Wednesday was a grim reminder that COVID-19 is still a problem in West Virginia, after the Department of Health and Human Resources announced 24 additional virus deaths since Tuesday.
It wasn’t clear Wednesday if those deaths all occurred within one day or if there was a backlog of deaths that had not been officially reported, which has sometimes been the case. Regardless, it’s a solemn indicator that, while cases continue to slowly drop and the threat seems to be shrinking, West Virginia has yet to cross the finish line in this nightmare marathon.
There’s been a lot of parsing over Gov. Jim Justice’s new “Do it for Babydog” campaign, in which he’s made his bulldog the mascot of the effort to increase vaccinations. Along with that is what amounts to a raffle to incentivize West Virginians to get the shot — that includes a $1.6 million cash prize, another cash prize worth more than $500,000 and other prizes, such as firearms, trucks and academic scholarships.
Is using governor’s dog is appropriate? Is offering prizes to drive up the vaccination rate the right thing to do? Will it even work? Is it OK to try and have fun with this?
But seeing 24 deaths reported a day after only one death was listed drives home that this is about saving lives. If you’re only getting vaccinated because you might win something, fine. If you’re totally against the idea of being bribed to get vaccinated, that’s fine, too. You can always decline or donate the prize, should you happen to win.
It can be hard to cut through everything around this pandemic, especially after living altered lives for more than a year and going into the second summer with this still with us. But 24 deaths should do it.
You don’t have to do it for Babydog. You can do it for the 41-year-old man from Lincoln County who was on Wednesday’s roll of the deceased. You don’t have do it because the governor is telling you to. Do it for the four women from Berkeley County who died from COVID-19 on Wednesday’s list.
If there’s one thing Justice has been right about this entire time, it’s that these are not numbers; they’re people. It can be hard for someone unaffected by the pandemic to see that. They’re presented as numbers. They’re on a list. They’re how public officials and West Virginians have viewed whether the pandemic is spiking or ebbing. It only takes one tragic case to completely and tragically change that perspective.
So do it for someone you don’t want to see on that list.