Betty Rivard: Gov. Justice has to do more in virus fight (Opinion) | Op-Ed Commentaries | #students | #parents

A little more than a year ago, my sons told me they were coming in for my 75th birthday and that I should plan to have a party. My older son’s wife and my younger son’s girlfriend came with them.

On Saturday, we had an early Thanksgiving with my ex-husband and an old family friend. We gathered close together on stools around the small bar in his kitchen and enjoyed his fine cooking of the traditional dishes.

On Sunday afternoon, we ended up with over 75 guests coming in and out of my modest house. Fortunately, it was mild enough to overflow onto the porch. No speeches and no gifts, but I ended up with a basket full of cards, which I still treasure. Lots of sweet hugs. Lots of great food that kept being brought out in the dining room and kitchen for all of us to share.

Both days, we were at close quarters with not even any thought of wearing masks. There is no way of knowing when we can again meet like this safely on benchmark birthdays or holidays, or even in smaller groups, sharing good food and watching sports or listening to music or whatever we most enjoy doing together.

Many of us have given up on in-person church services in favor of Zoom or Facebook Live. For some of us, joining together every week in a dear church building with our loving church family for worship and fellowship can be one of the things we most depend on and miss the most as an integral part of our day-to-day lives.

Sacrificing all of these kinds of experiences can contribute to a sense of grieving for what we have lost. This feeling is real and can come in waves, as with any grieving process. We can feel a sense of disorientation when we least expect it. It takes time and energy to attend to this feeling and get through it, again and again.

At the same time, we know that not everyone is making these sacrifices.

The county where I lived for more than 30 years and still own a farm has spiked from no cases to high double digits in a matter of weeks. Neighbors tell me about a party hosted by a high school student who tested positive for COVID-19 and his friends who were infected in the aftermath. I hear about stores where there are few precautions and about how few people are wearing face masks.

The governor continues to use his news conferences to report increased numbers of outbreaks in schools, nursing homes and churches. The numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise. These are clearly not just a result of increased testing, as helpful as that can be.

I can feel a sense of desperation in the questions of reporters who ask what more we can do. The governor continues to mourn the dead and note how well we are doing compared to other states. He pleads again and again for more testing and more mask wearing. As I write this, he has noted in his most recent news conference that he himself can no longer run, but that he will walk to any fire to help put it out.

He also goes on at length about the dangers of shutting things down as he paints a drastic picture of this scenario. He occasionally admits that it might be necessary to do this again at some point. He also gives impassioned speeches about how our country is based on freedom and how essential this is to who we are.

I think about the notions of public health and public safety. With relationship to public safety, we accept essential restrictions not only on criminal behavior but also on basic daily functions, like speed limits, wearing seat belts and motorcycle and bike helmets.

Some of us can remember when seat belts and helmets were a hard sell. While there is still controversy over helmets, we have complied with and enforced these laws to save our own lives and the lives of others.

Why are masks any different in the midst of a pandemic that threatens our public health? We know that wearing masks, along with keeping a safe distance from each other and good hygiene and sanitation, will protect and save lives. These practices can help us to keep most things open safely, instead of waiting for spikes that create suffering and death and compel us to close things down.

There is so much more Gov. Justice can do. Flood the media with public service ads promoting face masks and other good practices after next week’s election. Enforce the regulations that are already in place, including in bars and restaurants and other businesses. End any exemptions for churches. Come to terms with the issues related to sports and close physical contact.

Gov. Justice must stop making excuses for people’s bad behaviors based on the enshrinement of freedom.

He needs to fully fund and enforce whatever protections are required in schools, nursing homes and prisons. Invest in making sure that all of our citizens, including residents of minority and lower-income communities, have the basic necessities of income, food, shelter and health care, so they can live healthy lives.

We all need the governor to stop throwing up his hands in the face of what he refers to as this killer virus. Running or walking to the fire continues to be like closing the barn door after the horse has gotten out.

Gov. Justice has the power and the resources to do so much more than what he is doing. Regardless of the results of the election, this is the leadership that we must have in our state right now to prevent the over 1,200 new deaths and the suffering that are projected for our state by the end of this year if we continue down this same path.

Gov. Justice needs to do whatever it takes to get this job done. Whether he continues as governor or not, I feel confident that the majority of us who are at the highest risk are solidly in his corner. I know we will do whatever we can to remind our fellow citizens of exactly what is at stake here and the sacrifices that are already being made.

We also will do whatever we can do to help those around us make the changes they must make in their own lives to protect all of us.

Betty Rivard, of Charleston, is a retired social worker and planner for the

West Virginia Department of

Health and Human Resources.

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