Geoff Folsom

Geoff Folsom

This was supposed to be the middle of the most exciting time of the year for me.

We went to New York City earlier in July and have more big things planned in the next week. But I can’t help feeling down.

Our friends Chris and Jenna, the only people we hang out with in the area, are moving away. Then there are the tons of issues that come with being first-time homebuyers (like having to cut back on things like trips to New York City to save money).

Then there is the death of ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill. With all the discussion leading up to their concert at the Washington Town & Country Fair, it kind of felt like we lost a community leader.

But what’s really got me down is COVID-19. I’ve enjoyed the things we’ve been able to do since everything reopened, so I’d like to keep it going.

Being vaccinated, I’m not so much worried about getting sick with the virus myself, at least not immediately, but I am really saddened by the positions some in leadership have been taking.

Franklin County has so far been fortunate not to see the same spikes in cases, caused by low vaccination numbers and the more transmissible delta variant, that other parts of the state have, but I am extremely worried that could change.

Among the things that caught my attention was when Union officials, in late July, attended a conference for the Missouri Intergovernmental Risk Management Association (MIRMA) in Branson — yes, the Branson that is a nationwide hot spot for the delta variant.

I asked MIRMA, a membership-owned risk pool, why it would go forward with its convention in Branson and if COVID precautions were taken.

“MIRMA’s annual conference is the centermost part of our year and includes the election of our board of directors, the approval of our coverage packet, and informative and educational sessions,” MIRMA Executive Director Matthew Brodersen wrote in an email. “MIRMA, and the conference facility, both implemented additional safeguards to help lessen the possibility of someone becoming ill.”

Brodersen said MIRMA has handled more than 200 COVID workers’ compensation claims during the pandemic.

And Union Assistant City Administrator James Schmieder said social distancing was in place, with around 100 people in a conference room that can hold more than 300. He added that he believes all Union’s attendees are vaccinated.

That’s good to know, but this seems like a good year for a city to send only one person to the conference and maybe have him or her work from home the week they return.

Instead, Union sent seven employees to the conference, more than it has before, at a cost to the city of $8,319.60.

Even if all these employees are vaccinated, being around lots of people in Branson can pose risks. Breakthrough cases among vaccinated people are becoming more common. Although the vaccinated are unlikely to experience serious COVID symptoms, it’s unclear how likely they are to spread the virus.

That would be a concern if I’m going to be around unvaccinated co-workers or children.

I’m not perfect on this by any means. I went to a musical the other night in Phelps County, another COVID hot spot. But I wore a mask, as did most of the other people in the theater.

More importantly, I wore a mask the next day when I was around other people at work because I care about their health. I was the only one wearing a mask when I attended the July 26 Union Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, a couple days after they returned from Branson.

I felt kind of silly wearing a mask at the city meeting but didn’t want to risk getting COVID from someone who had been to the MIRMA conference.

Then there is the Union R-XI School district’s board. It recently voted unanimously not to require masks in the upcoming school year. All the speakers from the public at the July 21 meeting where the board made its decision were opposed to masks.

Most teachers are vaccinated, and the likelihood of young children getting seriously ill with COVID is still low, so I understand why mask supporters didn’t show up. But that left the anti-science crowd to have the floor to itself.

One speaker said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants to “segregate” unvaccinated children, then made light of the Holocaust by comparing people being asked to do what they can to avoid spreading a deadly virus to being persecuted by Nazis.

The other attendees and a couple school board members applauded the speaker. I should know by now not to be shocked by anything I see, but hearing those comments and the reaction to them made it tough to move the rest of the meeting.

The board members said afterward that they didn’t hear the offensive remarks, and they were mainly clapping because they were happy to have speakers at their meetings, which they said was rare.

I take the board members’ word (though this seems like a reason to get better microphones and audio equipment in the boardroom), but you would have thought someone with the district or in the audience would say something to distance themselves from the speakers.

Board members said they had to require masks for students because it was the only way to open schools in the 2020-21 school year. They questioned the guidance they’ve received from the CDC.

I can tell you from experience that masks work. I foolishly went to work and conducted an interview in February with COVID symptoms. I was tested the next day and learned I was COVID positive, but it didn’t spread because the people I was around and I all wore masks.

Although some of the CDC’s waffling on whether fully vaccinated people need to wear masks has been annoying, the agency has been consistent on masks being needed if you are not vaccinated. And we’re dealing with a virus the likes of which we’ve never seen. No one is going to get things right all the time, but it is better to be cautious.

Most importantly, none of the school officials told the attendees what they needed to hear: If you don’t want to wear masks, get vaccinated!

You are not going to die from the vaccine, but you could die from COVID. Heck, call it the Trump Vaccine if that will get more people to take it.

Former Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin put it best recently when talking about NFL players needing to be vaccinated. “I don’t care about the conspiracy theorists, ‘Oh, they’re trying to kill us,’ ” he said. “If the government wanted you dead, our (rears) would all be dead right now. So just shut up with all of that.”