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Admit, and learn from, our COVID mistakes

During his briefing Thursday, Gov. Jim Justice announced the state would be launching a new online system to assist West Virginians in scheduling their COVID vaccine.

The state is contracting with a company called Everbridge to set up and operate the system, which will allow residents 65 years of age and older to sign up for the vaccine. It would then notify them, through an automated alert system, as to when their appointment is.

Teachers and school service personnel at least 50 years old, and other prioritized categories also would be included in the launch.

That’s good to hear. Hopefully, this system will provide some relief to our county health departments so they can focus on other responsibilities, including notifying residents of positive COVID tests, performing contact tracing or addressing other health-related services in their counties.

While we thank our state government for taking this step, quite frankly, it should have been done weeks ago. Part of being a leader is thinking ahead and preparing for a variety of eventualities. State officials should have known people would be rushing out there in an effort to try to get their doses of vaccine.

They also should have better communicated with the county health departments as to how distribution would take place, including a better idea on how many doses would be available and when they would arrive.

They should have set up schedules for vaccine clinics, hitting multiple areas of our state.

Instead, after the first doses of vaccine arrived within our borders and were delivered to those on the front lines of the pandemic (as they should have been) the solution was simply to say “Call your local health department.” I don’t know what things are like in Charleston, but our local health departments are operated by only a handful of people. Their staffs have been overwhelmed with phone calls from residents. In fact, they have set up their own web portals in an effort to help streamline the process.

I understand this is unknown territory for most of us. People have been scared for months. They are anxious and finally seeing some bit of hope this pandemic will be over. Not to mention, we have a large number of residents who now qualify to receive the vaccines, and not everyone has access to the internet.

I’m sure the governor will want a pat on the back for the state putting this system together, but, again, these are things which should have been considered when establishing a vaccine distribution plan. Better outreach and communication are needed between the state government and those on the local level. A scheduling system should have been put in place. The same is true from the federal government to the state level. There have been instances in recent weeks where West Virginia officials weren’t even sure when, or if, the state was going to receive a delivery of vaccine.

It just seems as if, in an effort to get as many “shots in arms” as possible, we may have rushed things a bit, overwhelming the people who are actually the boots on the ground getting the work done in the hopes of getting some good publicity.

Yes, there is some “goodness,” as our governor is fond of saying, in what has been taking place over the last month, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the hiccups and oversights in the process. We need to acknowledge the mistakes so we can learn from them in the event we are faced with similar circumstances in the future.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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