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Almost 75 years ago, on Oct. 2, 1945, a friend of Harry Truman’s sent the president a wooden holder with these words painted on glass: “The BUCK STOPS Here!” Truman had that sign on his desk here and there through the rest of his presidency.

He referred to these words more than once in his public statements. In his farewell address, in January 1953, he said: “The President — whoever he is – has to decide. He can’t just pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job.”

I believe that most of us are looking for this quality of leadership in the trying times that we are now in. I know that I am.

I keep looking for our governor to accept responsibility for doing what is right for the citizens of our state. I agree with the recent commentaries that have given him credit for decisions that he made when the pandemic first hit all of us earlier this year. I also agree with their questions related to his more recent actions.

Gov. Jim Justice states repeatedly that there is no playbook. Still, I cannot help but wonder if this is true. Is it possible that he is instead following the playbook of a president who he has stated he loves and who appears to be focused above all else on staying in power regardless of the costs to our democracy and our people?

It is not too late for our governor to demonstrate true leadership and make the decisions that will help us instead of hurt us. The following are suggestions for some steps that can be taken to help us to get back on track in a way that supports our democracy and our people.

  • Guarantee a fair general election by funding the mailing of applications for absentee ballots to all of our registered voters as he did in the primary. Invest in the additional staff in the counties where help is needed to prevent any delays. Depending on an online portal and the couple of counties that are funding their own mailings can only benefit a minority of our voters, while leaving everyone else to obtain applications on their own.
  • Invest in quality child care, curriculum development and staffing to enable our counties with increased numbers of COVID-19 cases to focus on effective distance learning for as long as they need to. Opening the doors to more and more cases through in-person school, sports and band can only lead to an erratic system of closings and openings at a time when students, families and workplaces all need consistency and stability. This applies to higher education as well as to K-12.
  • Figure out ways to keep kids interested and involved in activities like sports and band without risking their health and their lives and that of their families. Make creative use of substitutes like Zoom, home workouts and lessons, and outside activities where distancing and masks are enforced, combined with sanitary restrooms, in order to help get through these challenging times.
  • Make creative use of Zoom, conference calls, or other means to reach out to kids at home for things like team projects and exhibits. Kids can take this in directions that many of us might never even think of. Listen to them and turn over the reins where possible so that their ease with virtual connectivity can be put to advantage in our current situation.
  • Create competitions and awards based on individual and virtual team records that can keep the competitive spirit alive for those who depend on it for motivation. These competitions can extend beyond sports and band to activities that other students enjoy, like performance and visual arts, vocational and technical crafts, speech and journalism, and others. Facilitate and encourage the sharing of results with classmates, communities and the world, via virtual communications.
  • Identify and provide special attention to those kids who are most at risk without the sports, band or other activities they may be used to. Invest in time by teachers, counselors, social workers, and nurses to build on the individual strengths of these kids and their families.
  • Figure out creative and safe ways to help children with special needs and support the families and caregivers they depend on outside of a physical school setting. Allow for in-home visits as needed in ways that can keep everyone safe from the risk of COVID-19.
  • Assess exactly who is hurting due to low income or other factors. Invest in the food, housing, health care, jobs and transportation that they need in order to survive and thrive. Involve the full Legislature, county commissions and city councils in this process, since they are closest to their communities and in the best position within government to represent their actual needs. Listen and respond to the voices of impacted people directly.
  • Review all of our current regulations to make sure that they are based on the science on how the virus actually spreads. Stop trying to adjust things to allow people to do sports and other things they may want to do, regardless of the risks. Eliminate exemptions such as the ones that are now made for churches, since the droplets with the virus behave the same in all buildings, even in God’s house.
  • Provide the frequently repeated testing that is required for people to stay safe in congregate settings like nursing homes and correctional facilities. Measures like check-off lists and temperature checks cannot identify the large proportion of people who carry the virus and infect others without even knowing that they have it.

Whether or not we elect a new governor, we cannot afford to wait for a change in leadership to institute the protections we require as a people and a state. This governor must make these kinds of changes right here and right now and stop leading us headlong into even more suffering and deaths than those that have already occurred on his watch.

Now more than ever, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We each need to do everything we can to stay safe by wearing a mask, keeping a distance, and washing our hands. At the same time, our individual decisions cannot in and of themselves control the infection rate.

“Running to the fire” is like closing the barn door after the horse has gotten out. Only our governor can provide the leadership we need here in our state to prevent more and more fires. He must embrace our democracy and protect our people.

The buck stops here.

Betty Rivard, of Charleston, is a retired social worker and planner for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.