In a recent press conference I saw our governor throw up his hands and say, “What more can I do?” At a later presser he asked people who support his mask mandate to call in to share their support.
I also read where we are currently on track for as many as 2,000 to 4,000 total deaths in our state by the beginning of March. The numbers being reported even now make me gasp when I hear them. Cases multiplying exponentially. Nursing home hot spots doubling in little more than a week. Deaths reported now over 700 and, with a lag time after cases and then hospitalizations go up, expected to dramatically increase.
In another Hail-Mary, here are actions our governor can take if he chooses to do so:
- Ignore what I or anyone else think about masks and follow the science. As we are told at every press conference, masks are our best hope right now. It does not matter what I think. This is not a game where you keep score for one side or another. Facts count.
- Stop acting like this is a temporary burden that we will soon be able to lay down. Getting the vaccine is only a step. Dr. Fauci and other epidemiology specialists say that it may well be the end of next year before we can take off our masks. Accept that they know more about the science than anyone in the country or the world and listen to them.
- Urge his friends, our senator and congresspeople in the Republican party, to move quickly now to support another stimulus package as a down payment for next year. Do whatever it takes to arrive at an agreement in the House and the Senate. Our people depend on this.
- Reexamine our state’s balance of the current unspent CARES Act funds and move quickly to use them now to help people to stay safe and healthy in their own homes. Make sure they have the food, water, and heat that they must have to survive. Keep them from losing their homes and being pushed out into the streets with no place to live.
- Stop talking like it is the end of the world if businesses, churches, or sports have to shut down. We must stop community spread however we can. Keeping our essential workers, our students and teachers, and all citizens safe is more important than indulging in the luxury of some people to gather in person to eat, drink, shop, pray, cheer or play. This is not too much to give up now to protect the rest of us so that we may stay healthy, live and fully join into doing these things sooner rather than later.
- Think about who is really making the sacrifice here, day in and day out, by having to stay in, limit activities and avoid contacts with others, including those in our own families, who may put us at risk. The quality of our lives and our freedom to live are as important as those of anyone else in our state.
- Stop picking winners and losers. We cannot leave our homes or our nursing homes or our prisons or jails or wherever to stand outside the governor’s door in order to pressure him. He must speak up for us by standing firm in following the science to protect us.
- Invest what is needed to enhance home-based learning. Along with this, provide childcare as needed to support parents in doing what it takes to maintain their income.
- Provide paid leave for family members to stay home as needed to quarantine due to their own exposure to or positive test for the coronaivirus or to protect those who work with or depend on them for care.
- Finally, consider doing whatever it takes to really change our culture to accept the wearing of masks as the norm. In some cities and states in our country, and in some other countries, no one is leaving their home without wearing a mask, and if they do they are viewed as an outlier. They know they are protecting themselves and others by taking this one simple step.
A third purpose can inspire us to wear a mask even when we are young and healthy and outside and can stay away from other people. This third purpose is to set an example and serve as a visible role model for the critical and life-saving protection of wearing a mask.
Last week, two old friends stopped by with a delivery and we talked for awhile on my large front porch, at a distance and with masks on. One of them, a retired science teacher, told us about an experiment that she used to do with the kids in her classes.
She would go into the far corner of the classroom and spray a small amount of scent. Then the kids would raise their hands as the aerosols carrying the scent spread across the room and each student could smell them. It sounded like doing the wave at Mountaineer Field.
This is how COVID-19 is primarily spread, from person to person, through the air. How many times have you passed someone and caught a whiff of their perfume or other scent? The coronavirus travels like this and can carry the infection to you, or from you to them.
The mask, along with keeping a distance and washing our hands, is the best protection we have right now to stop the traveling coronavirus from infecting ourselves or others.
My friend also noted that we all now accept longstanding restrictions that protect ourselves and others by wearing a shirt and shoes in a restaurant, wearing a seatbelt, wearing a helmet and limiting where people may smoke. Some of us are old enough to remember the times when our culture changed to accept each of these restrictions.
We must likewise change our culture now to one where the norm is to wear masks.
By wearing them whenever we go out we are demonstrating our personal commitment to reducing suffering and deaths as well as protecting ourselves and others whenever we pass close by.
The governor must take these suggestions to heart. These are all things that Gov. Justice has the power to do or to provide active leadership to cause them to happen.
We need him to step up to the plate now more than ever before. The health and survival of our beloved West Virginians are in his hands. He cannot just throw his hands up in the air while this pandemic overtakes us.
Only the governor can do this. He must stand tall and provide the leadership that we need for the benefit of all of us.
Betty Rivard, of Charleston, is a retired social worker and planner for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.