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  • Last modified 17 days ago (Oct. 8, 2020)

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A pandemic play-by-play

KU’s football team appears to be so bad that even the announcers for Saturday’s game on ESPN didn’t bother to show up. They literally phoned in their play-by-play from Arizona and Connecticut.

It wasn’t the Jayhawks’ ineptitude that kept the announcers away, of course. It was fear of becoming infected in what has become one of the nation’s leading states for new COVID-19 cases. If the announcers had come to Kansas, they might have been forced to quarantine for two weeks when returning home.

People hereabouts love to talk about getting more people to come to Marion County. It’s ironic that some of the same people constantly run around without masks, threatening to increase the infection rate and decrease our desirability as a destination.

Sit outside virtually any store in Marion and count the people who do or don’t put on masks before entering. Our rough estimate after an hour of observation is that less than 20% do.

This unfortunately applies to some store clerks, too. It’s not exactly reassuring to watch a sandwich maker behind a screen breathing all over our food after pulling her mask down around her neck.

For the ten-thousandth time: Masks aren’t a matter of personal choice. They don’t protect the wearer. They protect against the wearer unknowingly infecting others.

It’s not just “Vote No on Joe and the Hoe” rednecks who miss the point. Elitist East Coast liberals get it wrong, too.

Comedian John Oliver, who can be entertaining and even enlightening when not engaged in all-out war against President Trump, chided the president this week for taking off a mask while standing on a balcony a hundred feet from the nearest well-wisher.

No wonder Trump got COVID, Oliver opined, adding as evidence a clip of the president criticizing former Vice President Joe Biden for wearing gigantic masks when they aren’t needed.

Oliver accused Trump of dissing masks. What Trump really was dissing was Biden’s insatiable need to remind people that we’re in a pandemic, which he apparently blames on Trump. Exactly how the rest of the world got it is unclear.

Radical liberals have become so overconfident of their prospects of defeating Trump that they has revealed themselves to be as just as wild-eyed, mean-spirited, and intransigent as the man they oppose.

Among other things they have launched a seemingly organized propaganda campaign against him. Among its latest elements are a Showtime dramatization portraying the president as something akin to a Mafia boss and news clips chiding the president for not refusing to condemn violent white supremacists when, in fact, he quite clearly said he would do just that, although not using exactly the words they insisted he use.

It’s enough to convince sensible voters, like one on the south hill who put up a yard sign supporting any reasoning adult for president, that the only safe thing to do is to ensure that neither party controls both the White House and both houses of Congress.

Trump hasn’t always been forthcoming or accurate in his statements on COVID. But what he says is true when he points out that the disease is becoming more manageable.

We now have better treatments for it, as his own case and those of several professional athletes prove. But those cases also prove that even the wealthiest, most protected people in the world — people like Prince Charles — can and do get the virus. And the only thing that’s standing between us and massive death tolls is that we’ve managed to slow the disease’s progress and avoid overloading the health care system by doing such things as wearing masks and adopting a new normal, somewhere in between total shutdown and regular operations.

Experts who have accurately predicted the disease’s spread have warned we are on the cusp of a second major round of infection — one that could claim 200,000 lives in the U.S. alone by year’s end. Fully half of those lives, they say, could be saved if 80% of people would wear masks to help keep treatment facilities from becoming overloaded.

Yes, the 100,000 lives that could be saved are likely to be people with pre-existing conditions — things like being old or having a heart condition or diabetes. But since when did it become a matter of personal choice whether we do everything we can to save those who need saving? We don’t have a God-given right to run down elderly people trying to cross the street just because they probably will die sooner than we will.

Political pressure continues to mount to make COVID seem as if it has gone away, which it most certainly has not.

Daily reports of the number of people testing negative in Marion County have proved to be fabrications. Officials merely subtract the number of confirmed and probable cases from the number of tests given and say what’s left are the number of negative tests. But they forget that probable cases don’t involve tests, and the only people currently being tested are those suspected of being infected. The numbers just don’t add up.

Another way to spin the same numbers might be to report — which, under pressure, they have declined to do — the total number of people who have been quarantined.

One spin makes the situation sound good. The other makes it sound bad. That’s exactly the type of shenanigans we need to avoid if we’re ever going to get past COVID.

At least one good thing regarding COVID happened this week even if Marion Elementary School and Central National Bank were forced to cease face-to-face operations.

A secretive attempt by some Marion officials to get the city council to lift its mask requirement before it expires Dec. 31 apparently was met with such resistance in private that it never even came up at Monday’s council meeting.

We hate it when the city tries to come to consensus and conduct business behind closed doors, as we believe it did when it appeared to discuss and act upon staff reorganization in a recent executive session. At least in the case of COVID, the disinfecting sunshine of openness wasn’t needed to arrive at a proper decision.

— ERIC MEYER

Getting wired
on grants

Much as we might praise the city of Marion for not letting up in its battle against COVID, we’re not sure the same can be said of a decision Monday that on its face actually seems wise.

Voting to spend $16,000 in taxpayer money and $16,000 in taxpayer-paid city services to make fiber-optic Internet connections available in a largely empty industrial and commercial park could jump-start development there.

But it also could be pouring good money after bad at a time in an overly aggressive move at a time when the city can’t afford such modest projects as fixing decayed curb and gutter along Elm St.

We’re all for the economic benefit of having broadband available. We immediately signed up for fiber-optic service when a private company decided, without government inducement, to make it available at relatively low cost to downtown businesses.

Clearly, the private Internet business saw a market for the service and was willing to invest accordingly. In the industrial park, it apparently doesn’t see the market and isn’t willing to invest.

We question the project, too. We question the price, whether it might have been a hidden precondition to sale of an unused city-owned building, whether adding fiber-optic cable is insufficient and premature, and whether cost was inflated by expanding the project not just to the industrial park south of US-56 but also to the commercial park north of the highway.

The biggest impediment to luring businesses is lack of skilled labor. The city should understand that very clearly. After reorganizing its staff, it has an almost unprecedented number of vacant jobs — jobs that, unlike most local businesses, it has not bothered to advertise in places like our classified pages.

Choosing to advertise primarily on its own website, which failed for nearly two days without anyone on the city staff seeming to notice, the city has been unable to find workers despite pay and benefits greatly superior to what most local businesses offer for the same type of worker.

While having fiber-optic Internet lines available at the property line of each lot in the industrial park might be a boon someday, until the labor situation is addressed, it’s unlikely to do anything more than provide inducement for county’s southern wind farm company to actually go through with its long-delayed purchase of a building the city has been attempting to sell for years.

Officials will tell you what a deal this is. Grant money will pay for most of the cost. The city’s share will be relatively small, just 20%. But never in these comparisons do we hear what the cost might be without any government intervention or what it might cost to do only the industrial park, not the commercial park.

We can’t imagine that it would cost $192,000 if the private companies now in the industrial park went directly to an Internet provider and asked for fiber-optic access.

Getting a grant sounds like a great way to make taxpayer money go further. But does it? Often conditions of grants — and overly grandiose scale of grant proposals — make projects so costly that the local share is actually more than it would have cost to do the project without the grant.

And when we seek a grant that we don’t receive, as happened with Elm St. curbing, we suddenly don’t have money to do things we should have done years ago.

Overall, we’re happy to see the industrial park get fiber-optic lines. We hope it helps. But we wonder about Elm St., the city power grid, the city’s water pipes, and all the other things the city needs to address. It may be 10 years before the fiber-optic investment pays off, and by that time, new technology may have rendered the project outdated. Redoing curbs on Elm St. doesn’t carrying with it that risk but is a much more pressing, immediate need.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Oct. 8, 2020

 

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