Playing politics with a pandemic
As the battle against COVID-19 continues, so does the Arkansas Legislatureís stubborn resistance to anything that scientists tell us might help turn the tide or even ease the burden on those affected by the pandemic.
Masks? Nope. You canít tell us what to do.
Vaccines? Nah. They donít help and they could even be dangerous.
A little extra financial assistance for folks who lost their jobs? No way. Lazy bums should get off the couch and go get a job.
Thereís an old saying that I think applies to many things, especially when it comes to the political issues that divide our nation today: If you do what youíve always done, youíll get what youíve always gotten.
If 30 to 40 percent of our society continues to scoff at facemasks and social distancing and vaccines, weíll continue to see the pandemicís devastating impact on nearly every aspect of American life. As of Monday, more than 614,000 Americans have died. That number includes 6,301 Arkansans and at least 52 of our friends and neighbors right here in Carroll County. Those numbers will only increase unless we take a proactive approach to the fight against the virus.
Our elected ďleadersĒ have an opportunity to help in that fight. For too many in the state legislature, thatís not the fight they interested in.
One of the poster boys for these lowbrow legislators, of course, is state Sen. Bob Ballinger, formerly of Berryville and now a resident of Johnson County. Ballinger openly scoffed at the notion of wearing facemasks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and now heís grandstanding on the issue of employers like Tyson Foods imposing a vaccine mandate on their employees.
Tyson ó Carroll Countyís largest employer ó last week announced that it would require all of its U.S. employees to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1, with exceptions for workers with medical or religious reasons for refusing the vaccine.
Ballinger immediately announced his opposition to Tysonís plan and introduced a bill at last weekís special session that would allow employees to sue employers who fire those employees for refusing to reveal their vaccination status. Ballinger also remained steadfast in his support of Act 1002 ó a bill passed during the last regular session and signed into law by Gov. Asa Hutchinson that makes it illegal for a government entity to mandate facemasks. That includes school boards, who under the new law cannot require masks for any student ó including those under 12, who arenít eligible to be vaccinated.
Fortunately, Ballingerís bill went nowhere during the special session and a circuit judge in Pulaski County issued a preliminary injunction to halt enforcement of Act 1002. For now, school boards can require that students wear masks, although no decisions have been made yet in Carroll County.
Ballinger likes to present himself as a champion of the little guy and a protector of personal freedoms. My definition of personal freedom is this: Youíre free to do whatever you want, as long as you donít interfere with someone elseís freedom. And willingly risking the spread of a potentially deadly virus absolutely qualifies as interfering with someone elseís freedom.
Iím not sure what to make of Ballingerís political posturing on the issue of COVID-19. Does he really not understand the mountain of evidence that vaccines represent our best chance to end this deadly pandemic? Or is he simply willing to ignore it for political gain?
It would seem our state senator is either not very bright or he just doesnít care how many people die for no good reason. That might sound harsh, but this pandemic isnít about politics. Itís about life and death.