Gov. Jim Justice is losing control of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic at the very worst time, as cases and deaths in West Virginia continue to rapidly rise.
The administration didn’t appear to know until late last week that a motocross event bringing thousands of people into the state was planned for Saturday in Fayette County, where schools are online only because of a high number of COVID-19 cases. If state officials had been on top of the situation, maybe they could have shut it down. There also have been reports of organized sporting events in counties where such gatherings are ill-advised.
But nothing is more representative of the problem than the Bible Center School’s decision to resume in-person classes for K-12 students on Monday. The school is in Kanawha County, the second-worst in West Virginia for COVID-19 cases, in relation to metrics for resuming school.
While it’s a horribly selfish decision by the Bible Center, which will put the health of students, teachers and anyone they come into contact with in the broader community at risk, it also shows that some are not viewing the governor and his public health officials as the proper authorities on coronavirus response. It’s hard to imagine the Bible Center trying a stunt like this back in the spring, when the governor was addressing the public daily and enforcing a stay-at-home order.
The Justice administration has undermined itself, to some extent, by continually tinkering with the metrics that determine whether schools may resume in-person classes. And even as the situation spins out of control, Gov. Justice said Monday he wants to loosen restrictions in an effort to get more schools back open. This comes a week after tightening restrictions, while professing that student health is the principal concern guiding everything.
Yes, the pandemic is a shifting predicament and state agencies have to be flexible. But to have schools or event organizers actively flouting executive orders and best health practices exhibits the need for more communication and clearer, firmer guidelines.
Last week, COVID-19 czar Dr. Clay Marsh urged West Virginians to recommit themselves to taking the pandemic seriously, and to be just as vigilant as they were when the coronavirus first hit. Gov. Justice needs to listen to his own expert. His waffling is costly.