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McConnell Doesn't Support State Control Of School Masking Requirements

Mitch McConnell answers a question asked by an audience member in Paducah.
Liam Niemeyer
Mitch McConnell answers a question asked by an audience member in Paducah.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he supports letting individual school districts in Kentucky decide whether to have an indoor mask mandate to limit the spread of COVID-19. His remarks come as the GOP-controlled state legislature is considering bills in a special session to eliminate the state board of education’s universal mask mandate.

McConnell, during a visit with the Rotary Club of Paducah, said he’s spoken with leaders of the state general assembly, and believes it’s wise to put the decision of school mask mandates in the hands of school boards and those more directly educating students.

“However they can work this out without, I think, the government sort of being the dictator of all this seems to me to be the best way forward,” McConnell said.

McConnell’s remarks echo comments he made in late August, saying he would like to leave the issue of vaccine mandates and mask mandates to school boards and employers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that schools mandate universal indoor masking for students, teachers, and staff — regardless of vaccination status — due to the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19. Regional pediatricians say the new variant is infecting more children and teenagers and making more of them severely sick and hospitalized.

The Republican senator also urged Kentuckians to promote the COVID-19 vaccines to those who are unvaccinated to help end the ongoing pandemic.

“I think it's important to keep repeating one thing that's not a rumor. Not a theory. But a fact: 90% of the people in the hospital in McCracken County, across Kentucky, and across the nation are unvaccinated,” McConnell said.

When asked by WKMS News about politicians in other states and in Kentucky who have raised doubts about the COVID-19 vaccines, McConnell said he could only speak for himself in advocating for the shots.

In his speech given to the local Rotary Club, McConnell had also said the COVID-19 vaccine rollout had been complicated because many opinions expressed about the vaccines are “nonsense.”

The delta variant of COVID-19 continues to rapidly spread across Kentucky, straining capacity hospitals in Paducah and elsewhere in the state. Kentucky recorded more than 30,000 new COVID-19 cases last week, the most cases in a single week since the beginning of the pandemic. As of Wednesday in Kentucky, 2,424 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, 674 are in the intensive care unit and 431 are on a ventilator. 30 deaths were reported on Wednesday, one of those a 15-year-old high school student from Shelby County.

McConnell also reiterated previous criticisms of the Biden administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan and criticisms of a $3.5 trillion infrastructure proposal by Democrats on Capitol Hill.

“At our core, we've been an opportunity society. I think that is threatened by what I think is the biggest, most outrageous attempt to turn us into a socialist country I've ever seen,” McConnell said.

He specifically zeroed in on a part of the infrastructure proposal that would tax appreciated assets upon death, something that he characterized as a detriment to farms and businesses trying to pass down estates to the next generation of family.

“I think of all the things they're trying to do. That's the hardest one to sell,” McConnell said. “That is a dramatic step in the direction of literally confiscating your property at death. I think it is an outrage.”

Clarification: This story's headline was changed to reflect McConnell's statements Wednesday in Paducah on control of school masking requirements.

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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