are faculty, staff or students in situations in which there are two or more people inside a building. This is pretty consistent with what was policy last academic year. That's as good as we could have expected. That mandate will be reviewed in late September. Depending on how things look, the mandate may be extended or it may be allowed to expire. My best guess, based upon projections by our own state health experts, is that we'll still want a mask mandate for yet another 60 days. I was glad to see that most of the state's university systems chose to put mask mandates in place. That was wise, given that I suspect that if the decision was placed in the hands of individual faculty senate bodies, there would have been gridlock, given that faculty themselves are polarized (which I realize is counter-intuitive to the usual narratives concerning faculty ideology).

The bottom line is that the vast majority of us are getting what we want and need. There are very understandably skittish students and parents (I and my youngest daughter among them) who needed assurances that students once more could have in-person events in as safe an environment as possible. We're probably a silent majority in our state and locality. Faculty and staff get assurances that they and their families will be kept as safe as is possible at the K-12, college, and university levels. For that, I am grateful. Ideally, we'd have some mandate on our university and college campuses regarding COVID-19 vaccination. Suggesting such an action is politically incorrect in this environment. I was never good at following party lines, and that is especially true with our current ruling party in my state. As it stands, our state legislators (at least those from the GOP, which is the majority party), are even trying to interfere in the decisions private businesses can make regarding vaccination mandates for employees, which seems maddening, given how much the GOP once fetishized all things private sector. 

This is just my opinion, and one should take it for what it is. I am convinced that an uncontrolled pandemic is bad for private businesses, for public universities and colleges, and for public schools.  Refusing to do even the minimum needed to keep students safe? Parents will look for, and pay for, other options. As someone who relies on private businesses for survival? I will patronize those businesses that do what is necessary to mitigate spread. A restaurant that offers an indoor dining experience in which there is physical distancing and a mask requirement for customers, and where employees are required to be vaccinated? They have my business, regardless the cost. That's a promise. I am sticking with our current medical practitioners largely because the larger system took this pandemic so seriously that all employees from doctors to CNAs have to be vaccinated. Our other system in my area seems to be fairly non-seriousness of the current threat. They've seen the last of us for a while. Part of living in a capitalist society is that we do get some choices, and those businesses and agencies that do due diligence to keep us safe will earn future business. Those who refuse will eventually lose out. States and regions refusing to protect their residents in the name of public safety will lose out. I wish corporations with some footprint in these states would do a better job of educating state legislators (including reminding them that their donations have been based on doing the bidding of these corporations), and that various levels of chambers of commerce would reach out and educate local political officials. I also wish that those same chambers of commerce would make it very clear that those unwilling to protect public heath, and hence protect the interests of the private sector, would be out of a political career as of November 2022. That's quite an ask. I can hope.

In the meantime, I have some tools now to keep my students and my family safe that I was not expecting even when I last posted. There is reason to hope. We got lucky, or so it appears. An angry group of parents of kids who have as of yet no access to a COVID-19 vaccine, who have immuno-compromized family, etc., we've had some tentative victories. Let's not get complacent. We've learned that our legislature is only willing to follow our system of economics and governance when it is convenient to our state legislature's party line (this should seem very similar to what those operating under the USSR during its period of collapse experienced). "Good" party members benefited for a while as those who were not suffered. Once we devolve to that point, it's no longer clear if there is even a social order. I don't follow party lines of any sort. So here we are. Benefit students. Accept that businesses who rely on public trust (all businesses, as it turns out) have what they need to build trust during what we hope is a once in a century pandemic.This is not rocket science, by any stretch.

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