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Backsliding Into a Wave Of Death in West Virginia

Let’s hope the third time really is the charm, because we West Virginians have botched our first two opportunities to emerge from the COVID-19 epidemic.

It appears we’re at the crest of the third wave of coronavirus devastation in the Mountain State. We’re not handling it well. For a few days, we had the worst rate of COVID-19 transmission in the nation.

Late last spring, it appeared we might get through the epidemic better than any of our fellow Americans. At the end of May, our COVID-19 death toll was 74 people. Every life is precious, of course, but many other states had far higher fatality rates.

It seemed for a few weeks that we were winning. Then, the second wave hit. It appeared to be fueled largely by West Virginians vacationing in Myrtle Beach and bringing the virus home with them, and by infections among a few church groups.

Then, after a brief period of decline, the third wave has hit. How bad is it? Just a month ago, the epidemic had claimed 153 lives in West Virginia. By the end of last week, that had climbed to 257 — a 68% increase in just a month.

Contrast that with Ohio. During the same month, the fatality list there went from 3,734 people to 4,064 — just 8.8% more.

What are we doing wrong? Two words: overconfidence and apathy.

After six months of being told that if we didn’t stay away from work, skip church services, wear face masks, wash our hands frequently and practice social distancing, many West Virginians have noticed the sky didn’t fall on them.

It appears some have decided the coronavirus scare is a plot to erode their personal liberties. If so, it’s a heckuva well-done one. The last time I looked, COVID-19 had killed more than 191,000 Americans.

The sky has fallen on them and their families.

But that’s the thing: COVID-19 is deadly to older people with pre-existing health conditions. At last count, nearly 92% of the fatalities in our country were people 55 years of age and older. People in the 25-44 age range accounted for just 2.8% of the deaths.

Many of them, not to mention college-age kids who are even less at risk, have decided they don’t have to worry about the virus. Either it hasn’t occurred to them that their mild cough may mean they’re transmitting the virus to every older person with whom they come in contact — or they don’t care.

A great many younger West Virginians are doing their part. Bless their hearts — seriously. But enough people in our state of all ages are not that the death toll, already soaring, may get much worse.

It reminds me of the old joke/warning about quitting smoking. A smoker, asked if he’d thought about kicking the habit, said he probably would … some day. “It’s not hard,” he explained, “I’ve done it three or four times.”

But the line between a pack-a-day habit and quitting entirely is very thin and to easy to cross — especially for those who managed to abstain for a few months, then lit up again.

So it may have been with COVID-19 in West Virginia. Instead of keeping up the good work that produced two lulls in the epidemic, we “backslid.” People are dying needlessly.

Aren’t we West Virginians better people than to allow that to happen?

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.


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