Gov. Jim Justice is caught in a Kobayashi Maru — a no-win situation designed to be unsolvable. He can’t open schools fast enough to please some people, and he doesn’t dare keep them closed to please others.
On Sept. 14, he said he recognized the state’s color-coded system that determines when schools may open for in-person classes and when extracurricular activities such as sports may resume needed tweaking. The next day, he introduced a new color — gold — to allow some instruction and activities to resume in some counties.
“The No. 1 thing for me is this puts more students in front of their teachers, and that’s what is most important for me,” said state superintendent of schools Clayton Burch, who was with the governor when the change was announced.
Justice’s decision pleased some people and angered others.
Football coaches in the new gold counties began arranging games for Friday night pending approval from their schools’ administrations.
The two unions representing teachers opposed the change.
“We think it is unwise and unnecessary to change course in the middle of the week. It was deemed too dangerous for in-person school on Saturday and little has changed except the recoding of the map,” Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said in a written statement issued after Justice’s decision.
The new color adds some hope for parents who want their children in school, but it also adds another level of uncertainty for those in counties that are on the brink of changing color weekly.
It would be nice to say someone is “in control” of what’s going on, but that’s a lot to ask for.
COVID-19 is a virus unlike any other that has afflicted the United States in our lifetimes. It can be carried and transmitted by people with no apparent symptoms, including young people who are mostly resistant to it. It is deadliest to older people who live in institutional settings.
A growing body of research shows that it can have long-term effects on the heart, lungs and other vital organs. How serious those effects are have yet to be determined and might not be for a long time.
As with too many other things in modern American life, COVID-19 is also a handy political tool. Attitudes toward the disease and how to deal with it often depend on a person’s political standing, where he or she lives or the level of tolerance for risk they have.
That leaves Justice in a bind. Some states have loosened their COVID-19 restrictions while some have kept them. Justice appears to be seeking the middle road — one that might not exist.
He’s trying to control a situation, but it’s difficult to control a microscopic organism. They do what they do, and they adapt rapidly to changing situations. Viruses adapt much faster than governors can.
Despite Justice’s executive orders, fewer businesses are enforcing mask wearing and fewer people are wearing them. By their own actions, more people are saying they’re ready to move on now that the worst of the pandemic is past. Other people still wear their masks indoors and out until public health officials give the all clear.
In short, there is no consensus in West Virginia on what is needed, and without consensus, arguing will continue.
According to an old saying, the problem with being in the middle of the road is that you get hit by traffic from both directions. Justice is learning that.
Thus, in an election year in which a virus has taken over every aspect of life, Justice is caught in a situation where no decision pleases everyone and any decision pleases few.
Until the public reaches a consensus, that’s not likely to change.