Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:


Dec. 8

The Charleston Gazette-Mail on Gov. Jim Justice comparing West Virginia to other states that have higher COVID-19 death tolls:

Before Gov. Jim Justice read the ages and counties of residence for 42 West Virginians who had died over the weekend from COVID-19, he compared what was happening in the Mountain State to bordering states, emphasizing the higher death totals from the pandemic in those places.

But it’s not a legitimate comparison. West Virginia was at 841 deaths on Monday morning. Yes, there have been more than 2,250 COVID-19 deaths in Kentucky, and 6,960 in Ohio. But Kentucky’s population is around 4.5 million, and Ohio’s nearly 11.7 million, while West Virginia’s is less than 1.7 million. When viewing the numbers per capita, West Virginia isn’t doing much better than the states around it.

Justice’s continuing comparisons to South Dakota, which has a smaller population but has taken little action to try and curb the spread of the virus, and is therefore seeing higher case numbers and deaths, is more apt. It shows what can happen in a rural state without mask mandates, cancelations of large events and aggressive testing.

When it comes down to it, though, comparisons to other states aren’t that helpful. Residents and state public health officials should certainly be mindful of what is happening in border states, especially because so many West Virginians frequently travel across state lines for work, to buy things like groceries or for other purposes. But looking at the raw data in other states and declaring West Virginia is better off because of lower numbers presents a false sense of security.

Gov. Justice and his public health officials have been treating the threat seriously enough, but Justice undermines his own authority when he presents other states as doing worse.

West Virginia clearly has its own problems right now. Catapulting past 800 deaths is alarming enough, along with passing 50,000 total cases and active cases edging toward 20,000, while hospitalizations remain above 600. It’s also worth noting that 17 West Virginia counties were color-coded as orange on Monday, meaning there’s a high risk of infection, and 14 were red, the highest level of risk. That’s more than half the state, while another 10 were gold (a color added to get more counties out of orange) and eight were yellow, while six were green. Keep in mind these maps have been adjusted to allow each county to take whichever metric is lower out of cases per capita or percentage of tests that are positive, which helps keep risk levels lower on paper. Even with adjusted standards, the state is becoming overwhelmed.

Vaccines are on the way. In the meantime, West Virginians need to stay focused on themselves and their surrounding communities, rather than worrying about what is happening elsewhere.



Dec. 8

The Journal on shopping locally during the holiday season:

It is no fault of billionaire Jeff Bezos that COVID-19 is the grinch who stole Christmas from many people in our communities. Bezos did not bring the virus to our country. We have no hesitation in suggesting that if he could end the epidemic by spending his entire fortune, he would do so.

Still, the coronavirus has increased Bezos’ wealth greatly. He is the founder of the online marketing goliath Amazon, which has never been more popular than now.

Tens of millions of Americans will do most, if not all, their holiday season shopping with Amazon and online retailers like it. They will argue that it simply is not safe for them to patronize local brick-and-mortar stores.

Local retailers, from mom-and-pop specialty shops to the big-box stores, rely on Christmas shoppers for significant chunks of the revenue that keeps them open year-round. If they have a bad holiday shopping season, they suffer terribly. Some many not survive long into the new year.

So what? Well, put on your thinking cap for a moment.

How many local residents work for Amazon? In all likelihood, not too many. Yet thousands of our friends, family members and neighbors rely on local stores to put bread and butter on the table.

What portion of local taxes — supporting our schools, law enforcement and dozens of other local government services — are paid by Amazon? Again, you guessed it: None, unless local sales taxes net a few pennies from online retailers.

And what happens when we need donations to support worthwhile local initiatives ranging from youth baseball to helping the needy at Christmas? Don’t bother asking Bezos for a contribution. Amazon doesn’t do local worthy causes, except in very rare situations.

Local retailers — many of whom have their own websites, by the way — are the very lifeblood of our communities. In a very real way, they are us.

Don’t let Amazon be the grinch who stole Christmas from them — and thus, our communities. Shop at home, if you can while staying safe. On Dec. 25, the knowledge you have supported local retailers will make your Christmas brighter.



Dec. 8

The Herald-Dispatch on reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic:

“Close the bars and keep the schools open.”

Those were the words of Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s coronavirus czar, in advising state and local officials throughout the nation on whether children should return to school.

Here in this area, we should modify a famous movie quote when the topic of remote learning comes up: Show us the science.

We’ve had six months or more of contact tracing. By now we should know in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky whether K-12 schools are a hotspot of coronavirus spread. There has been research elsewhere showing schools are not a primary source of spreading the virus.

The approach West Virginia has been using has been authoritarian and chaotic. Gov. Jim Justice and his advisers developed and tweaked a map that determines whether students should be in classrooms and — seemingly more important — who can and cannot engage in athletic contests.

The result: Many students are falling behind in their learning. They’re spending more time staring into a computer screen than in personal contact with a teacher. They’ve become isolated from their friends.

Justice and his advisers need to explain the science behind why schools are closed and why children must rely on remote learning. If schools aren’t behind the increase in COVID-19 cases, why are they still closed?

People are still going to work in retail stores, restaurants, health care facilities and other places where they come in contact with the public. Let’s see the numbers that explain why spending seven or eight hours in a school is so much worse than the same number of hours in a supermarket.

We may have to treat high schools differently from elementary schools and middle schools. High school students are more mobile, are engaged in more after-school activities and are more likely to have jobs. Their life situations differ from those of younger students, so they may have to rely more on remote learning for the time being, but younger children would benefit more from being in the classroom five days a week.

Back in March, the world was just getting used to the novel coronavirus. We had a lot of information, but there was much we didn’t know. Governors were too eager to jump in and take charge of deciding who was essential, who could go out in public and what common activities we would have to give up. School was shut down. There were attempts at remote learning, but for all intents and purposes, the school year ended two months early.

For many students, they’re still closed.

Life is a series of risk assessments. Children shouldn’t have to wait until summer for the widespread deployment of one or more COVID vaccines before governors allow schools to open.

If schools must be closed, show us the numbers that justify it.