These are unprecedented times, and leaders are going to process information and handle the situation surrounding the coronavirus differently. Gov. Jim Justice probably had good intentions when he addressed the state Saturday night. He was trying to emphasize adhering to safety guidelines from health experts concerning the coronavirus, and implying more drastic measures would be taken if those guidelines weren’t followed. We think.
Justice ended a press conference Friday saying he wouldn’t be appearing over the weekend unless there were major developments to discuss. Naturally, many were then alarmed when the governor announced he would be speaking at 7 p.m. Saturday.
There was no major announcement or update. Just a stream of consciousness delivery from the governor, with asides like one insisting if he didn’t appear on television Saturday, thousands of lives would be lost, or references to New York state not acting quickly enough to lock itself down — something Justice wasn’t recommending for West Virginia, but had decided to do by Monday.
Justice’s off-the-cuff style has worked for him before, but it’s not the best strategy here. Saturday night’s ramble did little to assuage any fears about the pandemic.
He attempted to explain his reasons for the address during a much more organized, informative news conference Monday, but didn’t offer real clarity.
West Virginians shouldn’t be fearful, but they should be concerned. They should follow the guidelines from health professionals (staying home as much as possible, frequent hand washing and staying away from large gatherings of more than 10 people, etc.), which is something Justice reiterated Saturday. No one should panic.
But the governor appearing on television — after prefacing he would only do so if there were major developments — then engaging in word salad certainly, if not intentionally, seemed to veer toward inciting panic. That isn’t the calm hand of leadership that is needed. It’s apparent the governor thought he needed to say something — and there’s nothing wrong with that, if there is something to say.
Justice talks about being a leader — how, in fact, he wants to be a “coach” for the state of West Virginia. But there’s talking about it and actually doing it. An event like the COVID-19 outbreak is a time for leaders to rise and take the helm. The governor seems overwhelmed. He should take the time to assess what needs to be said and when. The difference was all that more apparent Monday, when there was new information to impart.