‘It All Got Politicized’: Inside Missouri’s Covid Culture Wars

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The boarded the storefront of Rae’s Cafe in Blue Springs, Missouri, doesn’t look much like a Covid-19 battlefield – but he’s become a famous cause of the anti-masking movement since owner Amanda Wohletz launched a campaign in July to challenge local Jackson County mask warrants imposed after the rise in Delta variant infections.

Despite the warnings, citations, revocation of a food permit and order from a county health department to shut down, Wohletz persisted, claiming in court that the warrant ordering everyone to wear a face covering when visiting indoor public spaces was “unconstitutionally created” and the efforts to enforce it were “illegal, senseless”.

Now the restaurant is closed. In a Sept. 23 ruling, a county judge dismissed Wohletz’s argument over medical exemptions and that the restaurant could bypass the mandate by operating as a private club. The judge also ordered Rae’s to cease operations until he obtained a valid food permit.

Welcome to the Missouri Covid Culture Wars.

This Republican-run Midwestern state was hit hard and early by the pandemic, and again with the Delta Wave of a more infectious variant. Tens of thousands of people have been infected.

Even though rates are dropping again as the Delta Wave recedes, the state’s population is still only 48.18% fully vaccinated. With the onset of winter and new variants looming, health officials now fear the culture wars that have rocked Missouri – and other parts of America – will make the state again. vulnerable when a next wave hits.

In the heat of the sometimes bizarre battle over masks, warrants and vaccines, many observers fear that the personal beliefs of Missourians, often fueled by misinformation and nurtured by religious belief, will be harvested for political ends.

Topping the list is Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican running for the US Senate.

Schmitt sued China, claiming “irreparable damage to countries around the world, causing disease, death, economic disruption and human suffering” caused by Covid-19 and, more recently, filed a class action lawsuit against the local school districts in Missouri, seeking to prevent them from adopting mask policies.

“Forcing children to wear masks in school all day long flies in the face of science and could hinder crucial development by removing clues and facial expressions,” Schmitt said last month.

On Tuesday, a judge rejected Schmitt’s request to block public schools in Boone County, which includes the city of Columbia, and to extend the action to sue every school district in the state requiring a mask.

Health officials say the twists and turns of their battle against Covid-19 are deeply complicated by political interpretations and postures.

St Louis County Public Health Director Dr Faisal Khan is at war over mask warrants with Schmitt, who has repeatedly challenged their legality and enforceability with the state’s largest city.

“It’s always a bad idea to try to tie the hands of public health,” Khan told The Guardian. “Our goal is to protect people and my call is not to politicize a public health crisis. It is a respiratory infection, nothing more, and has nothing to do with personal freedoms or notions of what constitutes tyrannical behavior restricting individual rights. “

At a council meeting in July, Khan was reportedly harassed by anti-masks and subjected to treatment which he later described in a letter of complaint as “racist, xenophobic and threatening”.

“The lingering feeling I have is sadness at the way a public health crisis has been exploited by unscrupulous individuals across the country at all levels, and has received a political flavor,” he said. he declares. “It is to the detriment of our universal cause which is to fight against the pandemic. The ignorance of individuals who have chosen politics over science will be revealed.

Opposition to masking, individually and officially, is a very emotional issue. It is also the one that separates the country from the city, and the urban district from the district, business from business.

“The anti-mask companies are saying nothing and will do nothing,” said Arthur, an IT consultant, who declined to be fully identified based on any statement about the issues that can be read politically. “Pro-maskers are more aggressive, seek arguments and enforce the law. “

But despite the mask warrants, many companies have instructed their employees not to confront customers who do not wear masks.

The consequences, for some, are clear. “So many kids catch it and can’t go to school,” said Tim Agnew, waiting for a bus in Forest Park. “Wearing a mask doesn’t bother me, but there are also a lot of people who are not vaccinated and who say so [has] all kinds of chemicals in it.

Outside of Rae’s Cafe, Wohletz supporter Merle Miller was selling electric ionizers which he said could kill airborne viruses.

“I feel like this whole Covid thing has become politicized. We used to elect people to help us, ”he said. When asked if political mask battles would harm another variant of peak, Miller replied “maybe” before launching into a sales pitch and politico-religious debate centered on whether states -United be founded on the principles of God.

“When all this shit is thrown I feel like, God, please take me home. I am ready to meet Jesus.

Leota Guevara, a waitress at a local Waffle House, said Wohletz took her anti-government stance too far. “She loved the attention and got a lot of support, but then she lost her business because of it. I don’t see how it could be worth it. In addition, its employees lost their jobs.

But in Red’s Gas, 100 miles west and deep in farming country Missouri, Becky Craven expressed a different line of thinking and her anti-authority beliefs have remained strong.

People in the cities, Craven said, just wanted to make fun of their eyes and believe the government is watching over them. “They are all sheep. They want to believe that the government is watching over them. The truth is, nobody cares about them anymore and it’s all political.

Next week, amid anti-mask lawsuits across the state, St. Louis will hold a council hearing on whether to accept any new or repeated indoor mask warrant.

“We understand the fatigue of Covid and that people are frustrated with the endless barrage of restrictions,” Dr Khan said. “But public health is not the enemy, the virus is, and our strategy is based on the changing dynamics of the battlefield. Tying this to lawsuits, however frivolous they may be, will only hamper our fight as I have no idea what this pandemic will throw at us in three months or a month. “


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