While West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice briefed the news media Monday on the latest developments regarding the coronavirus, President Donald Trump was also giving an update.
Trump’s about-face on the issue, finally recognizing it and releasing some guidelines for public health, meant two things: First, that this is, indeed, serious and, secondly, it’s too late to stem the spread of the virus as effectively as the country might have if the issue was given proper gravity back in January.
The daily briefings from Justice (he gave another one Tuesday evening) are what a good governor should be doing in this time of great unease across the state and the nation. Then again, the governor saying West Virginians shouldn’t panic or raid grocery stores didn’t necessarily convey calm reassurance.
As Monday’s briefing began, Justice again touted his relationship with Trump and said he had been on a long conference call with the administration and Vice President Mike Pence. His messaging, though, was divergent from what the president was saying at about the same time.
Trump told the news media those in the U.S. should avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, avoid restaurants and bars and work from home wherever possible. Justice, meanwhile, said, “If you want to go to Bob Evans and eat, go to Bob Evans and eat.” That comment was wildly irresponsible.
The people who run Bob Evans probably weren’t pleased with it, either.
However, during a televised Tuesday evening address to West Virginia residents, Justice announced the mandated closing of casinos, restaurants and bars.
Meanwhile, the West Virginia Supreme Court and lower courts suspended hearing all but emergency cases for the time being and Charleston opened its emergency operations center. Secretary of State Mac Warner is trying to prep to have a safe primary election in May. These are but a few of the measures that are grinding everyday life to a necessary crawl.
Justice said Tuesday evening that West Virginia now has one positive coronavirus case, in the Eastern Panhandle. But it is quite clear that neither the state nor the country have properly prepared for adequate testing.
Don’t panic, but panic. Live your life, but don’t live your life. This is all very confusing. Whom should you trust? As many in the news media, including Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson, have noted, state and local governments have stepped up in a big way across the country to cut through bad and contradictory information, taking it upon themselves to protect the public. That’s what is happening here in West Virginia, even if the governor isn’t always on the same page as everyone else.
It’s a lesson in why competent leadership, from the top down, is essential.