Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

Charleston Gazette-Mail. Sept. 20, 2021.

Editorial: Cause for hope, continued caution

Active COVID-19 cases in West Virginia took a nosedive over the weekend, going from nearly 30,000 on Friday to 21,490 on Monday morning. The state has never seen such a rapid decline over the course of the pandemic.

The hope is that West Virginia is past the peak of the delta variant, which, combined with low vaccination rates, took active cases from below 1,000 in early July to last week’s all-time high of 29,774.

Such a rapid decline is good news, especially if the trend holds true.

There are still some areas of concern, though. The state hit a new high for hospitalizations over the weekend, at 961, which had dropped slightly to 955 on Monday. The number of patients in intensive care went up to a new high of 292, and 164 were on ventilators, a number that’s been fairly consistent since last week.

There also were 54 new deaths reported Monday morning, putting West Virginia above 3,400 total pandemic deaths.

Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s COVID-19 czar, expressed concern over the high number of deaths the state is now seeing, along with hospital caseloads that are poised to overwhelm the state’s health care infrastructure. Marsh and other officials warned that, even if West Virginia has peaked in terms of the delta variant, hospitalizations and deaths will likely surge for anywhere from two to six weeks.

Gov. Jim Justice announced a new program Monday meant to keep hospitals running and avoid “rationing” health care in the coming weeks.

The underlying problem remains state vaccination rates, which, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are the lowest in the country. If another variant strikes, or if the delta variant isn’t actually ebbing, West Virginia is ripe to get hit hard again.

As the governor said Monday, when vaccination rates go up, cases go down. Almost all West Virginians hospitalized for COVID-19 — especially those requiring the most serious care — haven’t been vaccinated. Until more West Virginians decide to get the shot, the potential for disaster will remain.

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The (Beckley) Register-Herald. Sept. 15, 2021.

Editorial: A bridge too far? Not for governor

Gov. Jim Justice is delivering mixed messages at a particularly perilous time.

At Wednesday morning’s pandemic press briefing in Charleston, the governor, after encouraging the many unvaccinated among us to roll up a sleeve to quell the ravages of Covid 19, was adamant that the Bridge Day Commission give the green light to the annual October event just up the road in Fayette County. For the uninitiated, Bridge Day is a celebration that brings together some 100,000 of your closest friends, neighbors and strangers from far and wide to hang out, drink cold beverages and listen to local bands, shoulder to shoulder, on a long slab of pavement spanning the New River Gorge. To keep everyone entertained, BASE jumpers leap off the bridge, riding the wind and a reliable chute to the riverbank 800 feet below.

It is quite a day.

But given that the Covid surge is breaking records and bodies right and left, and remembering the governor’s warning just days ago of a terribly cold and dark Covid winter ahead, you might say Big Jim had suddenly executed a U-turn in the middle of his own more serious and somber messaging, taking a leap of faith that all would be A-OK in the not-so-distant future.

Happy days are here again, apparently.

Well, no. No they aren’t.

In fact, it’s difficult following the governor’s lead. In the very same press conference he was saying that he “was not convinced” that masks are helping stem the Covid tide in any significant way, then later imploring people to wear masks in crowded social settings.

Which is it, governor? Or do you just want it both ways? You know, appeasing both sides, the vaxxed and the unvaxxed.

At the pandemic briefing, the governor read 35 names of West Virginians who had died in the past two days from Covid-related complications. In the past week, there has been an average of 16 such deaths a day. And the Department of Health and Human Resources daily tally on Wednesday showed a positive test rate of 10.85 percent, the tenth consecutive day in double digits. The cumulative rate is now at 5.57 percent, closing in on the Feb. 2 record of 5.70 percent.

In Fayette County, the transmission rate for the highly infectious disease was at a seven-day rolling average of 107.13 per 100,000 in population – one of the highest rates in the state. Just a week ago the rate was 56.6.

The seven-day trend line showed 333 Covid cases in the county with two deaths. On Wednesday morning, there were 759 active cases. One week ago? 606.

All of those numbers are pointing in the wrong direction.

Regardless, the governor wants a party, despite all evidence to the contrary.

So, he said at the morning presser, that he talked with Tourism Secretary Chelsea Ruby last Friday to explore how state agencies should handle Bridge Day this year, and then said “our DOT and our State Police and Tourism Department are ready to handle this event and they’ll do what they need to do” to bring it to fruition.

Wouldn’t you know it, just hours later, the Bridge Day Commission voted 4-2 to move forward with planning for the big day. Voting in favor? Two votes came from representatives from the state Division of Highways and the State Police.

Fayette County sheriff and commissioner Mike Fridley wanted to cancel the event. So, too, did Becky Sullivan, the Bridge Day Commission chair who also serves as the county’s Chamber of Commerce representative.

The governor cast the event as a chance, essentially, to sell our state to others, putting a spotlight, as the governor said on Wednesday, “on our state again.”

Be careful what you ask for, governor. The glare of media attention may carry a message that you did not intend.

Wasn’t but a week ago that the Covid surge had elevated West Virginia to the dubious distinction of being first in the nation in the speed at which Covid cases were rising.

And it wasn’t but a week ago that modeling by the national Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington was predicting the state would hit 31 deaths on Sept. 28. A worse case scenario by the IHME had the state running up 56 deaths a day into mid-October – right about the same time as people would be crowding the New River Bridge, largely unmasked.

A worse case scenario by the IHME had the state running up 56 deaths a day into mid-October – right about the same time as people would be crowding a bridge, largely unmasked.

And in the midst of all of this, the health professionals on the ground are being ignored.

Health care worker Lacy Burdette, addressing the Bridge Day Commission via Zoom, had a question. Maybe the governor has an answer.

If and when a Bridge Day participant is injured or has a health issue, or local citizens require a hospital visit during that time, “What is the plan for where these people are going to go, and how are we going to make sure we keep our community safe?”

Teri Harlan, Fayette County Health Department administrator, said staging the event was “incredibly irresponsible as a community.”

We know there are folks who want Bridge Day in the worst way possible, and that may be just what they get.

We also know that civic leaders in other cities and towns around the region have struggled with similar decisions. We all love TOOT in Lewisburg, Chili Night in Beckley and Autumnfest in Princeton not to mention fall football Saturdays in Milan Puskar Stadium.

But goodness gracious, folks, there are 27,674 known active cases of Covid in the state right now. And even if that number starts pulling back in the days and weeks ahead, as we hope, Dr. Clay Marsh, our state’s Covid czar, has told us that hospitalizations and deaths will continue to rise. That’s how this works.

So, given all of that, is this really the time to be partying on a bridge in a state that lags most others in vaccination rates? In reckless behavior that the national media can’t help but notice?

Or should we be taking heed of the advice of our medical professionals?

Governor?

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Parkersburg News and Sentinel. Sept. 16, 2021.

Editorial: Bureaucracy: West Virginia lawmakers should follow auditor’s advice

King Bureaucracy is rather fond of itself; and elected officials don’t normally have the courage to confront it once they have forgotten for whom they work. Still, West Virginia lawmakers could not have gotten a clearer sign that they should eliminate some of the waste in state government by getting rid of the West Virginia Board of Licensed Dietitians.

” … The Board fully duplicates the Commission on Dietetic Registration, which is a national organization over dietitians,” said a report from the West Virginia Legislative Auditor’s Performance Evaluation and Research Division. “The Legislative Auditor finds that the Board primarily verifies that West Virginia dietitians are in compliance with the CDR and issues or renews a state credential. The Legislative Auditor concludes that the CDR offers adequate protection to the citizens of the state …”

Language used in the report was unmistakable. “There is no compelling public need” for the board.

Remember the current crop of lawmakers largely rode into office on a wave of promises to eliminate waste and fraud and “right-size” state government. They were going to be good stewards of taxpayer money and eliminate the government bloat that served itself, rather than the people of West Virginia.

Too many of them forgot those promises approximately one breath after uttering their oaths of office.

But here is an easy opportunity for them to remember. And it should be just the start. The West Virginia Board of Licensed Dietitians is just one of about 250 boards, commissions, task forces, councils and committees in state government. Many of those perform functions that could seamlessly be folded into the responsibilities of another — if, in fact, they are not already duplicating each other.

Should the advice of the Legislative Auditor not be enough to prompt lawmakers to take this small step toward doing what they promised, voters will have no doubt who those elected officials have chosen to serve.

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