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Lives Being Saved Are Fellow West Virginians

Most of us have been dealing with numbers. It’s easier, that way. Thursday’s number was 370.

For Gov. Jim Justice and Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch, the numbers have been fellow West Virginians. Thursday’s was a 78-year-old man from Kanawha County. “Our sympathies are extended to this gentleman’s family,” Crouch commented.

Every day, during his video press conferences, Justice lists the most recent deaths from COVID-19. Out of respect, he doesn’t give names. He does announce the counties where they lived, their ages and genders.

“It is so important … that these great West Virginians don’t become just a number,” the governor said Wednesday. Then he asked viewers to keep the COVID victims and their families in our prayers.

Bless you, governor. You too, Secretary Crouch.

Every West Virginian’s death is a tragedy, as the two and others in state government have emphasized. Still, how they are announced here says something about us as a people and Justice as our governor.

During my time as a newspaperman, I’ve gotten pretty good at reading people — at spotting fakes. Believe me, there are plenty to spot in politics.

But I think Justice is being sincere. Each and every coronavirus death seems to sadden him.

At this writing, there had been 370 of them in West Virginia. The toll could have been much, much higher.

COVID-19 has not hit West Virginia nearly as hard as it has hurt many other states, to judge by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers.

Simply looking at raw numbers is misleading. Noting that we have had 370 deaths while New York City has recorded around 23,000 is comparing apples to oranges. But the CDC provides numbers per 100,000 population.

The CDC’s most recent report shows West Virginia has had 949 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people living here. We have suffered 20 deaths per 100,000 people.

In both categories, we have been among the most fortunate people in the nation. Only five states had better case numbers. Just eight had lower fatality rates. They were Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Wyoming.

Of course, lots of factors play into that. Our rural nature as a state is important. But some other non-urban states, such as North Dakota, have not fared well. Ohio’s death rate, though more than twice ours, at 42 per 100,000, still is far below the average of 64 for the whole country, by the way.

Though I’ve complained several times about people behaving irresponsibly, it’s clear from the CDC numbers that a reasonably large percentage of West Virginians are doing what they can to contain COVID-19.

Give Justice, state coronavirus “czar” Dr. Clay Marsh, and others credit, too. They’ve made the right calls — some missed by officials in many other states — several times. To cite one example, when it became clear COVID-19 was especially dangerous to nursing home residents, Justice ordered that everyone in every long-term care facility be tested.

That and other actions saved lives.

The bottom line is that Justice and others involved in the state-level fight have done a good job. Perhaps that’s because they’ve been thinking not about numbers, but people.

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

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