We are at a tipping point. COVID-19 infection rates and hospitalizations continue to climb. Our cumulative positive rate is now above 5%. 1,570 West Virginians have died. The entire state is a sea of “red” on the DHHR map, showing high infection rates and daily percent positives. Public health is in peril. If we do not stop the spread now, “normal life” will slip further and further from our grasp.
What can we do to turn it around? In short, listen to the science.
Science says we need to test more. We can do this by offering additional daily free testing sites. Science says mask up. We can do this in public, businesses, and private residences when not with your immediate family. Science recommends restricting social movements. All public health officials agree that social gatherings, large and small, are driving this unsustainable community spread of COVID infections. They can easily turn into super-spread events which put us all at risk. Science says get vaccinated to protect yourself and our community. Our vaccination rate in West Virginia is among the highest in the nation and must continue.
State and community members in positions of public trust must lead by example. The legislature is set to convene for a single day on January 13 and then for a 60-day session on February 10. We must lead by example by funding public health, wearing masks, social distancing, and limiting our own in-person gatherings to stop the spread. In our businesses, practices, and churches outside of the capitol, we too must follow all state guidelines.
There can be no double standards for us or for anyone, including Governor Justice. The New Year’s Eve celebration at The Greenbrier, which was made known via social media video, showed exactly the kind of social gatherings we must avoid. Moreover, if our leaders don’t abide by the rules, it undercuts the credibility of the entire public health response.
Consistency is key. We do not have all the answers. We know this situation is changing quickly as data becomes available. But we know from experience that in times of turbulence, consistent leadership helps calm the waters.
We need consistency now. Why are schools reopening immediately but sports and extracurricular activities, which are vital to social-emotional health of young people, are postponed until spring? Why are we opening schools with only some school employees receiving a single shot rather than all school employees receiving both doses of the vaccine as science recommends? Why are some essential workers treated as more essential than others? Why are we vaccinating the elderly but not the immunocompromised? Why is the color-coded map, once touted as a national innovation, now facing elimination?
There is light at the end of the tunnel now: vaccination is underway in the state. But we know it isn’t effective immediately. Until a large majority of the population is vaccinated, we need to keep taking precautions and following guidelines. All of us. No exceptions. Because every party or maskless family gathering puts us all at risk.
We are at a tipping point. If we protect public health, we save lives and we save our economy. We must follow the science to protect public health. Everything we’ve done to this point will be for naught unless we finish strong. We can turn it around; we can stop the spread. We must.
— Senate Democratic Caucus: Senators Baldwin, Beach, Caputo, Lindsay, Stollings, Woelfel, Ihlenfeld, Unger