Gov. Jim Justice and his administration deserve credit for organizing an aggressive strategy to get COVID-19 vaccines to patients in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Without question, these facilities have been epicenters for coronavirus outbreaks in West Virginia, and they house the demographic the pandemic hits hardest -- the elderly and those with underlying health problems.
By Justice's account, West Virginia had a plan in place before most other states to protect these vulnerable residents, and is getting the vaccine to them while others are still trying to figure out how to do the same. That's good news in a time when good news is in short supply.
It was harder to understand Gov. Justice saying during a recent briefing that he enjoys "rubbing [other states'] faces in it." What he was probably trying to say is that West Virginia is sometimes stereotyped and misjudged, and often appears in the bottom of rankings in the U.S. when it comes to things like education, health and economic well being, and it's nice to be ahead of the curve for a change. But he chose his words poorly. Nothing about this pandemic, which has now killed more than 320,000 Americans, should be viewed as a competition. Nor should anyone take any kind of schadenfreude in one state reacting well while other states struggle. If anything, it underlies how poorly this entire challenge has been managed by multiple layers of government, and how a pandemic that should've brought a unified response has been turned into a divisive issue.
On the topic of federal response, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., deserves credit for helping to get another COVID-19 relief bill passed when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., seemed uninterested in taking up House legislation. Manchin and other bipartisan congressional members were able to put party and ego aside, realizing that the pandemic is beyond such paltry divisions. It's a fair question whether the deal that was reached will be enough to truly shield Americans from the economic devastation the coronavirus pandemic has wrought. While appreciated, a $600 stimulus check in 2020 doesn't seem like much. Many received that same amount when George W. Bush issued tax rebate checks in 2001. And there was nothing comparable to the current pandemic pressing on businesses and consumers at that time. Of course, there is more in the package than stimulus checks. It's certainly better than nothing, but what is that really saying?
Among all of this action taking place at the federal and state levels, West Virginians have to remain cautious about the health threat that still exists.
Vaccines for the general public are still three or four months away. West Virginia recorded another 42 deaths between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, bringing the total in the state to 1,172, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources. Another 1,400 cases were recorded in that same time period, and, barring a major break in trends, West Virginia will surpass 75,000 total cases by Wednesday. Roughly 65,000 of those cases have been recorded within the past three months. COVID-19 is still here and spreading more quickly than at any other time since state government began taking action in the spring.
Help is on the way, financially and medically, but patience and caution -- commodities more valuable right now than anything else -- are still needed.