Well, that didn’t take long. Just days into its new legislative year, the Missouri House had to cancel its session this week because of a coronavirus outbreak among its members. It comes on the heels of the rejection last week of a proposal to require that members wear masks during House business — a proposal killed by a Republican majority that goes largely maskless around the Capitol.
The Senate Republican majority nonetheless continued its in-person session, as if the coronavirus can be expected to obediently stay on the other side of the Statehouse. Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Mike “You don’t need government to tell you to wear a dang mask” Parson is hellbent on giving an in-person state-of-the-state speech at the end of January, instead of opting prudently to deliver it remotely.
Do Missouri elected officials have to start dying before Republicans end their bizarre political obstinance and start treating the pandemic as the public health crisis it is?
State lawmakers around the country are trying to balance their work with the need to contain the coronavirus, which thrives in the crowded traditional settings of legislative chambers. Some are allowing remote committee testimony, remote floor votes, mandatory masking and testing. But the Missouri Legislature began its four-month spring session on Jan. 6 as if there was nothing to worry about. Even as U.S. deaths exceed 400,000, lawmakers somehow still seem not to understand that the issue is medical, not ideological.
“The Missouri Capitol is a 100-year-old building with windows that do not open in which 400 to 500 people come to work every day — many of whom are still refusing to protect the people around them by wearing masks,” Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, noted last week. “With numbers like these, there will be an outbreak.”
Which is exactly what has happened. As the Post-Dispatch’s Kurt Erickson reported, the positive coronavirus tests of several House members forced that chamber’s Republican leaders to bow to reality and shut down the session.
When the history of this pandemic is written, a long chapter will be devoted to the lives needlessly endangered or sacrificed by the GOP’s ideological entrenchment against commonsense precautions. Missouri is seeing that tragic obstinance play out in its state capital right now. If and when these infections turn fatal for lawmakers, staff or others, let there be no question about which party owns it.