Recent Kansas editorials

The Kansas City Star, Aug. 9

Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman acted irresponsibly when he failed to fully inform colleagues and the state that he had been treated for COVID-19 in mid-July.

Ryckman’s silence may have endangered others.

More importantly, his failure to announce his illness robbed colleagues of their ability to decide for themselves if meeting with Ryckman in person was safe.

In a letter to Republicans Thursday, Ryckman said he had tested positive COVID-19 in mid-July, and had been treated in a hospital. He said he’s now past “what doctors consider the contagious stage” and is recovering from the disease.

We are thankful for Speaker Ryckman’s recovery and extend our hope for his future good health.

But there is simply no acceptable explanation for Ryckman’s decision to keep his illness secret from other state officials, including Gov. Laura Kelly, for much of July and early August.

In an interview Thursday, he said the diagnosis came “the week of” July 13. He attended a meeting of the State Finance Council, which includes Kelly and other state officials, on July 29 in the Capitol. They were apparently unaware of Ryckman’s previous diagnosis.

The governor is 70 years old and is considered at higher risk for COVID-19. Others who were in the room on July 29, Republicans and Democrats, are in their 60s.

Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, said he was cleared before attending the session. He said he had isolated himself for 16 days since his symptoms first appeared and had followed guidelines from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment in returning to work.

Was a 16-day self-quarantine enough? The Centers for Disease Control says “people who are severely ill with COVID-19 might need to stay home … up to 20 days” after experiencing symptoms. Ryckman spent time in the hospital, suggesting it wasn’t a routine case of the deadly virus.

A 20-day quarantine for Ryckman would have lasted into August. He still could have participated in the July 29 meeting, remotely, while others attended in person. At least one other attendee made that choice.

If he was determined to participate in person, he could have informed other finance council members of his treatment. Then they could have decided for themselves if attendance was safe. Ryckman denied them the chance to make an informed assessment of the risks.

The House speaker’s silence was insensitive at best, and dangerous at worst. And what harm would have come from announcing his illness before the July 29 session? Nothing about the meeting would have changed. There was no need for secrecy.

In a statement Thursday, Kelly called Ryckman’s actions “reckless and dangerous.” In a reply, the speaker accused the governor of “fear mongering” and “public shaming.”

This back-and-forth is disappointing. Instead, the episode should remind Ryckman and others in the state that it will be impossible to end the COVID-19 nightmare unless everyone acts together to stop the spread of the virus. That’s the whole point of masks, social distancing, remote meetings, canceled classes and other preventative measures — everyone’s health is important.

Does the speaker understand this? In his Thursday memo, he said, “We must continue to look out for each other.” But he sent the letter only to Republicans — leaving out Democrats. That’s appalling.

When historians study the nation’s coronavirus response a century from now, they will be aghast. COVID-19 kills Republicans and Democrats with equal vigor, yet our every reaction seems aimed not at stopping the virus, but at making the other side look bad.

Ron Ryckman’s silence is part of that sad pattern of putting partisanship above public health.

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The Lawrence Journal-World, Aug. 9

When dealing with the pandemic and a return to school, it is easy to say we want to be as safe as we can be. It is much harder to actually mean it.

Being as safe as we possibly can be would mean not returning to in-person classes until a vaccine is developed and administered. Very few people actually are advocating for that. After all, that may involve a process of several years, and even that timeline is not certain.

It is clear that coping with the pandemic involves trade-offs and a series of risk-versus-reward calculations. So, let’s quit saying that we want to be as safe as we can be. That may not be a mindset helpful to making the choices that are required at this unique moment in history.

Instead, perhaps we ought to be saying we want to be as compassionate as we can be.

What would that look like as it relates to returning to school? Several area districts, as we have reported, are showing that compassion by giving parents a choice of whether they want their students to attend school entirely through a remote format or through some modified version of in-person classes. It is compassionate to give those parents not yet comfortable with a return to classes a remote-only option.

Conversely, does that mean a decision like the one by the Lawrence school district to offer only remote learning for the first six weeks of the school year is lacking compassion? Not necessarily, and that is not the point of this editorial. These are really difficult times for leaders, and there are a multitude of factors they must consider. (Showing compassion for staff, for instance is also key, and in some ways more difficult.) The public should give a fair amount of grace as leaders work to make those decisions.

But one point that can fairly be made is that we shouldn’t assume the most compassionate decision is to simply have remote learning. It is a fact that the remote learning situation will mean many will be in private day care facilities when they normally would be in school. What makes us believe those private day care facilities will do a better job of controlling spread of the virus than our public schools?

Perhaps the easiest thing our leaders can do to show compassion is to share information. A compassionate world works hard to avoid creating groups of “haves” and “have-nots” when it comes to information. But it appears such a situation is developing in Douglas County.

The Journal-World last week asked the local health department to share what guidelines it has related to the return of in-person classes. It declined to share those guidelines because they are still in draft form. That denial was unnecessary. The public has seen draft documents before. It can be trusted to digest them.

It is clear that area school districts have access to the guidelines. Eudora school board members were discussing them in general during an open meeting recently. That creates a situation where we have a group of leaders with information, but the people who will be forced to follow their decisions don’t have the same information. That doesn’t create trust, and it makes achieving buy-in from the public more difficult. Hopefully our leaders understand that public buy-in is critically important to fighting this pandemic.

If the health department won’t release the draft guidelines, school districts should. When they are released, hopefully they will show we are following a model similar to what the Harvard Global Health Institute has put together. In conjunction with several organizations, Harvard has assigned a color code to every county in the country based on the number of new daily cases per 100,000 people that each county is generating.

Douglas County, in case you are curious, is ranked yellow. That is the second best ranking out of the four rankings assigned. A companion piece provides guidance for schools, and it suggests that yellow communities can safely return to in-person classes at all levels K-12, if districts are able to meet certain conditions.

That doesn’t mean that is automatically what we should do. Not much is automatic in this pandemic world. But this should be: Let’s share information, let’s pay attention to the data, and let’s be guided by compassion.

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Topeka Capital-Journal, Aug. 9

We’re through primary season, but the general election still looms, and we have a word of advice for candidates across the spectrum.

Calm down.

Campaign ads this year were unusually abrasive and negative. Perhaps this was to be expected. With the pandemic disrupting normal routines, mailings and TV ads were more important than ever. And with emotions running high, candidates likely looked for messages that tapped into those extreme emotions.

Crowded events where you could shake the hands of candidates? Forget it. Images of explosions and disruption? You got it.

We would like to issue a challenge to every single candidate on the local, state and national level for the fall. Be proactive in your advertising. Tell us about your background, where you come from and what your values are. Tell us about your experience and how it prepares you for the office you see. Tell us about your stance on the issues — but not in a way that denigrates those who might have good-faith disagreements with you.

In other words, stop yelling. Pull up a chair and have a conversation with us, if only figuratively.

And listen, we get it. It’s easy for an editorial advisory board to tut-tut at negative campaigning and call for a more constructive approach. Politicians and their advisers go negative because, despite what voters might say, negative ads work. They seize people’s attention. They motivate.

Refusing to engage in destructive politics, then, takes more than a pledge from candidates or their campaigns. It takes effort on behalf of voters, too. We have to be willing to sit down and listen to those who lay out plans. We have to be willing to engage with issues.

Most of the time, the government isn’t thrilling. It’s about competence and good sense, about making the trains run on time. It’s about working on budgets and education formulas, about ensuring the bureaucracy runs efficiently. It’s about caring for the needs of the many, a good chunk of whom will never have voted for you.

Ideologically driven negative ads are nonsense precisely because they bear no relation to what good government is like. They’re from a fantasy land of politics, where greedy evildoers crawl over one another in their quest to harm honest people.

Most people in politics serve for honorable reasons. They want to represent and serve their constituents. And their campaigns for office should reflect that.