From my observations of Gov. Jim Justice’s speech and actions regarding the coronavirus pandemic, it’s clear that his remarks and policies are almost 180 degrees opposite to what President Donald J. Trump has been advocating or modeling by his own behavior.
The question of the day as we head into tonight’s first presidential debate between Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, is quite simply this: Who can we trust?
I have come to respect and trust our governor in his conscientious concern for keeping West Virginians as safe as possible from this killer virus. Similarly, I have come to distrust, even be alarmed by, Trump’s posturing, declarations and most especially his minimizing of the threat from what’s now commonly called COVID-19.
While Justice often goes out of his way to praise Trump as “a great president,” the governor continues to demonstrate that in fact his own ideas and policies on the virus are much more in line with those of the Democratic nominee.
Back in mid-March while Trump was playing down the virus and even suggesting that it would “go away, like magic,” Justice was among the first of all 50 governors to order a tight shutdown of restaurants and bars. He also shut down schools.
Trump throughout the virus’ steady march through our midst to a crushing toll of over 200,000 American deaths has steadfastly resisted urgings by staff and public health experts, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, to impose a mask-wearing mandate for public spaces nationwide.
Justice has no shame in wearing a mask in his public appearances when others are close to him. Trump has done so on rare occasions but more typically appears maskless. What’s more, Trump is fine with violating state mask-wearing mandates and also blowing away restrictions on gatherings of more than 50 people. He has done this in Nevada and elsewhere in order to take center stage amid rally crowds in the thousands, with few wearing masks.
Consequently, it appears doubtful that Justice will invite Trump to hold a rally in the Mountain State between now and the election Nov. 3. Justice has had a statewide mask mandate for public spaces in effect since July 6. And he wants it taken seriously.
Though West Virginia has recently experienced a spike in COVID cases, overall the state continues to rank among the lowest of all 50 states in cases and deaths from the pandemic (334 deaths thus far as of the past weekend).
Biden has said that, if elected president, he would mandate mask-wearing for the entire country until the virus can be brought under control. That would mean less than 5% positivity for all testing. Biden would also ramp up testing and what’s known as “contact tracing” — identifying those persons who might have been close to an infected person and ordering them to quarantine (14 days) at home.
Projections now suggest that our country could mark 400,000 virus-related deaths by Jan. 1. That number would put us close to the U.S. death toll in the worst public health disaster in American history, the 1917-20 Spanish flu pandemic. And best guesstimates are that an effective vaccine against COVID-19 may not be available until about that date.