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Rantz: Gov. Inslee admin makes reopening schools needlessly confusing

At nearly the last minute, Governor Jay Inslee’s administration blocked Tacoma Public Schools from safely reopening for in-person teaching. It was due to confusing rules.

The plan was to reopen on Monday, Sept. 28, with a hybrid model. The plans were put on hold indefinitely after the Department of Labor and Industries “clarified” its confusing guidance, which inexplicably requires that some school employees wear N95 masks.

My doctor doesn’t even wear an N95 mask. And L&I promises even more guidance to be released in the coming days.

Inslee admin stops school reopening with nonsensical guidance

L&I decided that some school-based staffers must now wear N95 masks.

The Tacoma School District noted on Facebook that the guidance wasn’t previously communicated to them and was clarified just days before they were set to reopen.

“We now have a requirement for a significant number of staff members, due to their roles, who must be trained and fitted with N95 masks,” the district said in a statement. “These groups of employees include nurses, health clerks, special education teachers and paraeducators, and custodians.”

The statement notes that this entire process can’t happen over the next few days.

“The process required to ensure staff members wear an N95 safely and properly requires a confidential health review, a training session and individual mask fitting by a licensed professional.”

The clarified guidance makes no sense.

Inslee guidance inconsistent and nonsensical

L&I claims its guidance has always been clear.

“L&I’s pandemic guidance on face mask requirements in the workplace have not changed since they were issued in May, and the requirements for respirators like N95s have been the same for decades,” the agency said to KOMO. “In most cases, cloth face coverings provide adequate protection. We do not require all school employees to use respirators.”

No reasonable reading of the guidance — which conflicts with the state Department of Health (DOH) — would lead Tacoma schools to think they’d need N95 masks for the staffers who now require them.

Here’s what the documents say

On the L&I website, a general document on policies says: “Approved respirators such as N95s are not normally recommended, but may be appropriate where workers must remain in very close proximity to others.” (emphasis mine.)

Similarly, in a document for “mandatory requirements,” L&I leaves the decision to the workplace: “A cloth face covering, mask or respirator must be used for work; choose the right one based on the risk level of the job.”

On its coronavirus resource page, L&I doesn’t include specific guidance for schools. But they do offer guidance, updated in July, for child care businesses. Again, no mention of N95 masks. Instead, they mandate cloth face coverings. For janitors, L&I recommends face coverings or just a homemade mask.

Yet it’s this document L&I suggests Tacoma Schools must use to wear some N95 masks.

“You’ll notice that the document doesn’t include the word ‘school.’ So our Environmental Health and Safety Manager contacted L&I by phone seeking clarification on this guidance so we would be certain which of our employees needed to wear which kind of mask,” Tacoma Schools spokesperson Dan Voelpel told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

Department of Health guidance also conflicts with L&I

The state Department of Health told schools on Sept. 2, 2020, that schools must use “face coverings or shields.” In all of the scenarios where a school may open, DOH mentions face coverings. It makes absolutely no mention of N95 masks.

But L&I requires highly specific N95 masks? But only for some school staff? Not grocery clerks who are indoors? Or people riding infrequently-cleaned buses? And apparently not doctors and nurses as they see patients?

Neither the science nor the data has changed: This move is completely random and poorly organized.

Why can’t Inslee admin come up with simple documents?

The Inslee administration knows schools want to reopen. It’s better for the students and for the parents struggling to find daycare for kids when they go to the office.

How hard can it be to create a one-sheet that’s consistent with prior guidance and disseminated to all districts?

Why are there dozens of documents covering different industries and professions, yet schools aren’t clearly covered? Surely, we can simplify some. How in the world is a school district supposed to navigate the maze of a government agency website?

Getting clear direction on reopening schools safely is almost as difficult as collecting unemployment checks you’re owed from the Inslee administration. Perhaps it would be easier if Inslee wanted schools reopened. But he doesn’t.

Is this political?

The science and data — that Inslee pretends to read and understand — hasn’t changed. But Inslee has plenty of reasons to keep schools closed.

The governor has always been behold to union interests. In this case, the president of the Tacoma Education Association has come out against reopening. Indeed, she even pushed back on reopening classes for the demographic least likely to be negatively impacted by the virus. Inslee earns points when he does what the union wants him to do.

Inslee also sees a personal political benefit in treating the coronavirus as serious today as it was months ago. As he’s running for governor, he wants to convince voters he has your well-being in mind. He’ll falsely point to his opponent, Loren Culp, as being too casual in his approach to coronavirus. But Inslee says it’s so dangerous he can’t even be in a large room with Culp for a debate. By treating it that seriously, he thinks he’ll earn extra points as he inevitably scolds Culp for wanting to kill grandma (a rather nefarious strategy Inslee has previously used).

Similarly, focusing on coronavirus is better for Democrats nationally. A focus on COVID hurts President Donald Trump in his re-election, since he’s especially underwater in polls on this topic. Focusing on coronavirus means less attention on law and order, the Supreme Court, and rebuilding the economy — all topics Trump uses to energize his base and independents. Keeping schools closed highlights the threat of the pandemic. It’s Inslee making moves to help Biden.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz on Twitter and Instagram or like me on Facebook

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