Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. April 25, 2021.

Editorial: Exasperation may explain warningsReactions to last week's warning by Chippewa Valley health officials that getting back to normal required people to be vaccinated against COVID were interesting. For most, it was a simple statement of fact. Without vaccination, the virus will continue to spread. If it continues to spread, things can't get back to normal.

A small but noisy subset interpreted the warning as a threat. We're not sure what kind of mental gymnastics those people were going through to get to that conclusion, but they were fully confident that it was a sign of desperation.

We think it's much more likely a sign of exasperation.

It's not necessarily surprising that the rate of vaccinations is beginning to level off somewhat. That's always the case with new things. Early adopters will rush to it, but eventually that pool dwindles. That's when you have to convince people who were on the fence to buy in. Then convince skeptics.

There's a parallel to, of all things, gaming systems when you think about it. The really hardcore, committed video game players will search high and low to find the newest system. They will keep searching until they find it. Companies don't have to worry about those initial sales.

Later the people who are on the fence start to make their decisions. That's when marketing starts to become important. And it's all the more critical later, after you've gotten most of the people who were amenable to the system as buyers.

In both cases we're talking to some degree about an economy of scarcity. Anne Applebaum wrote about this phenomenon in early February in a piece for The Atlantic. But she also warned about a key element in such situations. When faced with scarcity, people try to fill in explanations. Those explanations are often inaccurate or based on rumor rather than reality. But when measured against optimistic statements, they seem more plausible.

"The problem isn't a lack of communication. We are hearing from a lot of people," Applebaum wrote. "The problem is that what they say seems so distant from the brutal reality."

The statements from health officials when vaccines started rolling out were optimistic. Why wouldn't they have been? The vaccine trials showed strong results. Pfizer and Moderna's efforts are more effective against COVID than the annual flu shots are against influenza. So, for that matter, is the Johnson & Johnson shot. Widespread vaccinations held the first genuine hope of proactive steps, rather than defensive acts.

But, measured against the initial scarcity of the vaccine, it didn't match what some people were feeling. It was difficult to get an appointment. Most people weren't in the initial groups who could be vaccinated. There were good reasons for those limitations, but some couldn't help but view the hope as a tease for what seemed an inaccessible option. In some cases that bred cynicism.

Now, when struck by the less optimistic tone from officials, that cynicism can feel right. But health officials have been giving the public the best information they had at the time they had it. A lot has changed. We've accumulated vastly more knowledge about this virus than we had 13 months ago, and that can't help but alter our understandings.

Disillusionment can be overcome. More concerning is the malignant disinformation, the people who continue to claim the vaccines alter your DNA (they can't), that they contain tracking devices (they don't), or that they're somehow part of a grand global conspiracy that only a select enlightened few understand (literally laughable). To those people, efforts to prevent vaccinations take on the gloss of a dark crusade.

Folks, reminding people large-scale events can't take place until virus numbers drop isn't a threat. It's reality. Reminding people that vaccines hold the only realistic chance of reining in this pandemic isn't a threat either.

The vaccine shortages have eased considerably. We're seeing locations begin to take walk-in vaccinations. That's probably going to become more common in the weeks to come. The barriers for vaccination are falling, even as excuses rise.

Opportunities for vaccination are no longer a question of scarcity. Let's make sure common sense isn't either.

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Racine Journal Times. April 21, 2021.

Editorial: This year, let school districts decide whether to start before Sept. 1

You might not know that it's against Wisconsin law for a public school to start a new school year before Sept. 1. In light of learning losses as a result of the virtual-only learning forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, some school districts are seeking an exemption. We think such exemptions should be allowed for the 2021-22 school year.

Mark Gruen, district administrator for the Royall School District in Elroy, summed up the past 12 months as "extremely challenging," the Wisconsin State Journal reported April 12.

Gruen's district halted in-person classes in March 2020, after Gov. Tony Evers' order closed schools for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. While Royall reopened last fall with public health precautions in place, some students have continued taking online courses and many have faced a loss of learning. "We've got some kids who are lagging behind," Gruen said.

Last month, the Royall district requested and received from the state Department of Public Instruction a waiver from state law, allowing the district to begin classes as early as Aug. 23. DPI has received and approved 11 such requests so far in 2021, with seven of the requests citing disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently, to start classes before Sept. 1, a school board must hold a public hearing and approve a request for a special exemption. Then DPI must approve the request. Districts seeking a one-year exemption must prove "extraordinary" circumstances, including major construction projects at the school or closures caused by "forces of nature, code violations or environmental orders."

We would argue that not being able to be in a traditional classroom from the middle of last March until this March, as happened in the Racine Unified School District, is an extraordinary circumstance.

Christina Brey, spokesperson for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said WEAC's members believe local districts can best decide what makes the most sense for their students: "Lawmakers don't work face to face with students every day and know what they need — but teachers do."

Wisconsin's Sept. 1 school start date law was enacted after a substantial effort in 1999 by state tourism groups, which spent more than 780 hours over a 6-month period lobbying lawmakers.

This session, state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would eliminate the law starting with the 2022-23 school term, with the tourism industry staunchly opposed.

Eric Knight, president of the Tourism Federation of Wisconsin, said Wisconsin's tourism industry had a run of annual revenue growth until the state was upended by the pandemic. In 2019, tourism supported 202,000 jobs and resulted in $1.6 billion in state and local taxes, he said. However, last year there was a 42% drop in travel spending due to the pandemic, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

Bill Elliott, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association, said the Sept. 1 start date rule also ensures that younger employers, primarily high school students, have work opportunities over the summer months.

We're not immune to the argument made by the tourism groups. But we feel that, this year, districts in which students have fallen behind should be allowed to start the school year earlier to get those students caught up.

We urge a one-year suspension of the Sept. 1 mandate, so that districts that feel their students would benefit from an earlier start to the next school year can do so and that tourism-based businesses can be assured the Sept. 1 law will be back in place in 2022.

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