Something has to give. COVID-19 numbers continue to climb yet Tennesseans and Georgians — and especially our Republican governors and lawmakers — continue to act as though the real enemy is mask and vaccine requirements.
As of Tuesday, Hamilton County schools had tallied nearly 600 students who had tested positive for COVID-19 so far this month. Classes started just two weeks ago, and according to the school district's COVID web page, 3,787 students and 131 employees are now quarantined.
Nakia Towns, interim superintendent, said the 596 students who have now tested positive for the virus surpasses the district's previous high mark of 509 last December at the peak of winter surge.
"We are in a difficult moment," Towns said in an online video Tuesday. "Today alone, we've gotten reports of 55 new student cases as of this recording. Though parents have a choice in the masking decision for your child, I am asking you to make a choice that will help keep our students safe and on campus for school, and that choice is for your child to wear a mask every day until the current wave is over."
Statewide, new COVID-19 cases among school children last week spiked to about 12,000 new cases. Last December, the high was about 8,000. Meigs County Schools dismissed classes early Wednesday and will remain closed the rest of the week "due to student and staff illness." Bradley County and Cleveland City Schools were closed Thursday due to staffing shortages because of illness, including COVID-19.
Perhaps Gov. Lee — who so loves executive orders and edicts that negate mask mandates, outlaw virtual classes, stop youth vaccine outreach and hamper county health departments — will just pen another one ordering all those sick teachers and kids back to school, mask or no mask.
Georgia leaders seem to have a little better school-COVID sense. School districts in Chattooga, Catoosa and Dade counties recently shifted to some form of virtual learning due to rising infections.
But Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, apparently missing all the attention that Lee and other GOP governors were getting for their ignore-COVID-safety declarations, signed his own version last week that lets businesses disregard local rules.
"Local governments will not be allowed to force businesses to be the city's mask police, the vaccine police or any other burdensome restriction that will only lead to employees being let go, revenue tanking and businesses closing their doors," Kemp said.
It seems a funny twist that our Republican leaders, usually so quick to say businesses know what's best for businesses, now are trying to figure out how to thwart those businesses from doing what's best for their business — like requiring their employees to get vaccinations now that Pfizer has received the Food and Drug Administration's full approval.
Tennessee state Rep. Robin Smith wants Attorney General Herb Slatery to weigh in with a legal opinion on whether private businesses and entities can mandate their employees get COVID-19 vaccinations.
"While private entities and businesses do have the right to have conditions of employment, the unanswered question remains whether those conditions also legally include being forced to accept a substance in one's body against their own will?"
Smith was trained as a nurse, and surely she knows that smallpox was eliminated with a government-mandated vaccine.
But that and other reasonable government safety requirements don't seem to matter in this partisan fight. Smith's letter to Slatery comes just two days after the Pfizer vaccine's final approval and President Biden's lean into it with encouragements to business, state and local leaders to require vaccinations.
And with plenty of businesses taking him and the FDA approval to heart (Delta, CVS Health, Deloitte, Walt Disney, United Airlines, Google and Facebook, just to name a few), perhaps the only thing the GOP headline chasers can do is try to court the 20% or so of hard-core Trumpites who rally around dismissal of any requirement — especially one having to do with a mask or a vaccine.
Real Americans — not political ones — have a different view. One survey released last month found that 64% of Americans support requiring everyone to get a coronavirus vaccine. Another also showed the number around 6 in 10. A third one found that 3 in 5 U.S. adults would support vaccination requirements.
The needle is moving, and that's good. Maybe the politicians will catch on.