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During this time last year, most West Virginia schools hadn’t resumed in-person learning yet, even though the date had arrived. There was a state system in place to monitor whether schools were eligible to open their facilities and participate in extracurricular activities, based on the number of coronavirus cases in each county.

The COVID-19 pandemic was getting worse, although it wouldn’t really start to accelerate until tweaks allowed most schools to resume in-person learning. Outbreaks were traced to things like high school football games and holidays. Everything started taking a turn for the worse after Thanksgiving, and stayed on that course until vaccinations started making an impact in late January.

It’s hard to believe that, a year after schools were set to resume in person in 2020, things in West Virginia are much worse, as it pertains to the pandemic.

In fact, the Mountain State is leading the nation in the rate of new cases, spurred by the delta variant of COVID-19 and low vaccination rates. And yet, a state government that was intently involved with protecting its citizens, students and teachers has completely stepped away from the captain’s chair this time around.

On Sept. 8, 2020, there were 11,661 total (not active) COVID-19 cases in West Virginia. On Wednesday, there were 22,215 active cases. Last year, there were 147 West Virginians hospitalized with COVID-19. According to the latest statistics from the Department of Health and Human Resources, there were more people than that in intensive care units (a record-high 252) on Wednesday, while total hospitalizations were at 813, poised to break the previous high of 818, recorded on Jan. 5. On Wednesday, there were almost as many people on life support (132) as were in the hospital at this same time a year ago.

It’s been a stark change from the beginning of July, when there were fewer than 1,000 active COVID-19 cases in the state. Now, even with vaccines, the situation is at a point almost unimaginable a year ago, with no action from Gov. Jim Justice. The governor said Wednesday he’s not scared of political blowback or threats from anti-vaxxers, but it certainly seems like he’s scared of something.

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The Gov. Justice who made tough decisions in the interest of public health a year ago is nowhere to be found. He distracts by complaining about a slow federal response for booster shots, when barely more than half of the state he governs is fully vaccinated.

The governor made some vague mentions a while back that mask mandates or other public health orders might become necessary, if things continued the way they were. That was back when active cases were around 7,000 in August. Clearly, it’s gotten worse and will continue to get worse, and whatever line the governor has in mind for intervention is arbitrary, if it even exists.

Those looking to assess the situation for themselves might as well not listen to Justice at this stage. But they should be listening to state coronavirus czar Dr. Clay Marsh and James Hoyer, head of the joint interagency task force for COVID-19 vaccines. Both have continually stated that increasing vaccinations is vital to combating the pandemic, although it’s too late for vaccinations alone to stop the incursion of the delta variant, which is why even those who are vaccinated should wear masks indoors and in crowds and continue to practice public health measures that kept people safe before the vaccines were available.

Hoyer pointed out Wednesday that, of those hospitalized in West Virginia, 83% are unvaccinated. More troubling, he noted, is that of the patients requiring the most serious medical care, more than 90% are not vaccinated.

Justice has become detached from the situation. As we’ve noted before, although he makes the same points as Hoyer and Marsh, he’s clearly hoping school boards, local businesses, municipal governments and others will mandate masks or vaccinations so he doesn’t have to get involved. It’s hard to tell if Justice even cares if local authorities go in the other direction. It seems like he’s fine with whatever decision is made, as long as he’s not the one who has to make it.

And so, West Virginians are left to handle this mess with no real central leadership and the situation set to get worse than it was at its peak the first time around.

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