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Things Starting To Feel More Normal

After the recent lifting of mask mandates for those with COVID-19 vaccinations by the CDC and West Virginia following suit, things are starting to feel somewhat normal for the first time in a while.

Earlier this week, I went to Starbucks to do some of my work for the first time in 14 months. As I’m based in Charleston, sometimes I work from my apartment and sometimes I work from my office in the basement of the Capitol, but for the last three years you’d have better luck finding me working from a coffee shop.

For a long time that place was Moxxee Coffee just around the corner from my apartment in Charleston’s East End. Moxxee closed down two years ago and after trying several local coffee shops, I went corporate and settled for the new Starbucks in Kanawha City. Being new and with a more established Starbucks on the other side of the Kanawha River, it was a quiet place to work and do interviews. Several candidates for office in 2020 have met me at Starbucks for interviews.

Of course, COVID-19 changed all of that. Starbucks closed its lobby and only reopened it a few months ago. Even then, I stuck with the drive-thru. But after the CDC mask guidance changed, Starbucks allowed those vaccinated to remove their masks indoors. It was nice to be sitting in my usual corner reading news, checking social media and planning story ideas.

I was the only person who chose to sit inside. Most of the seating was removed and the seating that remained was pushed along the walls. People still came inside to pick up mobile orders and most of them remained masked, which was totally fine. But I feel comfortable going unmasked. I have both the one-dose AztraZeneca vaccine (still unavailable in the U.S., but I’m part of the drug trials started last fall) and the two-dose Moderna vaccine (which I received so I could get my CDC vaccination card).

I plan to remain unmasked except when masks are required for entry. I have no issues with anyone who chooses to remain masked, even if they are fully vaccinated. People have to assess their own risks and accordingly act. I might agree with the CDC that fully vaccinated people can safely go unmasked, but that doesn’t mean someone who wears a mask should be harassed in any way.

Things are getting better. Active COVID-19 cases, after remaining relatively flat for several weeks, are going back down. Only about 0.3% of West Virginia’s population has COVID-19. Hospitalizations have also remained flat and deaths have remained low.

The stats are wonderful, but this isn’t over. It will never be over. COVID-19 is a coronavirus and there are several forms of coronavirus types out there that people can get. Don’t be surprised that in the future you’re offered a COVID-19 booster along with your annual flu shot. In fact, expect people to willingly wear masks during the fall and winter to mitigate flu and COVID-19 spread.

That has been the remarkable thing I’ve seen. Even with mask mandates made less strict, people are still wearing masks. People were critical of Texas in March when it was among the first states to end mask mandates. People said their cases would spike. It didn’t happen. Why? Because people in Texas who felt the need to keep wearing masks did so.

Dirty secret: more people are doing what they should be doing. The proof is in the numbers. Here’s to a mostly normal summer 2021.

∫∫∫

I’m used to seeing some newspapers hit Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey from the left, but I’ve never seen a publication hit Morrisey from the right. But the conservative National Review did.

National Review published a piece on May 14 by Carrie Campbell Severino, president of the Judicial Crisis Network, accusing Morrisey of filing public nuisance lawsuits against Rite Aid, Walgreens and Walmart over filling prescription for addictive painkillers and for throwing some of the office’s legal work to the Motley Rice Law Firm.

The article was retweeted by West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, a group founded and managed by Republican operative Greg Thomas. Someone pointed out to me that the arguments being made against Morrisey in that article were similar to arguments made against former state Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin in 2018 before he was defeated for re-election by current Justice Beth Walker.

Are we seeing the groundwork being laid for a Republican challenger to Morrisey in 2024? It’s certainly possible. Morrisey made a few enemies among Republican volunteers, activists and operatives during his unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin in 2018. Morrisey had no Republican opponents for his 2020 re-election for a third term as the state’s top attorney.

But speaking of a third term, Morrisey is on the record after his 2016 election that he was only going to serve two terms. Yet, he is at the beginning of his third term. Morrisey is on the record supporting a bill in 2020 pushed by State Treasurer Riley Moore and supported by all members of the Board of Public Works calling for constitutionally elected officers to be term-limited to three terms.

Moore, State Auditor J.B. McCuskey, Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt and Secretary of State Mac Warner all attended a press conference to show their support for the term limits bill. Only Morrisey was missing. I asked about this noted absence, but the others assured me Morrisey supported the bill. Morrisey even included a quote for the press release.

Yet, numerous sources told me that Morrisey worked behind the scenes to ensure that bill never made it out of the Legislature. That couldn’t have made the Moore camp happy. Jordan Burgess, a senior adviser to the State Treasurer, also is a former executive director for CALA and has closely worked with Thomas in the past.

Of course, it’s possible that Morrisey won’t run for a fourth term as Attorney General. Gov. Jim Justice is term-limited himself, so there will be an opening for governor. Manchin will be up for re-election again, but Manchin’s approval numbers are on the upswing. If Manchin chooses to run again for the U.S. Senate, I doubt there would be a rematch.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this as 2024 approaches.

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