Charleston Gazette-Mail. May 10, 2021.

Editorial: Can WV hit benchmark for ending mask mandate?

Last week, Gov. Jim Justice said he would be rescinding his executive order that masks be worn inside businesses and public buildings by West Virginia Day — June 20. The caveat is that West Virginia’s population must hit a COVID-19 vaccination rate of 65%.

It’s an admirable goal, and offering an incentive to hit that mark (ditching the, as Justice has put it, “egg-sucking masks”) could pay off, to the benefit of public health.

The feasibility of the proposition needs to be examined, though.

There’s the question of whether 65% is enough of a vaccination rate to resume life without masks and, presumably, social distancing, along with limits on gatherings. It’s hard to come up with a definitive answer here, because federal guidelines and opinions on the topic have shifted, although the most consistent number has been 70%. West Virginia COVID-19 czar Dr. Clay Marsh said he believes 65% is good enough.

That might be a wait-and-see type of issue. First, West Virginia has to get there.

The latest numbers released by the Department of Health and Human Resources show the state is on the cusp of a 38% full vaccination rate — meaning 680,025 West Virginians have either received both shots of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It’s about a 2% increase from late last week, showing a slow climb of around half a percent per day. Some days are busier than others, and the weekend seems to be an especially slow time for vaccinations, but this incremental gain from day to day has been the norm for a while now.

West Virginia has 40 days to get another 27% of its population vaccinated to hit Justice’s benchmark. If the state rate is only growing by 0.5% a day, by June 20 West Virginia would be about 7% shy.

That’s not to say the daily rate won’t go up. And maybe the goal of getting rid of the mask mandate will encourage such a change. However, Justice again sent mixed signals last week when he unveiled his plan. When asked if he would extend the mandate if it became clear the state wouldn’t hit the goal, Justice seemed to indicate he’d lift the order anyway, before again saying that he might have to “pivot” if not enough people are getting vaccinated.

If the governor is going to lift the mask mandate by June 20 no matter what, that doesn’t do anything to encourage more West Virginians to get vaccinated. To then go on and suggest he might extend the mask mandate sent a vague and confusing message.

Perhaps Justice doesn’t want to dampen enthusiasm about what he sees as an attainable goal, but straddling the fence doesn’t help. The governor needs to be clear and firm on what the goal is, and what happens if it isn’t met.


(Fairmont) Times West Virginian. May 9, 2021.

Editorial: School boards work best in the open

The Marion County Board of Education is in the process of hiring a new leader after School Superintendent Randy Farley announced he will retire June 30.

However, the public knows little about the process, who has applied for the position, nor has been given a chance to provide any input in the process.

Every aspect of government functions better in the open, whether it’s a small town council in Idaho, a county commission in Arizona or our very own Marion County Board of Education.

Residents, particularly parents of children who attend Marion County Schools, deserve an open and forthright system that welcomes new ideas, and gives parents and taxpayers a platform to be heard.

Open government goes far beyond being able to view a school board or a county commission’s financial statements. (To view the Marion County Board of Education’s finances, go online at Open government also involves an approach that seeks to disseminate information in a proactive manner to ensure every consumer is reached.

Hiring a school superintendent is a huge decision. After all, the school superintendent is the chief executive officer of the entire school system.

In many states and in numerous jurisdictions across the U.S., school boards host multiple town hall events where they introduce the three to five school superintendent finalists to the public.

At these town hall events, the finalists are allowed to discuss their backgrounds, why they entered public education and also get an opportunity to cast his or her vision for the school district with the children being priority No. 1. And, first and foremost, the public gets to ask questions to the finalists.

No such events are planned here in Marion County.

And there is one other way in which the Board of Education can increase transparency and provide more accountability to the voters, parents and taxpayers.

Each school board member has every right to speak on the issues being taken up at each meeting. It’s appalling when a reporter calls a board of education member and his or her only response is, “Have you talked to the board president?” This is how we’ve always done it is not the appropriate defense of such draconian policy.

The voters who elected each school board member deserve to know where his or her board member stands on every issue. Wondering where any elected official stands on an issue should never be left to guesswork.

Otherwise, when an elected official is not allowed to speak and have a voice, it’s quite likely he or she could be perceived as a do-nothing, simply taking up space. Marion County taxpayers who fund that school levy each year deserve better than this.

While we all understand the need to have a unified message that comes from the chairman of the board, each board member has the right to speak his or her mind and be heard, especially in a public meeting.

Preliminary budget numbers show the district could experience a $2.7 million budget shortfall, which they plan to fill using CARES Act funds. The question now becomes ‘How sustainable is this funding option?’ because we cannot count on another CARES Act bill in the future.

The bottom line is that open government functions best, even in times of crisis.


(Wheeling) The Intelligencer. May 10, 2021.

Editorial: Park Designation Should Help W.Va.

“We’re deeply honored, thrilled, delighted and just plain happy that this day came,” said New River Gorge National Park and Preserve Superintendent Lizzie Watts this past Wednesday.

Can you tell she’s excited? All West Virginians should share her enthusiasm for the new, 7,021-acre park, for which new signage was dedicated last week. The change in designation as now a national park is an enormous boost for the state, and certainly the economy in surrounding Fayette County. Of course, we know what a treasure we have always had in our midst (and that it is one of many), but those from across the country and globe who might be looking for travel destinations such as national parks will now have a much easier time discovering it, too.

Already there has been an increase in those visiting the region. According to the West Virginia Department of Tourism, visitation to Fayette County increased by 14 percent in the first quarter, compared with pre-pandemic 2019 numbers.

“If I were to give you projections even further out through the year, you would be even more impressed, because we are seeing higher and higher numbers,” said Secretary of Tourism Chelsea Ruby. “Everyone here will tell you bookings are up, travel is up, everything is up. We think this is just the beginning.”

Let us hope so. There is so much potential here in the Mountain State, that given the right access to resources and right support from communities, we could build this kind of excitement in every corner. For now, though, congratulations to those who worked to make our new national park a reality.