Gov. Jim Justice continued to talk out of both sides of his mouth Tuesday, citing the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic and his concern for the health of West Virginians, while also unveiling new metrics that will make it easier for schools that would be disqualified under previous state government guidelines to resume in-person classes and sports.
This is an attempt to make everyone happy with an election on the horizon, rather than a commitment to one philosophy or the other.
The new “gold” color description could have several counties resuming in-person classes as early as Wednesday, if that’s what local superintendents want to do, the governor said.
With the mixed messages, not to mention the new regulations on when and how schools may go back to in-person classes, it’s all a bit confusing. Gov. Justice acknowledged this during Tuesday’s coronavirus briefing, adding that he didn’t know how to make it not confusing. One suggestion would be refraining from continuously changing the system, as Justice has done four times since the color-coded COVID-19 map was announced.
Justice isn’t leading. He’s wavering. He’s bending to whatever political pressure is being applied at the moment. This week, it was a hue and cry from athletes and parents — not so much to resume school but to allow high school football to continue even when the pandemic numbers say it shouldn’t in certain counties.
With another color added to the scale, and the introduction of a positive-test percentage rate allowing schools and athletics back based on whatever number serves them best, Justice is basically saying he’ll do whatever he can to make the numbers work. And he’s doing it at a time when cases and deaths continue to mount.
That certainly isn’t putting the health of West Virginia’s students, teachers and parents first, as he insists he’s doing.
The governor continually talked about how difficult the situation is, and he went back to the phrase of “no playbook” in describing the response to the pandemic. Shouldn’t there be a playbook by now? And it’s been a while since the governor made a difficult or unpopular choice because he knew the health risk required it, such as mandating face masks or shutting down bars.
Appeasement in the face of criticism is easy.
It’s telling that neither Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch nor relatively new-on-the-job Bureau of Public Health Commissioner Ayne Amjad spoke during Tuesday’s briefing. Dr. Amjad was hired after the governor requested the dismissal of her predecessor, Dr. Cathy Slemp, in the midst of the pandemic for reasons that were never clarified. Amjad is probably still getting her bearings. Slemp, who, if anything, was overqualified for her post, might have been the only person with the institutional knowledge and the spine to tell the governor he’s making bad decisions at a bad time.
The desire to get back to in-person classes and to have normal fall sports and other extracurricular activities is perfectly understandable. No one wants to live under the thumb of a pandemic. Then again, you can’t always get what you want.
At least West Virginians can see where Gov. Justice’s true priorities sit, because, ultimately, it’s not what he says but what he does. And what he’s doing will end up putting the state’s public health in greater jeopardy. That part is not confusing.