O'Laughlin criticized for now deleted Facebook post regarding stay-at-home orders

by Benjamin Nelson

UPDATE: The article now includes a statement from the office of Senator O'Laughlin regarding efforts and her response to COVID-19 in the district.

MACON, MO -- On Monday March 30th, the state of Missouri entered triple digits of confirmed cases of COVID-19. Just a few days later, the state saw an additional 500 confirmed cases, bringing the total to 1,581 cases. With the total number of cases growing each day, Missouri is in the top half of the nation with the most cases of the virus. In Northeast Missouri, specifically the 18th State Senate District, there are roughly over a dozen cases with Randolph County having two cases, Chariton County having four cases, Macon County having two cases, Ralls and Pike County with one case each, Adair County with three cases, and Shelby County with one case. On Monday the Macon Health Department announced the second confirmed COVID-19 case being the result of community spread, making it one of the first cases of community spread in Northeast Missouri.

As of April 1st, 2020, 37 states in the Union have issued some form of order for citizens to stay at home. Missouri joins thirteen other states that have yet to issue a stay-at-home order. St. Louis County Executive Sam Page was quoted by saying, “It would help if Missouri had a standardized response.” As of today, seven of the twelve Midwestern states have issued a stay-at-home order. In a Tuesday address to the state, Missouri Governor stated, “Everyday we look at the models to see how many counties in Missouri has a positive hit, and how many are multiple hits.” He continued by saying, “And we go by that to make the decisions on what day, if we do a stay-at-home (order) at some point. Right now, I’m not ready to do that.” On March 24th, the Missouri Nurses Association and the Association of Missouri Nurse Practitioners pleaded for the Governor to issue a stay-at-home order; "To help curb the growing number of infected, we are also calling on the Governor to enact a statewide stay-at-home and shelter in place order to help slow the spread of COVID-19 across Missouri. We know that this threat will not subside quickly; therefore, we must issue statewide policy support to preserve our health care workforce over the next several months," stated the Associations listed above.

Both Bevier and Macon County R-lV School Districts have push back the intent to re-open district doors from April 6th until April 27th. La Plata School District announced that they now have an initial reopen date of April 30th.

Reaching out to local state officials, the Macon Home Press emailed Republican Senator Cindy O'Laughlin of the 18th District for the opportunity to address/answer several questions of the current situation in Missouri regarding COVID-19.

Senator O'Laughlin most recently received criticism after questioning the validity and constitutionality of stay-at-home orders like those in St. Louis and Kansas City. In a now deleted Facebook post made by the Senator on Sunday, March 22nd, O'Laughlin praised Missouri Governor Mike Parson for not jumping (as she stated) "on shut everyone down mode." O'Laughlin continued by stating, "However, I see no time in the history of this country when perfectly healthy people have been basically confined to their homes or only able to do essential things as in Kansas City or St. Louis. Frankly I consider this unconstitutional and it needs challenged.” Toward the end of her now deleted Facebook post, Senator O'Laughlin stated that "We cannot crush all livelihoods for all people we just can’t" and furthermore, "Let’s get on with the business of life.” Her remarks have received coverage statewide from Kansas City, St. Louis, Moberly, Rolla, and Mexico newspapers.

According to the archives of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and National Geographic, in 1918 during the Spanish Flu Pandemic, city officials along with health officials in St. Louis ordered a quarantine, that citizens stay at home, and businesses close (with very few exceptions). With the preemptive measures ordered in St. Louis two days after reporting their first case of Spanish Flu back in 1918, in the end, the city held the lowest death rate among America's top 10 largest cities. The city of Philadelphia held the highest death rate, waiting eight days after deaths began to climb, to order schools closed, social gatherings halted, etc. The measures and reaction of St. Louis officials in 1918 became the example in pandemic response moving forward.

Boone County, St. Louis, Kansas City, Greene County, Randolph County, and Chariton County have issued similar stay-at-home orders expiring toward the end of April. The order requires people to stay at their home unless taking part in essential activities such as grocery shopping, etc. while only allowing essential businesses to stay open. Businesses and individuals who fail to adhere to stay-at-home orders could face a misdemeanor resulting in a fine up to $1,000 and/or a possible short jail sentence up to one year, all depending on the specifics of each individual ordered rendered by local health, city, and county officials.

The United States Supreme Court has previously ruled in favor of a similar state order that dealt with safeguarding the health of the general public and the Constitutionality of such order/state statute. In 1905, the Supreme Court heard the case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts where Pastor Henning Jacobson at the time was refusing to pay a fine after being in violation of a state order of compulsory vaccination for smallpox which was ordered by the state of Massachusetts during the smallpox epidemic. Those who failed to get the vaccination could face a five dollar fine which is equivalent to $140 in today's money. Taking the case to the Supreme Court, Jacobson cited that his individual liberties were being violated and so was the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. Ultimately, with a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court tossed out Jacobson's argument and ruled in favor of the state of Massachusetts, concluding that in order to protect the public welfare, that individual liberties can be circumvented so long as the state vaccination order, statute, policy, etc. was justified and legitimate in doing just that. And additionally, the consequences for not adhering to the state vaccination order, were acceptable and that the state, protected under the 10th Amendment, had every right to enforce the order. Justice John Marshall Harlan stated, "there are manifold restraints to which each person is necessarily subject for the common good." This case also resulted in allowing those who were medically exempted, to not get vaccinated. For more information on this case, click on the following link: https://libraryguides.law.pace.edu/c.php?g=383525&p=2644767

Missouri State Statute 192.020 grants the sole duty and responsibility of safeguarding the health of Missourians and to each of her subdivisions, to the department of health and senior services. Furthermore, the statute also states, "It shall designate those diseases which are infectious, contagious, communicable or dangerous in their nature and shall make and enforce adequate orders, findings, rules and regulations to prevent the spread of such diseases and to determine the prevalence of such diseases within the state. It shall have power and authority, with approval of the director of the department, to make such orders, findings, rules and regulations as will prevent the entrance of infectious, contagious and communicable diseases into the state." This statute gives health officials of the state and of each county, the ability to create orders to safeguard the health of citizens.

When asked about Senator O'Laughlin's remarks, Macon County Health Department Director, Mike Chambers, stated, "I am not going to suggest that Senator O’Laughlin’s views are incorrect, but we should be encouraging citizens to use precautions to not only protect themselves but to protect their more vulnerable family members." Chambers stated that he has respect for O'Laughlin and emphasized the importance of adhering to social distancing and possible additional measures to stem the spread of the virus. To view the rest of his statement regarding social distancing, click on the following link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1cKcQ2irvhExbPqyAVSpLUDkTQyt637WGxxol2SOciXU/edit?usp=sharing

Even after taking down her original post cited above, on March 31st, Senator O'Laughlin stating "Another Perspective", posted a commentary article to her Facebook page from RealClearPolitics in which the author(s) argued that some of the measures put-in-place so far in response to COVID-19 are out of proportion to the numbers reported and in one paragraph, claimed it is a result of paranoia. The article also suggests that instead of engaging in “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy,” without upending everything else, we should focus on a solution. The article concludes by saying, “Paranoia and overreaction do not suit our democracy well." To access the referenced article, visit: https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2020/03/31/time_for_a_second_opinion_142817.html?fbclid=IwAR0iVmHZs_PGijewx-_VOHZ4s3Shh4H7fFujAxvbggAE75_0iOqnWKpQ_Xk

On March 30th, The Home Press reached out to Senator O'Laughlin via email about her remarks on Facebook and an update in regards to the virus for the 18th district. We asked O'Laughlin if she stands by her original remarks cited in the Facebook post and if they pose a messaging problem to the public. More specifically, if the remarks hinder the ability of Health Departments to ensure the seriousness of precautions that citizens need to abide by and on her questioning the validity of the stay-at-home orders, if that could embolden individuals to defy orders and recommendations made by health officials. Senator O'Laughlin did not address this in the response from her office.

Additionally, we asked O'Laughlin about specific actions she is taking to ensure county health officials around the district are receiving the equipment and resources needed right now, whether or not Missouri is doing enough to slow the spread of the virus, and finally, giving an opportunity to provide any additional remarks for constituents regarding COVID-19 in the 18th District. Aaron Baker provided the paper with a response from her office, "We phoned every nursing home in the district to ascertain their supply level of PPE's. We are working with area technical career centers to get supplies, and assist in distributing masks to the most critically low providers. I have also personally paid for supplies. We are working to find funding for our rural critical access hospitals who are suffering financial distress. We are setting up webinars in conjunction with economic developers and RPCs to inform people on the financial assistance available from the federal government, specifically the Small Business Association. I have also been speaking individually with business owners who have more specific problems. For example, if they are considered essential or not. We are assisting individuals who cannot get through to file for unemployment. I have been communicating daily with state departments and making information available regarding critical areas, such as education and daycare. I have also been communicating regularly with the Governor's office. Our office is continuing to function as close to regularly as we can. Our office phones are still being answered remotely, and we are helping constituents daily with all issues, even ones not concerning Coronavirus."

Yesterday, the President of the United States accompanied by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, asked Americans to follow the order from the Trump Administration in extending the nationwide social distancing order to the end of April. The Administration announced that with measures in place (shutting down the economy and keeping Americans in their home), the virus could infect millions and leave anywhere from 100,000 to 240,000 people passing away from COVID-19. Without measures being in place, the Administration announced that projections show anywhere form 1.5 to 2.2 million COVID-19 related deaths throughout the United States. "It is absolutely critical for the American people to follow the guidelines," stated Trump. The President continued by stating that the next two weeks are going to be rough and "as a nation we're going to have a really rough two weeks. Our strength will be tested and our endurance will be tried." Tuesday's Press Conference resulted in a shift from the Oval Office's outlook of the virus with just a few days ago, President Trump looking ahead to reopen the nation by Easter. By the end of the conference, the President was stating that the next two-three weeks are going to "be very bad" and this being the matter of "life and death."

Official Senate portrait of Senator O'Laughlin, used as headline picture