Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

Charleston Gazette-Mail. Sept. 13, 2021.

Editorial: Images, words and action

Late last week, The Washington Post released a video compilation of Gov. Jim Justice saying more West Virginians need to get vaccinated against COVID-19, highlighting his exasperation with those who refuse. The video included our favorite line from the governor to conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers, when Justice said he found it idiotic that some people believe the government is putting a microchip in vaccines to track the populace.

“Do you carry a cellphone?” Justice asked rhetorically, pointing out the sheer unbelievable complexity of a microchip conspiracy, when people across the globe are monitored easily and willingly through the digital trail their smartphone leaves.

The clip, which included a cameo from the governor’s bulldog, Babydog, made Justice look like a folksy but sensible Republican governor tired of the misinformation, hesitancy and, in some cases, willful ignorance that has prolonged a pandemic that could have been greatly curtailed.

The video sets Justice apart from many other Republican governors and GOP-led legislatures that have turned COVID-19 into a political issue, even going as far as banning local governments, schools and businesses from implementing their own public health mandates, as thousands of Americans die each day from a virus that has killed more that 650,000 in the United States since it began. Justice also has said he opposes any kind of similar move from the West Virginia Legislature.

But there are some things the quick national hit doesn’t capture.

Yes, Justice is saying all the right things, as we’ve noted before. But those are images and words. What isn’t shown is how little those words have moved anyone to get vaccinated. Justice has stood by for months now and offered nothing but the same warnings as cases climbed from fewer than 1,000 in early July to nearly 28,000 by Monday. He’s watched the problem accelerate faster than it did at the pandemic’s initial peak in late 2020 and January 2021.

Another national news outlet, The New York Times, was far less kind to Justice and the state. In a story published Sunday, The Times reported, according to federal data, a mere 48% of West Virginians 18 and older are vaccinated against COVID-19. That’s the lowest rate in the nation. The Times noted that it’s been a fall from grace for a state that led the rest of the country in rolling out vaccines at the beginning of the year.

The Post video didn’t show how Justice has been talking out of both sides of his mouth, saying he’s against public health mandates he used to support, and then saying everyone needs to be vaccinated while also blasting local and national efforts to accomplish that.

It’s been a difficult issue, despite whether it should be or not. Local businesses have grappled with how to approach the situation. Should they go back to requiring masks? Should they require vaccinations or testing?

Many of the state’s hospitals — some of West Virginia’s largest employers — had begun requiring workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, well before President Joe Biden’s executive order that private employers of 100 people or more can either require vaccinations or offer weekly tests. And employees at those hospitals have protested such policies. It’s baffling that workers in health facilities that are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients, including those in intensive care units and on life support, would not see why such a facility would want them vaccinated against the virus. But those are the times West Virginia finds itself in.

Now, Justice gets to take shots at the president while still sticking to his guns on vaccinations. In reality, Biden took a huge weight off Justice and businesses, which now can enact mandates, blaming the executive order and letting the president take the heat.

Surely, Biden knew some people would say he made a mistake with his executive order. Surely, the president anticipated court challenges, anti-vaxxers will be even more entrenched in their opposition and he would lose even more support.

If GOP lawmakers want to burden courts with political posturing and anti-vaxxers want to continue to look to remedies like horse de-wormers while more people die, it’s on them. At least Biden had the guts to make a decision based on the grave situation the country faces, instead of playing to some fantasy that this is all a hoax or that offering the choice between lifesaving vaccinations or frequent testing in the face of a global health crisis is a violation of personal liberties.

Biden didn’t do what was easy or expedient. He made a difficult decision because not enough people are getting vaccinated to end this pandemic, and cases and deaths are mounting at a time when they should have been receding.

During a briefing Monday, Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, a pulmonologist, called this latest surge “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” Members of Justice’s pandemic team have frequently said as much and, by the end of the briefing, Justice was using the same phrase. Justice can attack Biden all he wants but, deep down, there’s a part of the governor that is probably thankful.

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The (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch. Sept. 14, 2021.

Editorial: COVID-19 forces schools into second abnormal year

Hopes of children having a normal school year ended quickly when COVID-19 returned after its own summer vacation. School administrators have been in one bind after another dealing with the disease.

It’s difficult to guess from day to day which classrooms will meet in person and which must go all-virtual as cases of the disease pop up. The political climate of parents demanding masks be worn in classrooms while other parents object hasn’t been an easy one to live with, either.

And now Cabell County schools have another COVID-related problem to deal with: COVID-related absenteeism. One day last week, 16 classrooms were without a teacher because of a lack of substitutes.

“We have a system in place in all of our schools that we’ve done for years, which is teacher-for-teacher coverage,” Tim Hardesty, deputy superintendent over operations and support, told Herald-Dispatch reporter Luke Creasy. “What that means is a teacher can give up their planning period to go cover a classroom. That way none of the students miss instruction for that day.”

Teachers who give up their planning period are compensated for it, he added, since they still need that time to prepare for instruction in their own classrooms, even if it means doing it on their own time.

Complicating the problem is that retired teachers who are on the substitute list are reluctant to go back into the classroom while the number of COVID cases has risen. That’s understandable, as they in the age group most susceptible to the disease.

It’s not just a substitute teacher shortage the county is dealing with. One day last week, a substitute bus driver could not be found for a Tuesday morning run, which resulted in some students arriving to class late at Cabell Midland High School as one bus went back to cover that route after its usual run that morning.

The substitute list is for all positions, professional and service, including teachers, secretaries, custodians, cooks and bus drivers.

The school system is interviewing for substitute teachers, secretaries, custodians, cooks and bus drivers as it attempts to replenish its sub list.

“It’s a tough balance to have the right number of substitutes in place because you want to be able to offer enough work for them for it to be a viable income for them. If you have too many and they don’t get work, then they move on to something else or to another county,” Hardesty said.

COVID-19 has added stress and frustration to the public school system as it has to about every other human endeavor. By using patience and adaptability, parents, students and others should be able to ride out this storm until the next one comes along. Given COVID-19’s record so far, one will.

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The (Beckley) Register-Herald. Sept. 11, 2021.

Editorial: Recovery requires more than money

Gayle Manchin, as Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) federal co-chair, toured the town that she once called home this past week and cut to the chase regarding economic recovery and revitalization in Beckley and across the coalfields in a powerful, simple and yet inpirsing message.

Surviving and thriving are two different pathways, she said, and in order for a community to come back after it has been thrashed about by the destructive winds of a coal industry in decline, it takes more than a small federal grant to put all the pieces back together again.

It will take a plan and regional cooperation and collaboration, she said – and gritty perseverance and determination, we would add, to push through likely setbacks.

“You really have to have a very significant plan, a strategic plan, and then think about how, as a region, you’re going to make a tremendous impact in an area which will actually change the face, transform that area from being extremely depressed and being extremely active again, and growing, and thriving,” Manchin said.

True enough.

For civic and governmental leaders and the people who want to call this place home, the good news is that the region is blessed with mountain terrain in every direction, natural resources for outdoor adventure development that attracts young people – climbing, hiking, rappelling, rafting, fishing and hunting.

Some of those natural resources and activities have been built out with additional room to grow, while others – like expanding the trail system – are just now gaining steam.

Also working in the city and region’s favor are projects and initiatives already up and running.

In recent years, Beckley- Raleigh County Memorial Airport, New River Gorge Regional Development Authority (NRGRDA), the City of Beckley, Raleigh County Commission and other entities have taken steps toward developing the region.

By way of example, airport manager Tom Cochran worked with NRGRDA Executive Director Jina Belcher to develop Cochran’s long-time vision of building an aerospace industry in southern West Virginia, complete with a work force trained by West Virginia University Institute of Technology and New River Community and Technical College.

Also to the good, the WV Hive Network, a business incubation program, is on solid footing and Belcher is seeking an $8 million development of the historic Alfred Beckley Mill region, which will situate Beckley as a “gateway” to the New River National Gorge Park and Reserve.

There is much to be hopeful about the future of Beckley as the hub of a cultural, entertainment, outdoor creation and manufacturing.

But there is also much work – and change – ahead.

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