Gov. Jim Justice is in a tricky spot. He wants to be positive about vaccination numbers when it comes to COVID-19. The problem is, the numbers just don’t support anything worth celebrating.
So, West Virginians hear things like the governor said Monday, when he celebrated that a few thousand residents got vaccinated over the weekend, then added, “It’s not good enough.”
No, it’s not. Justice also admits that overall vaccination rates aren’t good enough, which is obvious, with the way the delta variant is tearing through the state. By Monday morning, there were more than 16,300 active cases in West Virginia. That number was at more than 13,700 Friday, and had been growing last week by about a thousand active cases a day — a pace not seen since the original strain gathered momentum in late fall through early winter, when vaccines were available only to those age 65 or older.
Justice could make this clearer by using the numbers of the total population that is fully vaccinated when giving his briefings. He often uses percentage of residents who have at least one dose, when two of the three vaccines require two doses. So the vaccination rate sounds higher than it is, when only having the first dose doesn’t really protect someone from the virus. Those who talk about vaccination rates also sometimes use the percentage among those eligible for the vaccine (ages 12 and up) instead of the full state population. With the delta variant now affecting younger people, that statistic by eligibility loses some of its heft.
When looking at the entire state population, and taking into account all doses, 50.8% of the state is fully vaccinated. That’s a few tenths of a percent higher than last week. It’s good the number is going up. But it’s not good enough.
Justice’s leadership over the past two weeks hasn’t been good enough, either. On Monday, Aug. 18, there were 7,017 active COVID-19 cases in West Virginia. And that was up by a lot, as cases had dipped below 1,000 in July. Two weeks later, there are more than twice that number. Justice’s response has been to do absolutely nothing. Yes, he’s offering his incentives to get vaccinated, but that hasn’t shifted any interest. He continually says he doesn’t want to mandate anything, in regard to public health, because he doesn’t want people to be divided.
Guess what? People already are divided, thanks to misinformation, politicization and a misguided sense of liberty. It defies logic, and it’s clear that Justice is flabbergasted that people won’t just listen to him and get vaccinated.
At this point, it is what it is, and this virus will continue to mutate and get worse until people are vaccinated.
Justice needs to consider what he can do to make that happen — and public opinion be damned. Many businesses are transitioning to punishing employees financially for failure to get vaccinated. Maybe it’s time for Justice to consider what he can do along those lines, although it seems doubtful he will. After all, cases jumping nearly 16 fold over the course of a month or so has only prompted empty threats about mask mandates.
Everyone could be doing better. Justice’s name is at the top of the list.