Dothan Eagle. January 4, 2021.

Editorial: Legislative session may well be an election-fueled cash grab

Whip up some popcorn and pull up a chair – Alabama’s political theater is about to get weird.

The primary elections in May will be here in the blink of an eye, and every elected office in the state will be on the ballot, so incumbent posturing is inevitable. When the state legislature convenes next week, look for knee-jerk legislation addressing hot-button issues, such as bills banning critical race theory, a curriculum that has not and is not currently taught in Alabama schools.

This election year’s regular legislative session could be particularly lively because lawmakers have about $1.5 billion in pandemic relief funds at their disposal, and there may well be a free-for-all as challenged lawmakers jockey to direct funds in a way that gives them the most credit. Legislative leaders have already identified potential projects such as broadband expansion and sewer projects – just the sort of largesse constituents back home welcome.

Most people are against such pork spending except when it’s their elected official bringing the bacon back to their local district, and that’s understandable.

However, in doing so with this particular pig, lawmakers are losing sight of the intent of the $2.2 billion Congress allocated to our state. Pandemic relief funds have loose restrictions, if any, but the intent was to bring back jobs and address economic trouble created by the pandemic. When the first installment of the funding arrived, legislators committed to bulk of it to building new prisons – a necessary capital project, but not one that can be attributed to the coronavirus pandemic.

There will always be infrastructure needs like roads, broadband expansion, and sewer improvements. That’s what taxes are supposed to fund.

If lawmakers want to curry favor with voters, they’ll direct pandemic relief funds to small businesses in ways that will create jobs and shore up their footing, and/or address the economic devastation of individuals whose job loss may have resulted in foreclosure or worse.

Decatur Daily. January 4, 2021.

Editorial: Area schools opting against mask mandates

The Issue

Amid the latest COVID surge, most area schools are resisting enacting mask mandates for students. With the omicron variant of the virus, cloth masks may not be very effective, anyway.

To mask or not to mask. That is the question facing local school systems as students return from their winter break with COVID again surging.

There is no prospect of general state and local mask mandates this time. Even if they were justified, there is no longer any political will for them. Some school systems, however, are requiring students to wear masks.

Madison City Schools, where former Decatur Superintendent Ed Nichols is now superintendent, began its spring semester this week with a mask requirement in place. The mandate is to remain in effect until Madison County falls below the Alabama Department of Public Health’s “moderate” level for COVID cases for two weeks.

Muscle Shoals City Schools, meanwhile, is encouraging students to wear masks but not requiring them to do so.

Locally, no school systems in Morgan, Limestone and Lawrence counties have instituted mask mandates for the new term, although they are still encouraging students and staff to wear masks.

While COVID is surging in the state, the efficacy of masks is getting a second look, especially now that one of the main drivers of the surge is the omicron variant, which appears far more easily transmissible than earlier variants of COVID-19.

Masks — especially cloth masks — were only ever a stopgap measure. They were the best protection we had before vaccines. Now we have vaccines, and they remain safe and effective. Even if they’re not as good at preventing infection and transmission of the omicron variant, they still make getting infected with it a less dangerous experience.

Based on studies coming out of South Africa, where the omicron variant was first identified, and the United Kingdom, where it quickly became widespread, it seems we can safely draw a few conclusions about the omicron variant:

• It’s more easily transmissible but less virulent.

• People who have been vaccinated are still far less likely to experience serious illness or hospitalization.

• Those who are hospitalized stay hospitalized for a shorter duration.

• Those who are hospitalized are less likely to be placed on a ventilator.

All of this is good news, and it has led officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to change some of their guidance, including shortening the amount of time those who test positive for COVID should stay isolated — from 10 days to five days.

While the number of COVID cases is on the rise, that is becoming a less relevant figure compared to the number and length of hospitalizations and the number of patients on ventilators. It’s also a virtual certainty that the number of official COVID cases is lower than the real number, because few people are getting tested who are not displaying at least some symptoms — a fact not helped by the long delay in the Food and Drug Administration approving rapid home tests and the current shortage of those tests.

It’s likely there are many people infected with the omicron variant who are both vaccinated and asymptomatic — and they’re not tested, so they don’t show up in the stats.

In this environment, forcing school children to wear masks seems like a useless gesture. They offer limited protection against the omicron variant even when worn properly, and who expects schoolchildren, especially young ones, to wear masks properly all day?

The best protection is vaccination, and one vaccine, Pfizer, has been approved for everyone ages 5 and up.


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