During Oklahoma’s 2020-21 legislative session, a bill passed that forbade local school boards, career tech boards, or the Board of Regents for higher education from implementing certain Covid-19 related mandates absent a declaration of emergency from the governor. Most notably, they are not allowed mandate vaccines or implement mask mandates. Over the past week, in response to the surging Delta Variant, there has been a growing clamor for Governor Stitt to declare a state of emergency. The Democratic caucus has even called for a special legislative session to repeal the bill, SB 658, which passed with overwhelming support.
Parents are concerned. On one hand, they saw the disastrous effects that last years’ “hybrid” schooling model had on their kids. It simply didn’t work. According to the New York Times, there was hardly any developmental difference between the hybrid schooling that took place last year and dropping out of school entirely. On the other hand, for anyone following the news cycle or reading the statements put out by the Democratic caucus and others, the Delta variant is going to be the end of us all if the governor doesn’t declare an emergency.
While it is true that the Delta variant appears more contagious than the previously prominent Alpha strain, we are also in a much different situation than we were back in March. We have almost a year and a half of data, better treatment and prevention strategies, and most recently an effective vaccine.
According to a recent 1889 publication, while the circumstances that lead to an emergency declaration can last a long time, it is dubious to believe that such a declaration should last until all is restored to pre-emergency conditions. Emergency powers should come with strict time limits. In addition, before rushing into another state of emergency, we should consider the disaster that the previous emergency inflicted on the state in the form of economic costs and the social and developmental loss for schoolchildren. Finally, we should consider whether our current situation is even an emergency.
Much of the following information has been stated in previous 1889 posts; however, given the current climate of fear filled rhetoric, it bears repeating. Numerous studies have shown that schools are not major vectors of transmission. Children are simply not that susceptible to the virus. According to data shared by the New York Times, the likelihood of death from Covid-19 is pretty low on the list of things parents should be worried about. The chance of death for children ages 1-14 from flu/pneumonia is nearly twice that of Covid-19, yet we don’t issue emergency declarations for the flu. The chance of death for the same demographic from a vehicle accident is nearly 10 times that of Covid-19, and we don’t issue emergency declarations for that, either.
The vaccination rate for our vulnerable populations is very high. For the 65+ age group, over 75 percent are fully vaccinated and over 85 percent have had at least one shot. In addition, the vaccine is readily available for free to anyone who wants it. For those worried about vaccine efficacy or justifying mask mandates for vaccinated individuals due to breakthrough Covid-19, the data show that the vaccine is very effective at preventing serious illness or death. Over 163 million Americans have been vaccinated; of those, approximately .004 percent have been hospitalized. Additionally, less than .001 percent of vaccinated individuals have died from Covid-19.
Given the possible negative effects from another declared emergency, the minuscule chance of children contracting and spreading Covid-19, the high vaccination rate of vulnerable populations, and the widespread availability of an effective vaccine, the justification for another declaration of emergency is lacking. The state should continue to provide relevant and useful information concerning Covid-19, but leave Oklahomans the freedom to choose what they think is best for their own well-being.
Tyler Williamson is a Research Associate at 1889 Institute and can be reached at [email protected].
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.