Thoughts on West Virginia’s COVID-19 resurgence

The one bad thing about the election season being over is now having to re-focus on COVID-19, which is finally starting to really balloon in West Virginia.

It’s not that the coronavirus isn’t an important story. It very much is, but it’s also a story I’ve been on mostly non-stop since March. As tired as I feel covering it, I can’t even imagine how state and county health officials feel right now, or West Virginia National Guard members, or those in the medical profession, or funeral homes, etc.

A bunch of people have been on the frontlines of battling this virus since the beginning. It can be depressing to look at the numbers day in and day out, especially now that the numbers are shooting up on a rocket ship ride, though not the kind Gov. Jim Justice frequently talks about.

We are now at the point where we’re seeing an average of more than 450 cases per day over seven days. Last Tuesday saw 661 cases reported in one day. Each week is bringing a new record.

I see many people writing these numbers off as not a big deal. After all, only 1.5 percent of the state population has even been infected. Only 3 percent of all tests have come back positive after testing 46.4 percent of the state’s population. Depending on the county you live in, it’s possible you may not know anyone who has become infected. If you do, it’s likely you know someone who showed no symptoms or mild symptoms. You may not know anyone who has died.

But deaths have happened. More than 555 deaths at the time I pen this column. We had 16 deaths in one day last week. We’re even starting to see more deaths of people in their 40s. Again, it’s easy to point to statistics to make yourself feel better. In West Virginia, our case fatality rate is only 1.8 percent.

The problem with trying to point to these statistics to say it’s not so bad glosses over the fact that things are getting worse, not better. And until a vaccine is ready for the general public — which is looking like closer to March even if the Pfizer vaccine gets emergency authorization at the end of the month — we’re in for some tough times.

Yes, West Virginia’s numbers compared to those of surrounding states and the nation as a whole are good. The problem is our numbers are bad for us. We have 1.8 million people. A majority of our population are seniors. A majority have major health disparities, such as obesity, diabetes, chronic lung issues. We’re practically kindling waiting on a match.

We know all of this. It has been explained over and over. That’s probably part of the problem. We’ve tuned it all out. We were warned in the Spring, but it never hit us hard during March and April. Our first COVID-19 death wasn’t reported until the end of March. Even then, we’d see one or two deaths per day. Cases and deaths ticked up in the Summer into early Fall, but even then, it didn’t seem so horrific. Now that things are starting to get bad, people have tuned out the pleas for mask-wearing, social distancing, avoiding large groups.

Our Appalachian fatalism has finally taken control, unfortunately. The only thing that appears to matter to people is whether their children and grandchildren can play sportsball, regardless of the color of their county, or whether their schools are closed. The state has tried to play both sides, saying on one hand that school is more important than sports, but then delaying the school re-entry map update until nearly midnight last Saturday to quadruple check the data to make sure they don’t make a county orange and ruin their football playoff chances.

People see large protests and celebrations on TV by people with different political views and wonder why those events are not criticized, but they’re told they’re wrong for going to church. The mere act of wearing a mask remains a political issue for reasons I can’t explain. In some states, they’re shutting down bars and restaurants again, even though most of the current spread is due to small gatherings, many times in people’s homes.

What do we do? More lockdowns? There is certainly evidence that it helped states build up supplies and helped hospitals prepare for what we’re dealing with now with increased hospitalizations, but it didn’t really stop the virus (the idea of stopping a virus in the first place is ludicrous).

What about enforcement of mask-wearing? Ohio Gov. Mike Dewine is trying that through regulations versus criminal penalties. West Virginia has an indoor mask requirement, but it’s largely toothless. Justice has consistently said everything is on the table if cases keep going up, but he has declined to detail those plans, but shutdowns don’t appear to be returning anytime soon.

I have no answers. I can only report and cover the people who are supposed to be coming up with the answers and solutions. But we do need to be better people. We need to come together (metaphorically) and wear our masks, keep our distance, and be mindful of older citizens and at-risk populations.

It’s up to us, folks.

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


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