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Capitol Building Commission warned Confederate statuary at the Capitol will draw national scrutiny if not removed

Members of the Capitol Building Commission listened to, but did not heed, a call Wednesday to remove the Stonewall Jackson statue from the Capitol grounds before it becomes a national embarrassment to the state.

“You know they’re taking down statues in places like Richmond, Virginia, and VMI, and in the Deep South,” Howard Swint, a Charleston commercial real estate broker and longtime advocate for removing Confederate statuary from the Capitol grounds, told commissioners.

He was referring to removal of Confederate statuary from Monument Avenue in Richmond, most recently including the statue of Robert E. Lee, and the removal of an identical version of the Jackson statue from the grounds of Virginia Military Institute.

Swint called on commissioners to authorize moving the statue from the Capitol grounds into the State Museum under the guise of historic preservation.

“While you’re at it, you could take the bust [of Jackson] out of the [Capitol] rotunda and put it in the museum, too,” he said.

He said the state should be proactive in moving the Jackson statuary from prominent Capitol locations to avoid national media scrutiny should West Virginia, ostensibly a Union state, become one of the few remaining states to display Confederate statuary in public places.

“It’s going to be bad. It’s going to be bad for economic development, and bad for the state’s image,” Swint said.

In addition to avoiding national scrutiny, relocating the statue to the museum would protect it from ongoing deterioration from being exposed to the elements outdoors, he said.

He said the statue should be displayed with signage explaining its history, and pedestal upon which it sits returned to the Daughters of the Confederacy.

Commissioners listened to Swint’s comments, but did not respond to them, and technically, could not act on the request since it was not a posted agenda item.

Under state law, the Capitol Building Commission has authority over any “substantive physical changes to the grounds and buildings of the state Capitol complex.”

However, Randall Reid-Smith, who as curator of the Department of Art, Culture and History serves as chairman of the commission, told legislators in March he does not believe the commission has authority over statuary on the Capitol grounds since the law does not specifically cite the word “monuments.”

During the 2021 regular session, the House of Delegates passed a bill that would make it illegal to remove or relocate Confederate statuary from public places on a 70-28 vote, but the bill died when it was never taken up by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Also during Wednesday’s Capitol Building Commission meeting, commissioners approved:

  • A major project to effectively disassemble the north steps of the main Capitol in order to access and assess water damage to concrete slabs and steel support beams underneath.

That’s after a piece of concrete broke off and fell into the Journal Room on the ground floor of the Capitol in March, injuring a state employee.

Rex Cyphers, with WDP and Associates Consulting Engineers in Charlottesville, Virginia, told commissioners the water damage underneath the north steps apparently dates back to construction of the main Capitol, when contractors failed to install waterproofing membranes as architect Cass Gilbert had intended.

The project will remove and salvage limestone and granite treads and concrete stair slabs from the steps, he said. Once the damage is assessed, Cyphers said he will return to the commission for approval of a repair and restoration plan.

  • A plan to replace carpeting in the lounge area behind House of Delegates chambers and in an adjacent members-only women’s restroom and lounge.

House Clerk Steve Harrison said the chambers lounge is a high-traffic area used by members, staff and pages during House floor sessions, and he said the carpet is worn and stained.

Carpet in both locations will be replaced with vinyl plank flooring, he said.

Continuing renovations to the Secretary of State’s suite of offices. The next phase will involve the main foyer entrance to the offices, including the main hallway, and will include replacing carpeting with hardwood flooring, removing wallpaper and painting walls, and adding new lighting in the entrance foyer.

COVID-19 hospital visitor rules: Families want more access
Families of COVID-19 patients are asking hospitals to rethink visitor policies a year and a half into the pandemic that has killed 700,000 people in the U.S. The relatives say they're being denied the right to be with loved ones at a crucial time

MIAMI — Banned from the Florida hospital room where her mother lay dying of COVID-19, Jayden Arbelaez pitched an idea to construction employees working nearby.

“Is there any way that I could get there?” Arbelaez asked them, pointing to a small third-story window of the hospital in Jacksonville.

The workers gave the 17-year-old a yellow vest, boots, a helmet and a ladder to climb onto a section of roof so she could look through the window and see her mother, Michelle Arbelaez, alive one last time.

A year and a half into a pandemic that has killed 700,000 people in the U.S., hospitals in at least a half-dozen states have loosened restrictions governing visits to COVID patients. Others, however, are standing firm, backed by studies and industry groups that indicate such policies have been crucial to keeping hospital-acquired infections low.

Some families of COVID-19 patients — and doctors — are asking hospitals to rethink that strategy, arguing that it denies people the right to be with loved ones at a crucial time.

“We need to get people thinking about that risk-benefit equation,” said Dr. Lauren Van Scoy, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Penn State Health who has researched the effects of limited visits on the relatives of COVID-19 patients. “The risk of getting COVID versus the risk of what we know these families are going through, the psychological and emotional harm.”

Van Scoy said many of the family members she has interviewed have shown signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. In newspaper op-ed pieces, doctors have shared conversations with patients who declined or postponed crucial treatments because of the visiting restrictions.

And studies conducted before the pandemic have shown that older patients in intensive care units that restricted visits developed delirium at higher rates than those in units with more flexibility.

Van Scoy agrees it made sense at the beginning of the pandemic to restrict visits because protective equipment and COVID-19 tests were in short supply and there weren’t any vaccines. But now, testing and vaccinations have vastly expanded, and doctors say screening mechanisms and personal protective equipment can keep the virus at bay.

Nonetheless, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends against in-person visits for infected patients.

“We do not take lightly the sacrifices we are asking individuals and their loved ones to make. We would not do so unless it was absolutely necessary,” said Nancy Foster, vice president of quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Association.

Ann Marie Pettis, president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, acknowledged that patients benefit from having visitors but said the group still discourages it in most cases.

“I don’t know of any place that doesn’t try very hard because families are incredibly important for the patients’ well-being,” Pettis said. “These are heartbreaking decisions that have to be made.”

Jeremy Starr, a 36-year-old electric utility lineman from Jacksonville, is familiar with such heartbreak.

Starr, who contracted the virus in the summer, remembers being thirsty, alone and unable to sleep while hospitalized for 14 days in an ICU.

“The non-breathing was bad enough, but not to see your loved ones is the worst,” he said. “It felt like you were not a human.”

Kirsten Fiest, an associate professor of critical care medicine at the University of Calgary who is studying the effect of isolation on COVID-19 patients, said family members are also caregivers who can lighten the burden of stressed-out health care workers in ICUs.

“By not having families there, nurses have to go out of their way to call them. They have to play a new role, even holding up a phone when someone says goodbye,” Fiest said.

Inspired by the stories of Starr, Arbelaez, and others like them, Darlene Guerra of Jacksonville started an online petition asking Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to push for more access. DeSantis was an early proponent of reopening nursing homes to visitors, saying he felt banning them contributed to the suffering of families.

“It’s heartbreaking for all these families,” Guerra said. “We are going to work, we are going to church, we are going to the store, but we can’t go to the hospital and be with our loved ones?”

Justin Senior, head of the Florida Safety Net Hospital Alliance, which represents some of the largest medical facilities in the state, said that when establishing the rules for visits, hospitals take into consideration transmission levels of COVID, vaccination rates and the prevalence of heart and lung diseases in the community.

Some doctors say health networks are worried about nurse shortages and keep restrictions in place to avoid adding stress to already exhausted health care workers. Others say the process of screening visitors and instructing them how to wear protective equipment also takes time from health care staff.

“I think the position is coming from a place of fatigue and burnout rather than what is good for patients,” Van Scoy said.

Some hospitals have allowed people to visit coronavirus patients. The University of Utah Health earlier this year announced its hospitals would allow up to two adult visitors for the entire hospital stay, provided they remained in the patient’s room and wore personal protective equipment at all times, did not have symptoms and were either vaccinated or had recently recovered from COVID-19.

Many have made exceptions only for coronavirus patients who are about to die, which was the case at the Jacksonville hospital caring for Arbelaez’s mother. The family says the rules were inconsistent: On some days, administrators allowed only one family member to visit; on others, several visitors were permitted. On the last day, only Arbelaez’s father, Mitch Arbelaez, was allowed. It happened to be his birthday.

From her perch on the hospital roof, the distraught teen picked up her cellphone, called her dad and sang “Happy Birthday” to him as she peered through the window and gazed at her mother, unconscious on a ventilator.

Hours later, her mom died, alone.

Forum Monday on proposed Eastern Panhandle charter school

There will be a public forum 7 p.m. Monday on the Eastern Panhandle Preparatory Academy, a charter school that is seeking to open in Jefferson County.

The forum will be in the county commission meeting room in the Old Charles Town Library, 200 E. Washington St., Charles Town.

The entrance to the basement meeting room is on Samuel Street.

The West Virginia Professional Charter School Board faces a late-November deadline to approve or deny any proposed charter school. Otherwise, the schools will automatically be allowed to open.

The forums include presentations from those trying to open the charter, and time for the public to ask questions and say whether they support or oppose the charter.

Written comments can be submitted before and after each forum to Professional Charter School Board Chairman Adam Kissel, at adam.kissel@wvpcsb.org.

Commission to hold cleanup in Elkview Saturday

The Kanawha County Commission will hold its third free cleanup of the year Saturday in Falling Rock.

The cleanup will be from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. in the parking lot of the old Herbert Hoover High School.

Items accepted include: accumulated solid waste, large appliances, air conditioners and televisions. West Virginia residents with a state ID may also bring up to 10 tires.

Recyclables — including computers, all metals, car batteries, and electronics — will also be accepted.

The following items are not accepted: gas/propane tanks, hazardous waste, paint, chemicals and motor oil.

For information, call the Kanawha County Planning and Development Office at 304-357-0570.