DR. JOSE ROMERO (file photo)

Here’s is what state Rep. Jana Della Rosa (R-Springdale) said this morning at the Public Health, Welfare and Labor joint meeting about Governor Hutchinson’s emergency mask mandate issued to control the COVID-19 pandemic:

“We are being told we have to do something for the good of all. That’s a socialist thought process. It’s scary, once you go down that rabbit hole … .

“I don’t see an end to this. I don’t see a boundary to this. Are we going to start looking at cancer death rates … think of all thing things that could be mandated. That is the crux of why people people oppose the mandate: You have to do something for the good of others. The legislature is angry. We’re very angry.”

Clarification: Rep. Della Rosa sent an email today demanding that the quote be corrected with her words from the recorded audio, unavailable until the meeting was over:

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“…We are being told we have to do something, not for ourselves, but for the good of all, which is a very socialist thought process, in and of itself, which is very scary for a lot of people, it is for me, I can tell you. Because once you go down that rabbit hole, what should we NOT do for the good of all? And you’ve got to remember you’re representing the state here, so you’re the state telling people they have to do this. So when does this end? I mean, you’re the one now advising the governor on this. So I think that’s a very valid question at this point in time, is what are the criteria for ending this? When, when, when does this end?”

 

“Ok let me rephrase that a different way then, actually a different angle on that. Where does it end? It kind of goes to what Rep Payton was asking.  See, not only do we not know when this is going to stop, we don’t know where it’s going to stop either.  I mean once, once we get into this territory, and this is for everybody else in the room as well, because we’re the legislative branch,  this is supposed to be us making this decision I would like to point out.  Once you get into this territory where you’re managing people’s health via mandate, I don’t see an end to this.

 

As Rep. Payton said, I don’t see a boundary to this. Because you start looking at cancer death rates or heart disease death rates, which are far higher than corona virus death rates are, think of all the things that could be mandated for us to control everybody’s health.  It’s all for the public good. That’s the crux of why people oppose the mask mandate.  It’s the fact that you’re telling people you have to do something for the good of others. There is no end point to it and there is no boundary to it. And the frustration I think that you’re seeing from this side, I mean, I’m sure that you can feel it, the legislature is angry. We’re very angry. And I think the very fact that we’re having to ask you what law is going to be made regarding vaccines or things like that is the crux of the issue. That’s our job. That’s what we do, that’s our branch of government. And so there is a tremendous amount of frustration here against the executive branch. There’s a tremendous amount of frustration from the people against the government. And I just want to make sure that you grasp that, because you’re the one trying to advise the governor on balancing medical need versus social and economic and freedom and all of these other things.  And I don’t ever hear these other things being talked about. All I ever hear is the number of lives that we can save if we do something. There are so many other factors out there and that’s what we do. And that’s the big frustration in this room, is the fact that we do not feel that we are heard, the voices that we represent are not heard.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had to tell on the phone. I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do. We don’t have a special session. We can’t do anything about a concurrent resolution. We don’t have input on this. I can write a letter to the governor the same as anybody else can. That’s it, that’s the only power I have.  So I just want to make sure that you and your boss understand what’s really going on, on this side of this room and also what’s going on with the people  and you’re welcome to respond to that. This has been pent up if you can’t tell for a very long time.  So you’re getting, you’re getting this aimed at you. But there’s a tremendous amount of frustration and a tremendous amount of resistance and its going to continue growing, I think, if we don’t start paying attention to what the people are telling us.”

You’re not the boss of me! Was the common refrain this morning in the grilling of Interim Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero and Arkansas Department of Health chief of staff Stephanie Williams. Legislators repeatedly expressed disgust with the fact that they were not called on by Governor Hutchinson for their advice in mandating the wearing of masks. Rep. John Payton (R-Wilburn) demanded to know the limits to executive power: Can the governor mandate hand-washing? Sen. Kim Hammer (R-Benton) asked why he should be mandated to wear a mask if he’s not worried about getting the disease. Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville) demanded to know if the state will require people to get a vaccine for COVID-19 once it’s developed. Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) was hung up on Sweden’s decision to stay open and what he apparently viewed as a minimal impact on the death rate. (He also chastised Romero for referring to a New York Times article about that nation’s halting recovery, saying he should read something else.)

Romero’s response: “I don’t think we should be comparing deaths. The idea is to prevent them. The idea is not to compare them, we want to limit the amount of death in this country.” Clark seemed to be suggesting that there was “an acceptable amount of death,” Romero said. “I don’t believe so. I believe we should protect every life.”

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Romero sought to explain, in response to Bentley and others, that wearing a mask is crucial to stop the spread of disease, and to those worried about the economy, necessary to getting the country back on track and kids in school.

In other words, our lawmakers did not cover themselves up with glory.

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There was also criticism of the ADH’s support for a separate contact tracing contract in Northwest Arkansas. Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View) is angry that more money is being sought for a separate contract when about $40 million has already been approved.

The Northwest Arkansas Council applied for $7 million to test and trace disease, specifically among the Marshallese and Latinx populations. The Arkansas Legislative Council has turned that request down, but will consider it again tomorrow. Governor Hutchinson has urged it to approve the request.

The issue of slow test results from testing was raised by several legislators, since delays can make contact tracing futile as a means to stop disease spread. (It has other epidemiological benefits.) It’s a valid point.

Romero also was asked about opening schools, and repeated the Centers for Disease Control and pediatricians support for reopening, with safety measures in place. He reassured some legislators that children under 10 do not appear to be significant spreaders of the disease. He also said decisions will be made on the “prevalence of disease in any given location.”

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The committee has taken a break for lunch.