“I’d rather have dangerous freedom than comfortable security,” said Arkansas State Senator Trent Garner, who successfully banned mask warrants and, like many like-minded officials , is adamant that it remains in place.
This has left an increasingly fractured response, with some cities defying state bans and some suspicious companies requiring returning workers to provide proof of vaccination. Meanwhile, the bans threaten long-standing public health practices that extend beyond the pandemic, from closing restaurants with food-borne illnesses to vaccinating children. against diseases that have taken decades to be brought under control.
“We can do the surveillance, but we can’t take any action, and small outbreaks could become much bigger problems. This is the bread and butter of our public health work and we risk losing it, ”said Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territory Health Officials.
With infections expected to rise this fall as weather and reopening of schools push Americans indoors, officials from these states will be have few options other than trying to cajole an audience resistant to voluntary compliance.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson is roaming his state, imploring residents to get vaccinated, and nearly every state offers incentives and incentives to do so. Health services Kansas, Missouri, and other hot spots that may not require masks recommend people wear them. Mississippi, where more than a dozen hospitals have running out of intensive care beds, now advises unvaccinated people to avoid indoor gatherings.
“The era of statewide mask mandates is over for the majority of the United States and certainly for us, but there are other common sense steps you can take,” said Thomas Dobbs , Mississippi State Health Officer.
Many Democratic-controlled states and cities have also been reluctant to reimpose mask mandates, even though they still have the power to do so. In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear told reporters on Monday that there was no longer a need to require face coverings now that people can choose to be vaccinated.
But incentives to get the vaccine have largely failed to spur adoption, and toothless recommendations to wear masks and social distancing are largely ignored, leaving local health workers and elected officials to scramble as cases are piling up.
Only a handful of places, like Los Angeles County has reimposed mask warrants as the more contagious Delta variant becomes dominant, and lawmakers in those regions argue that such targeted actions are essential to tackle the next phase of the pandemic.
“Some local areas will receive more cases, others will receive fewer,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.). “Local communities should be able to decide how best to protect their residents. It’s really stupid to say that local communities can’t try to do more to protect residents from disease.
Even some Republican officials who think mandates are ineffective and reactions quick are torn by the issue, and say local leaders, not state lawmakers, generally know what’s best for their residents.
“I’d rather have local control than state warrants because what’s happening in Northwestern Kansas is different from what’s happening in Johnson County. [outside Kansas City]Said Republican Senator from Kansas, Roger Marshall, whose state recently deprived local departments of the ability to respond to the crisis.
Some local leaders insist that they still have the discretion to act, despite what their governors have ordered. A spokeswoman for Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said she would re-impose a mask warrant if infection levels were high enough, despite Gov. Doug Ducey’s recent executive order banning local courts from doing so.
Ducey’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Other officials I still hope states will roll back the bans if the pandemic’s toll reaches new heights.
“If things go really bad, if our hospitals start to fill up and we have to set up tents with beds again to treat people, I think you’re going to see a review,” predicted Rep Al Green (D -Texas). Local officials in his hard-hit Houston-area district fought for months with the state over pandemic precautions.
Missouri law which goes into effect next month will limit the ability of local authorities to impose measures such as mask requirements or limit capacity in places like Arrowhead Stadium, where more than 76,000 Kansas City Chiefs fans are expected. get together in the fall.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said he feared he would be crippled even as the healthcare system begins to buckle. But unless there is an increase in vaccinations, he’s not sure he can do much.
“These policy approaches are not in the best interest of public health or in the best interest of the people of Kansas City,” he said. “There aren’t many options left.