Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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May 20

The Times West Virginian on the importance of completing the census:

If you could help your state for free with only five minutes of your time, would you do it?

The 2020 census has been available to fill out since March, yet West Virginia remains one of the states with the very lowest response rates in the country at 47.2%.

Government census data is the basis for many important things to our state, and low response rates could cause major cuts in funding for numerous programs that help communities in West Virginia.

This can affect historically undercounted groups the most, such as immigrants and people of color.

Some low response rates have been linked to fear and distrust of the government, with minority groups worried that their responses could be held against them or used to deport undocumented residents — especially after the very public legal battle over including a citizenship question on the census, which the Trump administration ultimately lost.

There is no citizenship question on the census, and the information provided cannot be used against you. By federal law, census information is only allowed to be used to generate statistics. It is completely safe and important to respond to the census questionnaire.

Accurate representation of our citizens will be linked to aid from nonprofit organizations, public health funds, emergency and disaster response, education funding and veterans’ assistance. Accurate census data is also important for many studies within the scientific and academic communities.

Additionally, new businesses will use census data in the course of their marketing research to determine where to locate new businesses. The higher our census response rate, the more people are represented by our data and the more likely we are to have incoming business and economic development.

It’s currently predicted that based on census data, West Virginia will lose a seat in the House of Representatives and an electoral college vote. This loss of representation hurts everyone in our state, regardless of demographics, and while it will likely happen regardless, we all must make our voices heard.

If you haven’t responded to your census questionnaire, you can do so by either filling out the form you recieved in the mail and returning it, calling the Census Bureau at 844-330-2020, or visiting the census website at www.my2020census.gov.

For households who have not responded to the census questionnaire using one of these methods, census takers will begin traveling for in-person interviews on May 27 to get as much accurate data as possible.

It has never been easier or faster to take a measurable step to improve our state. We hope each person reading this who hasn’t responded to the census takes time today to do so.

Online: https://www.timeswv.com

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May 19

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph on increasing testing taking place in a West Virginia county:

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic back in March, state officials have been working to ramp up testing to help track the virus. In West Virginia, more than 76,000 people had been tested for COVID-19 as of May 18. Of that number, 1,491 individuals have tested positive for the virus with 67 deaths in the Mountain State attributed to COVID-19.

Locally, more than 400 people were tested for the virus on May 15 and 16 at Bluefield State College, as part of a two-day testing program held in coordination with the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs. Dr. Deidre Guyton, liaison/coordinator of the testing initiative and director of Alumni Affairs at Bluefield State College, said the total number of tests administered during the two-day period was 404.

“I am glad we got the numbers we did,” Guyton told the Daily Telegraph. “But we still didn’t get what we wanted.”

Guyton said the people who showed up for testing was a mix of everyone and all ages. She said the testing was a way to provide those without insurance and more at-risk residents an opportunity to be tested for free. According to Guyton, the results of the two-days of testing should be ready this week and that information will be sent to the Mercer County Health Department.

So what does all of this mean? Well, for starters, it would be great for all 404 of those test results to come back negative. But with that many people being tested at one time, there is a possibility that we could see a few more positive test results. If so, our number of confirmed cases also would increase.

As of the evening of May 18, Mercer County was still holding at 13 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and nine of those involve individuals who have already recovered from the virus and are now out of quarantine. In terms of contact tracing, a total of 181 people who had contact with the original 13 positive COVID-19 cases have been isolated over the past couple of weeks. There are now only nine individuals identified through contact tracing that remain in isolation.

We look forward to finding out the results of those 404 tests that were administered over the weekend. That data could help in providing a better picture of whether the virus is still prevalent in Mercer County.

We urge the Mercer County Health Department to make this information available to the public as soon as possible.

Online: https://www.bdtonline.com

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May 19

The Herald-Dispatch on West Virginia's reopening strategy:

Did the governor cave, or did he yield to the demands of his constituents?

Are plans for a gradual and orderly reopening of the West Virginia economy in danger of being subverted by a populace that is tired of waiting out the novel coronavirus?

This week could be significant in answering the second question. West Virginians seem to be divided on how to approach the virus when it comes to wearing masks in public. People who voluntarily wear masks to protect others are in the minority in many areas. Meanwhile, the return of warm weather this weekend showed that many people are eager for a return to the pre-coronavirus days.

A controversy last week showed that many West Virginians think their state government is moving too slowly.

As described by The Herald-Dispatch reporter Taylor Stuck, Gov. Jim Justice said last week he had received an “awful amount of calls” from frustrated gym owners who were seeing other gyms “push the envelope” of his order permitting wellness centers operated by hospitals or licensed health care providers to reopen. One of the gyms “pushing the envelope” was Snap Fitness, which has locations in Cabell, Putnam and Kanawha counties.

Eric Tarr, owner of Snap Fitness, a physical therapist and Republican Putnam County state senator, interpreted the order to mean he could fully open his gym. Tarr’s family operates Generations Physical Therapy, which has been operating throughout the stay-at-home order as an essential business. Generations operates out of five Snap Fitness locations.

Several YMCAs in the state asked why they could not open too. Bob White, owner of Nautilus Fitness Centers in Charleston, said he would open his gym this week despite state orders.

That defiance became moot on May 14, when Justice announced that all gyms in the state could reopen this week.

So now what? Are public health officials’ plans for a slow, controlled reopening about to crumble under the weight of public demands for a quicker one? Public health officials are focused on limiting damages from the pandemic. For many West Virginians, those efforts are causing more harm to the public in general than the coronavirus itself is.

Who is right? It depends on what you value most and whose opinions you trust.

As for Justice and his advisers, it may be a losing battle. He has a re-election campaign underway, and he has to consider public opinion as he confers with public health experts.

Memorial Day weekend is almost upon us. People will be traveling despite any “stay at home” or “safer at home” orders. Actually, they already are. They aren’t just “pushing the envelope.” They’ve torn through it.

West Virginians aren’t alone. People in many states that have not been hit as hard by the virus are already returning to the old normal as best they can.

The experts who predicted a wave of COVID-19 patients swamping hospitals unless stay-at-home orders were put in place are now warning we could see a second wave of infections if people go back to their pre-coronavirus habits.

The experts have spoken. So has the public. Now we see whose prediction will be more accurate.

Online: https://www.herald-dispatch.com