A high school teacher in Oklahoma who tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend is claiming that Republican Governor Kevin Stitt’s opposition to mask mandates in classrooms caused him to get sick.
Aaron Baker, a Putnam City Schools educator, wrote in a blog post entitled Oklahoma Senate Bill 658 Gave Me COVID-19 on Sunday that “when SB 658 passed and was signed into law by Governor Kevin Stitt, my first thought was: ‘We won’t need masks at school come August anyway.’ Holy sh*t, was I wrong!”
Baker explained in a fiery essay that he and his family had taken every conceivable precaution to protect themselves against SARS-COV-2 since the pandemic exploded in March of 2020:
Through March and April of 2020, my wife did the shopping by herself (less people in the store the better), and we were always masked up when we were in public. Our bubble for 14 months was restricted to just my wife and I, our two teenage sons, and my then 17-year-old daughter. We successfully navigated the complexities of my daughter traveling to and from our house to her mother’s house. Our boys returned to in-person school, including marching band, with masks, in the Fall of 2020. The most difficult part of 2020, by far, was distancing from my wife’s family, with whom we are very close. We enjoyed meals together outside and went camping a few times, but stayed out of each other’s homes from mid-March 2020 until late-May of 2021. And our church was fully virtual during that same time period. It was hard, but we knew it was the right thing to do.
After the Bakers were vaccinated in February, they continued to wear masks everywhere that they went. But the Delta variant would prove to be a formidable foe.
Baker recalled leaving work last Friday feeling malaised with a cough and a sore throat and was diagnosed with a case of coronavirus on Saturday:
It is quite undeniable that I contracted COVID at school because my exposure level elsewhere pales in comparison. This past Friday was our 8th day back to school. I noticed my throat was a little sore around lunchtime, but was not alarmed at all. After all, I am vaccinated, and I wear a mask at school, with the exception of when I am lecturing from behind my standing desk for typically less than 15 minutes. But around 3:30 p.m. at the end of the school day, I felt strange enough to seek out a test and begin a self-quarantine from my family.
Frustrated, Baker pieced together what he believes led to his breakthrough infection.
“This is a story about the state of Oklahoma jeopardizing my health and creating a massive occupational hazard for public school educators and students statewide. I don’t blame my school, my administration, or my school district’s elected officials. Their hands are tied. It is true that a neighboring district recently defied the law and implemented a mask mandate at the direction of their own superintendent. But that does not, in any way, shift blame for my current aches and pains. I do not blame my students who have chosen not to mask up at school. I don’t even blame my colleagues who may not be vaccinated,” he said.
“I want to be as clear as I possibly can,” Baker continued before he began naming names. “The blame for me contracting COVID-19 lies squarely with the following people: Oklahoma Senate co-authors of Senate Bill 658; Sen. Rob Standridge, Sen. David Bullard, Sen. Marty Quinn, Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, Sen. Cody Rogers, Sen. George Burns, Sen. Casey Murdock, Sen. Shane Jett, Sen. Joe Newhouse, Sen. Jake Merrick, Sen. Roland Pederson, Sen. Lonnie Paxton, Sen. Blake ‘Cowboy’ Stephens, Sen. Nathan Dahm, and Sen. Jessica Garvin. The following Oklahoma House of Representatives co-authors of SB 658 are also to blame for me contracting COVID-19: Rep. Kevin West, Rep. Wendy Stearman, Rep. Justin Humphry, Rep. Kevin McDugle, Rep. Jay Steagall, Rep. Gerrid Kendrix, Rep. Denise Crosswhite Hader, Rep. Sean Roberts, Rep. David Hardin, Rep. Jim Olsen, Rep. Brad Boles, Rep. Dick Lowe, and Rep. Steve Bashore. Furthermore, I blame all Senators or Representatives who voted for SB 658.”
The ultimate responsibility, however, falls on Stitt, whom Baker excoriated for “continuing to refuse to respond to our ever-growing medical crisis in Oklahoma caused by the Delta variant. I have absolutely no doubt that if Gov. Stitt had declared a state of emergency three weeks ago when it was clear that numbers would continue to rise, then my district would have kept our mask mandate in place from last year, and I would not be sitting here with a fever and an ache that is almost enough to overpower and silence my anger and frustration.”
Baker also blasted the state’s Republican lawmakers for abdicating their primary duty – keeping their constituents safe and healthy.
“Shame on you Senators, Representatives, and Governor. Shame on you for creating an environment in my workplace where I can not adequately protect myself from infection. Shame on you for touting local control only when the locals in control conform to your ultra-conservative values. Shame on you for placing all of Oklahoma’s students in danger of suffering the same fate as me. Shame on you for blindly parroting talking points about ‘woke school boards’ and the ‘tyranny of mask mandates.’ Shame on you for hating Oklahoma public schools so much that you are willing to risk the lives of students and educators in your effort to defund public education,” Baker concluded. “And shame on you for separating me from my students, with whom I was just beginning to form new relational bonds.”
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.