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Keeping the silent majority in mind

I have to keep telling myself that our country is not as divided as a country as we appear to be, but with the loud voices on the fringe left and fringe right regarding the coronavirus, it’s easy to be a little disheartened.

I have no idea where the middle exactly falls on the scale, but I imagine most people are somewhere between these two groups.

They understand that what we’ve done with shutting down the economy temporarily and staying at home to slow the spread of COVID-19 to protect our hospital beds from being swamped was good. It was a sacrifice we’ve all made together, and certainly some have made more sacrifices than others. At the same time, they understand that now that the spread has been slowed, things need to slowly re-open and we must take greater precautions when going about basic tasks.

These people are not loud. They’re not racing to the nearest social media platform to tell you their opinion on the coronavirus. It’s because of these people that we have been able to flatten the curve. It’s these people who will continue to take precautions once restrictions are eased. They’ll do it because it’s the right thing to do, but they won’t sit and judge others who don’t.

It’s not these people we’re hearing from. Instead, on the right side of things we’re hearing from a very small handful of people who want all restrictions lifted. They either see the coronavirus as an overly exaggerated problem or not a problem at all. They see the various executive orders as unconstitutional infringements on their liberty.

Last week, 25 to 30 of these people held a protest outside the west-side entrance of the Capitol in Charleston. Maybe a fifth of the numbers were members of the press (apparently my invite was lost in the mail). They wanted all restrictions lifted — the same day as Gov. Jim Justice was announcing his plan to ease restrictions and allow businesses to re-open.

It’s amusing that people who purport to be supporters of President Donald Trump would protest a governor whom Trump recently praised and endorsed, and whose executive orders are based on guidance from the White House’s “30 Days to Slow the Spread” plan, and whose reopening plan is based on the White House’s phased re-opening guidance. The man is just following federal guidance. There are certainly states that have cracked down more tightly than we have.

Also, turning to the constitutional issue. Does Justice’s executive order violate the constitution? The evidence would indicate no. Past rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court have said that states have a great degree of latitude when it comes to containing infectious diseases, though that power is not without its limits. Executive orders during a state of emergency can go too far or last too long. It’s interesting that no one was concerned about the governor’s emergency powers under state code until now. Since the Republicans became the majority in the Legislature in 2015, there have been no attempts to amend these powers.

Now let’s turn to the leftward side of the political spectrum. While these right-wing protesters want everything opened now and all executive orders rescinded, there are some that would have us stay inside for another month or longer. They thought the governor’s executive orders were not strict enough. They question the downward trend in positive cases and the methodology being used to justify reopening. They want mandatory testing for everyone. They want businesses to stay closed.

Some have called them social distance warriors, a take on social justice warriors. They want nearly all risk eliminated before the world can restart. They want to save every life. Some of them even want to use this crisis to push their pet public policy ideas. And in the meantime, they’ll pull out their rulers to make sure you’re 6 feet apart.

Look folks, it’s hard to prove a negative. The same goes for “do you want people to die?” I imagine the answer most people would have is no, they don’t want anyone to die. But people do. That doesn’t make you insensitive or selfish. But life is about risks and weighing those risks. It was before the pandemic, and that hasn’t changed.

If you don’t feel safe going out into the world, then you should stay inside. No judgment here. If you’re a business owner who doesn’t feel comfortable opening, then don’t and don’t let impatient customers pressure you to open. People with chronic health issues and above a certain age have always been more susceptible to viruses and disease. They weigh those risks all the time.

But staying completely shut down even as evidence continues to come out that more people have had the coronavirus earlier than originally thought also is going to kill people. We’re already in a recession because of this and before it is said and done that could become a small depression. That’s going to kill people too and cause long-term misery.

The whole purpose of the last month and a half was to slow the spread of the virus — not completely prevent it from spreading — and to help hospitals prepare so they didn’t get slammed with COVID patients taking up ICU beds. West Virginia has accomplished that.

As my own family doctor said recently, we now have to figure out how to live with this virus and work around it. Now we need to trust our people, who have largely followed state and federal social distancing guidelines. We can’t rush into lifting all restrictions like the alt-right wants, but we can’t stay locked down as the left wing wants either.

(Adams is the state government reporter for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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