Inexcusably, a growing number of elected and appointed officials are leveraging disinformation, ignorance, politics or cowardice to endanger the lives of children and the critical need for communities to keep schools open in the midst of the pervasive pandemic.
School district officials, county officials, state and local health department officials and even Gov. Jared Polis continue to pass the buck in deciding who should mandate innocuous and highly effective masks in public schools.
This week, Adams County commissioners voted to “opt out” of Tri-County Health Department’s wobbly mask “mandate” in all schools with children ages 2 to 11, according to a story by Colorado Community Media.
Last week, Tri-County — the state’s largest health department, which oversees Aurora and all of Arapahoe, Adams and Douglas counties — was barely able to muster votes among the board of health to require masks for school children who cannot yet even be vaccinated against the coronavirus. The soft-vote came after local school superintendents and other state officials dodged the controversial topic. Like last year, school and county officials continue to look for political cover for measures deemed necessary to protect people from the ravages of COVID-19.
They can’t get it from Polis. The governor could, like New York’s new Gov. Kathy Hochul, dispense with the political charades and give local schools and health departments the political cover they have specifically asked for by mandating masks and taking the heat for doing so.
Last week, when pressed again by reporters why he won’t intercede while the dangerous delta variant of the virus spreads across Colorado, Polis said the problem, for now, is a local one. He said local communities should be allowed to judge the risk for themselves.
“It’s OK that different communities and different families in different parts of our state have different risk thresholds,” Polis told reporters. “There is no right or wrong when it comes to risk thresholds. There’s parents who don’t let their 16-year-old drive and there’s others who do.”
Polis is wrong. While it’s OK for families to determine their own tolerance for public health risks, it’s not OK for people disregarding the very real and apparent danger of a viral pandemic to inflict their lack of good judgment on the entire school community. Parents can choose not to require their own children to wear masks by choosing not to send them to school.
There are not disparate state laws in being able to drive with a license at 16. Everyone must meet the same bar, and that bar has been set by science and research. You cannot legally drive anywhere in Colorado at age 12, even in Douglas County, which continues to defy science and reason by refusing mask mandates almost-imposed by their own health department.
And now, Adams County has joined the ill-advised ranks of the ill-informed.
Pressed by parents protesting in the parking lot of the county headquarters, just before a commission meeting began Tuesday, commissioners took up the matter ad-hoc, voting 3-2 to opt out of the mandate imposed by the Tri-County health department board, according to reports.
In a nonsensical explanation for defying the mask mandate, Commissioner Eva Henry blamed Tri-County for creating a way for Adams County to succumb to anti-mask bullying and “opt-out.”
“County commissioners are not health experts and should not be in the position of making decisions about our residents’ health,” Henry said, according to the Colorado Community Media report. “That decision should be up to our health department.”
She’s right about that, and she was befuddling in not taking her own advice.
She and others are accurate in pointing out that Tri-County foolishly undermined their mandate with the caveat that counties don’t have to heed it.
Imagine the havoc and public danger in determining that restaurants should — but don’t have to — cover perishable foods in walk-in refrigerators or keep potentially dangerous foods at appropriate temperatures.
Public health should never be a buyer-beware proposition, especially when the lives and wellbeing of children are at stake.
The majority of commissioners from Adams and Arapahoe counties must pressure the Tri-County health board to behave like one. It does not matter that Douglas County continues to threaten to secede from the three-county co-op that has worked well for decades. If Douglas County officials choose a path to public endangerment, and voters back that choice, the remaining members of Tri-County are far better off being able to focus on real dangers the department must navigate rather than the distraction of being bullied into accommodating Douglas County’s political deviance.
There is nothing partisan nor political about this deadly pandemic, which has so far killed 7,249 Colorado residents and sickened hundreds of thousands more. There is nothing political nor even arduous about requiring effective masks to prevent illness, death and the closure of schools.
There is nothing right about how almost every level of government continues to mishandle this critical issue. And it’s time for every level of government to make it right now. Impose school mask mandates. Impose vaccine requirements on all eligible staff and students.