Courage, it is said, is simply doing what needs to be done. Considering the pandemic, the response of Louisiana State University is in stark contrast to that of West Virginia University.
Each school prides itself as the flagship university of its state; in each state, football is really important. Meanwhile, both states have struggled to overcome the pandemic. As William Tate IV, president of LSU said recently, “As an epidemiologist, I know that vaccination is the [only] way out of this pandemic.”
On Aug. 10, LSU announced that there’d be no restrictions to attend football games. Two weeks later, it reversed course: Admission would be granted only to those who presented either proof of at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot or a 72-hour negative test. (Also setting this standard are Tulane, Oregon, Oregon State, Syracuse and a few others.) And, for LSU, it went past football. The day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer vaccine, the university announced that students who didn’t provide proof of vaccination (at least a first dose of the two-dose vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine) by Sept. 10, or a qualifying medical exemption, would be “unenrolled” — kicked out.
It’s especially noteworthy that LSU’s game attendance requirements were supported by its president, by Louisiana’s governor, LSU’s Board of Supervisors, its athletic foundation and its athletic director.
So, where is our university president? Our governor? The WVU Board of Governors? The athletic director? Are they going to sit on their hands while the virus rages through our state?
I, and others, have written to the athletic department and to President Gordon Gee at WVU. The responses have been disheartening and timid: WVU is “monitoring this issue” and “highly encourages” vaccines — without specifying how. (LSU offers free vaccines on game day, and then admission to the game.) WVU requires nothing of its fans: They can attend home games, all potential superspreader events, without proof of vaccination or a negative test. Tens of thousands of spectators can then fan out across our state, potentially taking home to their families, their children and their communities more than a game program as a souvenir.
Meanwhile, Gee fretted about what to do “when there was a lack of a broad consensus on this issue.” But there is consensus in the scientific community on how to stop this pandemic: Get vaccinated. As Gov. Jim Justice said, “The only way we have on this planet to get out of this is to get vaccinated.” Gee’s other “consensus” is nothing more than people’s opinions, much derived, it seems, from social media and not from scientists with lifetimes of study of immunology, virology, epidemiology or medicine.
West Virginia is currently one of the most-diseased states, so it’s incumbent on WVU and Gee to follow LSU’s example. People who refuse vaccination endanger the lives of themselves and others. When they become ill with COVID-19, they deprive hospital patients with other medical needs of timely treatment by taking up limited and stressed health care resources.
We must not reward them. Fans who behave responsibly can attend games. Others might rethink the consequences of their choices and their shared responsibility to our country, to their communities back home and to their own families.
And doesn’t West Virginia have some responsibility to the rest of the country? Our COVID-19 numbers are dismal. We are, again, No. 1 in the country in rate of infection, while tied for last in the rate of full vaccination. In the percentage of residents who’ve received one shot, ages 18-64, we’re 50th in the country. Dead last. Our ICUs and patients on ventilators are at an all-time high, with beds and equipment taken up by patients who refused to take personal responsibility and get vaccinated.
The difference in the response to the COVID-19 crisis between LSU and WVU comes down to three things: courage, leadership and responsibility. One school protects its fans, its citizens, its health care workers and its non-COVID patients; the other does not.
How much worse will it have to get before WVU and Gee finally take responsible action?
West Virginia doesn’t need more bad publicity. WVU’s lack of a game admission policy sends a terrible signal to the corporate community, which will view West Virginia as a regressive state that can’t — or won’t — follow simple guidelines to protect its citizens. Why would a corporation consider moving its employees to a state that has lax public safety policies?
The lack of a courageous response by WVU is painfully evident on game days: TV viewers will see, overlooking Mountaineer Field, Ruby Memorial Hospital, which is reported to be swamped and out of beds. This symbolizes an ultimate irony: Those who don’t trust the science of this vaccine will seek medical treatment — which is based on science.
WVU, Gee and the Board of Governors need to step up and follow LSU’s example. If WVU claims to be a flagship institution, it should act like one. Seize this moment of crisis. Have the courage to do what needs to be done, for the sake of the public health and safety of all West Virginians.
Once again, in his most recent column, HD Media Regional Executive Editor Lee Wolverton overdoes it when he paints a dark picture of our current situation.
Wolverton avers that depending on social media to form our world views is a losing proposition. He is, of course, quite right, but the solution is so obvious as to require little comment: Don’t do it.
He claims that our education has been dumbed down, and, again, he has a point. But the mass of folks are further behind largely because the best of our thinkers have pushed the frontiers of knowledge so much further ahead.
Let’s stand back here and take a deep breath.
Yes, of late, science has been cast into disrepute, but this is four parts cynical manipulation and one part science working — as it has to — slowly sifting facts, finding blind allies and backing out to try again. Science (now) tells us that masking does help slow the spread of COVID-19. More importantly, science tells us that vaccination against COVID-19 works and getting vaccinated helps the person getting the shot and everyone else.
Yes, credulousness is a problem (neither bleach nor animal de-worming medication are useful), but, by far, the main difficulty has been the politicization and weaponization of vaccination. Everyone’s clear civic duty is to be vaccinated (remember polio?). But cynical politicians have somehow convinced some that enforcement of this obvious and necessary move for the common good is an abrogation of their rights.
One mainstream U.S. political party has denigrated science — COVID-19 and climate related. One political party has made it seem that standing against inoculation mandates is a courageous position, rather than a stupid one. The leader of that one party, having clearly lost an election, has had the effrontery to claim, all objective evidence to the contrary, he actually won.
Wolverton exaggerates when he tells us all politicians are crooks, creeps, cheats or charlatans (why, one wonders, did he omit reprobates, cads, bounders and hypocrites?). Similarly, the American political system is not irredeemably corrupt.
But Wolverton’s biggest error lies in failing to identify the group that is the true source of most of the darkness he rightly laments. They are the anti-vaxxers, who keep COVID-19 alive and the economy in the doldrums. They are the vigilantes in Texas, who would harass women making difficult decisions about their bodies. They are the Christian nationalists, who would keep us in forever wars. They are the insurrectionists, who will not accept the clear outcome of the last presidential election. They are the racist right-wing militias, who keep alive ancient grudges. They are, in short, the Trump-oriented Republicans, fighting a rearguard action that has brought confusion, “darkness” and dismay.
Members of the national and state Poor People’s Campaign want a lot from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Last month, the groups conducted a motorcade protest that started in Boone County and made its way to Manchin’s Charleston office.
The campaign (its full name is the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival) has been trying to bend Manchin’s ear ever since the conservative Democrat became a critical vote in a 50-50 U.S. Senate, where the Democrats hold the tie-breaker advantage with Vice President Kamala Harris.
The group, led by co-chairs the Rev. William Barber II and the Rev. Liz Theoharis, isn’t shy about lobbying West Virginia’s lone congressional Democrat. Their “Mass Moral Motorcade on Manchin” called for the senator to support a national $15 minimum wage, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act and the elimination of the senate filibuster that allows the minority party to stymie major legislation, among other issues.
Manchin was key in striking a $15 minimum wage provision from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, and he has frequently said he won’t be moved on the filibuster, even when his own version of the voting rights act that conceded to Republican concerns was flatly rejected by the opposite party.
The gulf between the Poor People’s Campaign and Manchin might seem pretty wide. Or maybe it’s just hard bargaining.
In a meeting with members of the Gazette-Mail editorial board, Barber pointed to Manchin’s willingness to consider an $11 minimum wage (the current rate is $7.25 an hour) when meeting with the group earlier this year and Manchin’s effort to put forward a compromise package on voting reform as signs the man in the middle of everything in D.C. right now can be moved.
It’s possible Barber and his compatriots are asking for the moon, knowing they might get somewhere between sea level and the upper stratosphere once everything is said and done.
The hardest part isn’t convincing Manchin to embrace a higher minimum wage or expansion of voting rights. It’s the filibuster. Barber says he wants it abolished completely, referring to its use in the Jim Crow era to deny equal rights to minorities and its current use, in which he sees the same pattern. Multiple Republican states are enacting voting laws that will make it more difficult for key Democratic Party voting blocs — especially minorities and the poor — to cast their ballots.
Manchin eventually came around on the For the People Act, but Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is using the filibuster to stall the legislation. Hard-line partisanship leaves no hope of getting the necessary 60 votes to break the delay tactic.
The Poor People’s Campaign is hardly the only group putting pressure on Manchin regarding the filibuster. Political action committees are spending millions of dollars in ad buys in West Virginia, trying to get Manchin’s constituents to lend their voice to abolish the Senate rule or to keep it in place. So far, Manchin’s been steadfast in his defense of the filibuster.
There are options when it comes to this archaic Senate rule. It’s not like it hasn’t been tweaked before. For instance, now the minority party can filibuster any legislation it likes and simply leave the table, whereas, previously, senators had to stand in the room and speak, to filibuster a bill. If they yielded the floor, it was over. The filibuster also can be disregarded for certain issues or proceedings. McConnell nuked the filibuster as it pertained to federal judicial nominees, which allowed him to open an express lane of Trump appointees to the highest courts in the nation. The number of votes it takes to break a filibuster also has been changed in the past.
So, while it might seem like an outlandish request from those like Barber and Theoharis, there is room to negotiate with Manchin on this topic. All you can do is ask for everything and see where you get.