Letter to the Editor: Learning from the Rolla COVID Shutdown

Submitted by Dan Hill
The Rolla Daily News

There was a statement made at the June 15 city council meeting about appreciating those council members who have the best interest of Rolla residents at heart, and for those who don't, to reconsider. This seems pretty clear the person was indicating that there are city council members who do not have the residents best interest at heart.

That type of thinking and statements only worsens the problems. It is highly likely that everyone on council believes they are doing what is best for Rolla. If by chance someone knows they don't have the best interest, there is no chance of these statements causing them to change their mind.

Another person stated about how it was a slap in the face for anyone who has served in the military to fight for the liberty and freedom of this nation, to then have these restrictions in place and that they live in America where there is freedom and the council has made it so we don't have freedom.

I certainly appreciate his views and service. I see feelings though and not facts. I believe the shutdown came about by feelings and not facts and this in turn has caused many to react based on feelings. While it is important to understand and care about the feelings of others, we need to get beyond that for actual legislation.

Another person brought up a great point about the council not putting restrictions on those with Hepatitis and dictating what they can and can not do, so they shouldn't be putting restrictions in with COVID-19. There are facts there, not just feelings. While it can be used to help the case, it is far from a good enough analogy for reasons such as hepatitis is more understood, less contagious, less lethal, and more things available for coping with it.

The council had little to go off of as far as facts about COVID-19, but it was clear that governing bodies beyond Rolla and even Missouri were considering it to be a huge threat. As such, they re-acted swiftly, broadly, and with good intentions. Our mayor and city administrator indicated in the June 15 council meeting that they initially thought council over-reacted, but now looking back believe it was a good thing, because we have had so few cases. Of course, we can argue that "correlation does not imply causation," meaning we can't prove that our low case is a direct result of the shutdown. However, we also can't prove that it wasn't and there is a lot of basic reasoning and data that would back up it certainly had a factor in it.

That said, we would do well to realize it actually was an over-reaction. I'm only stating this as a hind-sight, not criticizing them for having done it. Again, because there was so much unknown and they wanted to protect before it got out of hand. Yet, for the low cases and deaths we've had, there is every clarity that it did not need to be as severe as it was. What we don't know is how much restriction and for how long would have been better. But, if we can all see that it was an over-reaction, then we can help bridge the gap of feelings and learn so we respond better in the future.

If anyone believes it wasn't an over-reaction, then you may be missing the fact that the goal was to slow the spread, not eliminate it. Speed limits are set for reasonable safety and traffic flow. Yes, traffic flow is part of the equation. They don't want to hold up traffic in an effort to eliminate all wrecks. What council effectively did was lower the speed limit in Rolla to 5 mph. Yay, no injuries or fatalities due to car wrecks. However, the traffic was incredibly backed up and people's lives greatly impacted by not being able to get to places in enough time, etc. And so it was with the shutdown. Now, keep this analogy in mind as we move forward with easing the restrictions. Is 10 mph ok? Maybe it is 25 mph. Maybe in some areas it can be 20, but 40 in others. I believe this is what council wants to do now, and I hope they can see that the initial reaction was too much just like lowering to 5 mph would be too much.

There are not different "sides" for this. Or, at least there shouldn't be. It is possible to be on the same side with different opinions. I have a friend on council who was extremely pro shutdown when this first came about. I was extremely anti-shutdown. However, I was able to understand their reasoning and thank them for caring about our well-being and putting the time into researching and being prepared for their case to present at council. We were on the same side. We had different opinions about it. As we can share feelings, opinions, and facts with one another in a positive and helpful way we can come to better results.

I would like to point out that at the June 15 council meeting, the council got to discuss among themselves their opinions and thankfully asked for insight from police and fire representatives. But, then they made decisions before hearing from the public. You should be representing the voice of the people in your ward. When the public turns out for a meeting and no one there is speaking in favor of the direction of the council as a whole and you make decisions before hearing from the citizens, then it seems you are deciding based on your own opinion. I don't believe that is what you are supposed to do. Also, waiting a whole week before meeting again to make changes was also very disheartening. I'm only stating feelings there, not fact. But considering there is such hardship on the community, all the people there in favor of ending restrictions now, and the extremely low COVID-19 cases, I see enough fact that council should have met with much greater urgency than waiting a week.

I don't see everything clearly or perfectly. I don't have all the facts. I may have even made some errors in my statements that are obvious to some. I am open to learning, growing, and changing based on new knowledge so please, share with me in positive ways where I made mistakes and what I'm failing to consider so I can do just that. Please also glean what you can from this so we can all learn and do better in the future.

Thank you,

Dan Hill