Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday his reelection doesn’t mean he’ll go back to being a reclusive governor as West Virginia continues to grapple the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s encouraging to hear, because a sharp uptick in coronavirus cases and deaths in the state shows everything is headed in the wrong direction, and doing so faster than ever before.
The state that didn’t eclipse 100 coronavirus deaths until July was at 480 when the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources released its latest daily statistics Thursday morning. The state didn’t hit 400 until last week, and now it’s nearly at 500 and approaching a 400% increase over a mere three months.
Over the summer, the state topped 3,000 total COVID-19 cases. Now, that number is above 26,500 and rising by about 1,000 cases every two days. New single-day records for positive cases are becoming a norm and, as of Thursday morning, active cases were at a new high, approaching 6,000.
The cumulative percentage of positive tests is now at 2.99%, and Justice and public health officials previously said hitting the 3% mark in that category would prompt more aggressive action. Justice waffled on that claim during a media briefing Wednesday.
If the administration were to count every case equally — which it does not — and use its original metrics — since greatly loosened — 42 counties would have been shutting down schools and going to distance learning based on Thursday’s numbers.
No doubt increased testing has led to an increasing number of cases. That’s good, in a way. Public health officials need that data, and anyone carrying the virus needs to know and take appropriate action, because it’s been shown COVID-19 spreads easily, and one person can infect many, many others without even knowing they’re carrying it.
But the rapid increase in cases also can likely be linked to reopening schools and resuming extracurricular activities and sports. Another problem, as Justice and public health officials have acknowledged, is a general malaise — or even hostility — about wearing masks and practicing other proper health guidelines as a pandemic that hit the United States in late February stretches into November.
That latter problem needs to be addressed immediately because, if these numbers continue to jet upward as they have in recent weeks, Gov. Justice is not going to have any choice but to consider closing down schools and businesses, or maybe even issuing another stay-at-home order, which proved effective in the spring. The governor likely will do everything he can to avoid that — he’s basically said as much. But he’s also admitted that, if it becomes clear that some form of shutdown is necessary, he’ll do it.
So, we once again urge all West Virginians to mask up, social distance and sanitize those hands. Also, make good choices about whether attending an event or patronizing a business is the worth the risk, especially if you know you’ll be in close proximity with a large number or people or in a group setting where others aren’t following public health guidelines.
Be responsible. With the way this pandemic works, you never know whose life might be on the line because of your actions and decisions.