The Manhattan Mercury, Aug. 22
The wave of restrictions began hitting college campuses around the country this past week. It hasn’t yet hit Kansas State University, but it seems almost inevitable that it will.
The University of North Carolina moved to online-only instruction Thursday, after 177 students tested positive for the coronavirus. Notre Dame suspended in-person classes when 147 had confirmed cases. These are obviously the result of parties and social gatherings in dorms, Greek houses and off-campus gathering points. At Iowa State, they sent a warning letter after hundreds of students gathered for a semester kick-off party, violating social-distancing rules.
Here in Manhattan, a Mercury photographer Friday night found the bar scene more crowded than a typical weekend night before the pandemic, and only about a quarter of the people there were wearing masks. On Saturday, officials confirmed that they had closed two Aggieville bars (O’Malley’s and O’Malley’s Alley) for violating pandemic-related restrictions.
Confirmed cases began surging last week, just as classes got underway. It’s not a coincidence.
The thing is, most college students and certainly all college towns would prefer to have operational campuses, with in-person learning. College kids don’t want to get booted from the dorms, forced to go back to live in Mom and Dad’s basement.
But college kids are also going to be college kids. They are not fully-formed, mature adults. We can ask them to be, we can plead with them to look out for one another, we can even boot them out of campus housing, as they’ve done to some partiers at the University of Connecticut and Drake University. Syracuse denounced a bunch of freshmen for wandering around the campus unmasked. Penn State suspended a fraternity for partying.
Truth is, this isn’t going to work. It’s like asking bars to restrict crowd size, make everybody sit at tables and stay 6 feet apart. A bar is going to be a bar. College kids are going to be college kids. Those things are going to lead to big surges in virus transmission, just as sure as the sun coming up in the east.
So what is there to do?
Where this is all leading is another lockdown, with colleges sending kids out of the dorms and bars shut down by government order. It’s almost inevitable, simply as a matter of risk management.
You might have a different viewpoint - you might say that college kids infecting each other is no big deal, that they’ll all be fine, and that nobody will really get sick. You might say that they’d be more likely to suffer actual harm just by, say, getting blackout drunk and falling down a set of stairs. Statistically, you might actually be right.
But institutions in positions of power simply cannot abide the risk of being responsible for death. There’s a virus that has killed 150,000 American on the loose, without a cure. If you’re a university president, do you want to face a plaintiff’s lawyer in front of a jury, asking you: “So, Madam President, you knew the risk and you chose to put my client’s life in danger anyway? You ignored the warnings of the health authorities in this country because you didn’t want to lose the tuition revenue?”
That’s not going to fly. All over the country, it’s the same story. College towns are trying to hold back the tide, and it’s not working.
The Topeka Capital-Journal, Aug. 23
President Trump was out of line this week in calling for a boycott of Goodyear tires.
The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., which has plants in Topeka and across the country, employs hard-working Americans. Some of them likely support the president. The company is critical to many local economies.
So why on earth would the president go after such a company? Shouldn’t he be praising its dedication to keeping jobs in the United States?
One might think so. But Trump has never seen a situation that he can’t make about himself, and a TV news report out of Topeka featured a slide showing messages that were appropriate and inappropriate at Goodyear’s workplace.
The slide, which didn’t come from Goodyear Corporate, attempted to make a distinction between apparel that might support racial justice or equity - such as a Black Lives Matter T-shirt or the LGBTQI+ rainbow - and those that support a political campaign, such a Make America Great Again hat.
It also suggested that Blue Lives Matter apparel, supporting law enforcement, wasn’t appropriate. That likely went over the line for many people, and the company has since said that employees are free to show support for law enforcement.
That’s a sensible change to make, but otherwise the company’s stance should be applauded rather than disdained. Political slogans are fundamentally different than celebrating one’s identity, and could easily lead to arguments and other disruption in the workplace. Being Black or gay - regardless of what some might think - isn’t a political statement.
Where Trump erred is in seeing the policy as being about him. It also prevents employees from wearing Biden 2020 shirts. It’s about understanding that not everything in the world revolves around partisan politics.
Perhaps such a public collision was inevitable, given our separateness and division.
But it’s worth trying to retain these distinctions. It’s worth trying to understand that we are all people first, with a range of identities and self-expressions. It’s worth remembering that we are all going through life together, and that we are stronger when collaborating than when battling.
President Trump sees the world as a zero-sum battle to the death. And the only thing worth fighting over, in his mind, is his own accomplishment and prowess. It doesn’t matter if an American company or American jobs are harmed or lost in the process.
The president should support Goodyear. He should apologize for his remarks. And he should understand that it’s really not all about him.
The Topeka Capital-Journal, Aug. 20
First things first. The federal government should be commended for making funds available for states and localities to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act provides important relief and was an admirable first step.
That being said, we can all learn lessons from the actual disbursement of the money in Kansas, and the various bureaucratic barriers that have been created. Reporter Andrew Bahl covered the challenges in a piece this week.
“Each county still had to submit a detailed plan of what the money would be used for by Aug. 15. It also would submit the first round of reports seeking reimbursement for past spending on COVID-19-related items, such as public health programs or emergency services,” Bahl wrote. “The $400 million in funds were transferred in mid-July, leaving counties under the gun to turn around the necessary documentation.”
Counties are required to pay back any money that goes to support ineligible expenses, and all of the existing requirements are subject to change at a moment’s notice. A real possibility exists that some counties won’t be able to use all of the funding.
That leads us to the first lesson. The requirement that expenses be tied directly to the pandemic no doubt sounded good when the bill was being passed, but it makes administration of the funds exceptionally difficult. Drops in state and local tax revenue have affected services across the board, and adding strings to this federal money across the board.
Put simply? We’re all being affected by the pandemic now, and federal funding should reflect that.
The second lesson? The amount of paperwork and documentation required is nonsensical, especially for smaller units of government. Again, the emphasis should be in getting funds disbursed to those who need them in the most efficient way possible.
Goodness knows the federal government wastes money in a multitude of ways; making sure that good-hearted county officials dot every single “i” and cross every single “T” on a compressed schedule seems like a waste of resources.
The third lesson? The federal government needs to pass an additional aid package, and quickly. While the CARES Act spending has been useful, we need general support for states and localities. We need money to make up the local tax losses or else we could see devastating effects to schools, law enforcement and other crucial services.
Let’s get to it, Congress.
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