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O’Laughlin calls for immediate address of COVID liability concern: ‘We are destroying people’s lives’

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Certain COVID-19 responses are “destroying people’s lives,” Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin said during a fiery floor speech Wednesday as she called for COVID liability protections. 

The Republican senator decried Missouri’s response to the pandemic, specifically when it relates to the closing of schools and small businesses and shuttering nursing homes. At times emotional, O’Laughlin said the “worst thing that we’ve done is locking up our senior citizens.” 

“If the quality of life doesn’t matter, especially for people who can’t take care of themselves, why are we even here? Are we so scared of a virus that — we’ve had a lot of viruses go through our world — we’re just going to let them lay until their lives end,” O’Laughlin said. 

O’Laughlin, who represents SD 18, requested an immediate special session to address COVID liability. While she doesn’t generally work on tort reform issues, she would be willing to champion the legislation, her chief of staff Freddy Barnes said. 

O’Laughlin requested a point of personal privilege to make her speech from the Senate floor Wednesday as the upper chamber gaveled in for veto session. She received broad support from her fellow Republicans and Conservative Caucus members following her remarks. 

“We’re about to just get numb with fear,” Sen. Doug Libla said. “We’re fastly approaching an area of no return with destroying our economy. I don’t think there’s anything more important right now than taking up COVID liability.” 

Sen. Bill Eigel said he “appreciated” O’Laughlin’s “impassioned words” and was supportive of addressing local health departments’ control of COVID.

“[We] are producing a tragedy where our most vulnerable citizens are separated from their families,” he said. 

Missouri’s health department has issued guidance to longterm care facilities when it comes to reopening. Greater visitation is allowed under Phase 2 of the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) plan. Under that phase, the facility must not have had any COVID-19 cases among residents or staff and should engage in two incubation periods since the last positive case. 

O’Laughlin said: 

“We are destroying people’s lives. We started by closing down our small businesses — these are the businesses that drive the economy in most of the areas of the state — so we closed them down but we left the big businesses open so this hurt everyone but especially those in the rural areas. Self-proclaimed experts who suddenly appeared knew this would ‘save us,’ and we as senators bowed down before that because it’s not politically expedient to argue in the face of a virus because people can always come back and say, ‘You don’t care about us. You don’t care if we get sick or if we die’ — which is not true. Unrelentingly, we have heard 24/7 every day how many people have the virus, how many people are going to the hospital. 

We’ve wiped out savings and reserves and jobs for millions of Americans, Missourians too, in the name of saving them. So we locked up the schools and sent kids home and told them they could go online to finish their educations for the spring semester — which is not true. Nevermind that the schools are not prepared for that, and in many places, you can’t even get online. … Nevermind that kids depend on school for continuity and socialization and, in some horrible situations even, food. But we sent them home anyway so they live in a dysfunctional setting and their lives are at risk, but we persist in this misguided policy.”

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a Democrat, also rose during the debate to criticize President Donald Trump’s handling and “politicization” of the virus. 

“It takes leadership and you have to have a leader who believes there’s a serious pandemic. You need a leader who truly understands that it’s not a hoax. You need a leader who is not going to tell the American people [COVID-19 is] not going to go away when it gets hot,” Nasheed said. 

The Senate held a veto session Wednesday and adjourned the special session to address violent crime sine die later in the afternoon. At that time, the state health department reported more than 106,000 Missourians have contracted COVID-19 and 1,739 have died.