The Nyssa High School marching band entertained throughout the game at Nyssa on Sept. 20, 2019.

The most important project for Malheur County is getting kids back into the classroom. Doing so requires people to act beyond bellyaching and finger pointing. The focus now should be: What can I do to help the county’s children?

In Nyssa and Adrian, school started up last week – but from a distance. The same is happening this week for students and teachers in Vale and Ontario. A couple of small, remote districts such as Jordan Valley got special permission to put kids back behind desks in a classroom.

The cost of distance learning on children is substantial. They don’t learn as well. That’s true no matter how mightily teachers adjust and parents help. They don’t mature as well. They aren’t having the group gatherings and giggle fests that are part of growing up. And they are living in a world that doesn’t seem sensible, leaving some children unsettled and in harm’s way.

The people of Malheur County can change that. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Some factors we can’t control. They play a role in the astonishingly high rate of Covid infection among our people.

Idaho, for one, has gone its own way. Public health requirements are few. Gatherings can happen. Friday night football can happen. Rodeos can happen. And the case counts in our bordering counties, such as Payette, now are steadily climbing. Those infections get imported to our community by workers commuting or shoppers crossing the river to buy.

The state prison system isn’t under local control. Last week, about one out of four new cases of Covid in Malheur County cropped up at Snake River Correctional Institution. And more employees fell ill with the virus. As a community, we can’t change prison operations. We can insist, however, that the calculations of county’s health be done without counting inmates who aren’t free to move about town and spread the virus. That happened in Umatilla County, it ought to happen here.

But circumstances that spread the virus are certainly in our control.

State and county officials insist that people stop gathering for birthday parties, weddings and more. That’s something every person in Malheur County can do. Just. Don’t. Go.

Another is staying home when told to. Authorities advise people when they should isolate at home to avoid spreading the virus. That’s not easy. Who wants to live in their bedroom? But that’s one sure way to get Malheur County’s infection rate to drop. Those who ignore quarantines and head for the store or the burger place are just helping keep kids out of school longer. There is help, by the way, for those stuck in quarantine – with bills, with food, and more.

And then there are the masks. They are required in most circumstances. They work at checking the virus. So says the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So says the Oregon Health Authority. So says the Malheur County Health Department. And so say respected local doctors and leaders at the area hospitals. That ought to be good enough.

Those who scour the internet to find “studies” to “prove” masks are a waste or even a danger are wasting their time – and the community’s health. Substituting keyboard judgments for the advice of health experts makes for fine social media fodder but poor public policy.

Look, the mask ought to be the symbol of a unified community attack on this virus. They aren’t expensive and they aren’t hard to wear. Are they fun? Of course not. But neither is being intubated. The mask right now ought to be our flag, a declaration that we’ve had enough of the virus and the lockdowns and the kids at home.

Put on a mask. By doing so, you tell your relatives, friends and associates: “I want kids back in school. Help.”

Those who won’t wear a mask? A bare face should be read to mean: “I don’t care if your kids ever get back to school.”

We can argue all day long about whether the government’s requirements for school are good or bad. We can quarrel among ourselves about what’s true and not true. We can toss “studies” back and forth, proving the point we want to make but not very convincingly.

That’s all beside the point right now. Every single person in the county should unite behind the drive to get kids back in school. No other action, no other cause, is as important to the community. Pitch in and make it happen. About 5,000 children likely are hoping you will. – LZ

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