Kansas and Missouri Republicans seem to think that this week is a lot like last week ... and the one before that. It’s not, which is why Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has taken the bold and absolutely necessary actions that she has, closing all schools for the rest of the academic year and preventing foreclosures and evictions during this global coronavirus pandemic.

She was the first governor in the country to close all schools for the rest of the year. And since that’s so obviously what the whole country must and will eventually do, why put more lives in danger by delaying the inevitable?

Preventing evictions right now is not only humane but a public health imperative, too, with homeless people at even greater risk. Most of those with a home will soon be required to stay there, potentially for a long time. That’s why on the federal level, the Housing and Urban Development Department will also suspend foreclosures and evictions through April.

Yet even as Johnson County reports “community spread” of the virus, meaning that the transmission has moved to another, more dangerous level, the most urgent action taken by Kansas Republican lawmakers has been to try and limit what they incorrectly see as overreaction and overstepping from Kelly.

She isn’t your enemy; this virus is. What a bad joke that even amid a threat on a scale that no one alive today has ever seen, they are still either worrying about or pretending to worry about whether the governor might, under cover of this crisis, halt gun sales and seize ammunition and power.

In Missouri, where the first COVID-19 death was reported Wednesday, Republican Gov. Mike Parson took a frighteningly leisurely approach, arguing that school closures must be a local decision. On Wednesday, he again said it was up to each one of us to keep ourselves safe: “It is going to go back to personal responsibility.” And he noted that elsewhere in the world, individual efforts were starting to show impressive results.

Gov. Parson, elsewhere in the world and the country, people are on total lockdown. That’s how we’ve started to see major reductions in transmission, and your tepid suggestions that “maybe you don’t go to church” and “it will be up to individuals” make staying home sound optional rather than imperative. A total lockdown is coming, even if it arrives here dangerously late.

Both Parson and Kelly are low-key politicians — steady-as-she-goes types by nature — and both have benefited politically from making less exciting national news than their predecessors. But now Kelly has put aside her accustomed caution in response to this extraordinary challenge while Parson has not.

The day will come, and soon, when Kansans of all political stripes will thank Laura Kelly for doing what she has done while Missourians will blame Mike Parson for wasting time at what could have been a lifesaving moment.

Meanwhile, in Topeka, where lawmakers should have already passed a bare-bones budget and gone home, some Republicans similarly haven’t yet snapped on the urgency of treating this pandemic like the emergency that it is.

“These are steps the governor took, over the last day, that I feel strongly (were) unnecessary,” said state Sen. Gene Suellentrop, the Wichita Republican who chairs the Senate’s health committee. Yes, health committee, yet he’s the adult equivalent of those students on Florida beaches, blissfully unaware of what’s coming. He called closing schools for the rest of the year “asinine” and said “we can’t stop living.”

He certainly isn’t. “I’m going to go out into public right now,” he said this week. “I’m going to go have dinner, I’m going to mingle, and I’m going to spend money in the economy, to keep things moving. I hope everybody else does, too.”

This blasé indifference to science and public health could be deadly, and we hope no one at all follows his lead.

“I haven’t seen the justification for this panic,” said state Sen. Robert Olson, a Republican from Olathe. It’s not panic to take precautions to protect the millions of lives that could be lost in the U.S. This attitude that the disease will progress any differently here than in Italy or New York or California is wishful thinking.

The oddest thing about all of this official denial is the lag between the suddenly serious attitude of President Donald Trump, who belatedly seems to have been made to see the gravity of the situation, and that of Republicans in Missouri and Kansas. Trump spent weeks downplaying the threat, even calling criticism of his slow response a hoax. Now he’s right to say that this is war, and he’s in a sense a wartime president, even as he’s wrong to put Asian Americans in danger every time he insists on calling it the “Chinese virus.”

The window is closing for domestic travel and for making key decisions like where we’re going to shelter in place. Here in the Midwest, we’ve had more time to react than they have on the coasts, which makes the stubborn refusal of Kansas and Missouri Republicans to admit what’s heading straight at us even more tragic.

Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.


About opinions in the Missourian: The Missourian’s Opinion section is a public forum for the discussion of ideas. The views presented in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Missourian or the University of Missouri. If you would like to contribute to the Opinion page with a response or an original topic of your own, visit our submission form.

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