MORGANTOWN — Even as COVID case numbers are edging back up, Gov. Jim Justice celebrated a mild victory Tuesday, noting there had been no COVID-related deaths reported since Friday.
“Remember this day,” he said. “We’ve come a long ways. We’re still not out of the woods, we know that. … Remember July 20.”
Active cases had been trending steadily downward since April 11, when there were 7,470, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources dashboard. They bottomed out at 882 July 9, but then began inching back upward, reaching 1,115 Sunday and dipping a bit Monday to 1,098.
COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh talked about what’s going on across the country, particularly with the Delta variant. Monday saw the highest number of new cases in several months, at 55,000. The average number of daily cases last week was over 32,000, double that of two weeks ago. Hospitalizations and deaths are also rising again.
And the un-vaccinated or partially vaccinated are paying the price, he said: 97.5% of the hospitalizations, 99% of the deaths; 83% of the new cases are Delta. West Virginia’s Tuesday Delta count was still 22, but the new numbers from genetic testing that discriminates among the variants hadn’t come in yet.
Much of Tuesday’s discussion focused on schools.
The Dominion Post raised the issue of balancing public safety against personal liberty — as in the cases of seat belts and motorcycle helmets — and pointed out that a federal judge recently ruled that Indiana State University’s vaccine mandate is legal.
Given the rising numbers and the Delta variant, we asked if the state should seriously consider a vaccine mandate for higher education institutions.
Justice acknowledged that safety vs. liberty is a “compelling argument. … For the most part, folks understand that.”
But, he said, “As of this moment in time right now, I don’t see any reason to move forward or change course from where we are. … It is an individual choice at this time.”
It’s easier for people to get vaccinated than to rely on federal mandates, he said. But if things turn nasty, it may be too late for the federal mandates that ensue.
“We just don’t want more folks to die,” he said.
On K-12 education, Marsh said that the American Academy of Pediatrics has gone beyond CDC guidance to recommend that every child older than 2 wear a mask in school. That prompted a series of questions about what will unfold in West Virginia.
Justice said the education and medical communities will weigh in on that, and more information will emerge as school opening approaches. “Things would have to change off the chart … to require masks for kids where we are today. … We’ll see as we get closer.”
One reporter asked Justice about the Mylan Pharmaceuticals plant in Morgantown, citing Tuesday’s story in The Dominion Post that Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, has written a letter to the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency asking them to designate the plant as critical infrastructure needed to maintain national security.
Justice said he received his copy of the letter and forwarded it to the Commerce Department (which also received a copy).
Concerning the federal government, he said, “We have reached out and reached out and reached out. … Anything we can do, we want to do. … We’ll continue to work it in every way, until we get a good resolution.”