Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel on the future of the school year for West Virginia students:
No one can say what course COVID-19 will take through West Virginia. We know that the virus has gained a strong foothold here, however, and if the experience in several other states is any guide, the next several weeks will be a terrible time for us. One official has suggested there could be as many as 500 deaths.
Gov. Jim Justice has ordered public schools remain closed until April 30. A bipartisan group of legislators, including both the Republican and Democrat leaders of the state Senate and House of Delegates, are urging him to cancel school for the remainder of the year.
If the epidemic grows worse, as it seems likely to do, he should close schools for the rest of the year.
As the lawmakers note in a letter to the governor, “Current public health modeling projections suggest the COVID-19 virus will peak during the first week of May in West Virginia.” Schools should remain closed “rather than risk sending our children into potentially hazardous and untenable learning environments,” the legislators add.
Some educators believe even a few weeks in the classroom at the end of the current term would be valuable. Perhaps so - but, being engaged in the most earth-shattering experience of their young lives, how many children would be in the right frame of mind to go back to class?
It may be better to give children, their parents and educators the certainty of knowing that for the rest of the year, the classroom will be in the spaces they have already set up at home. That certainty would allow educators to continue refining their at-home learning systems.
In the end, however, it is the children’s safety that must be the overriding consideration.
If there is any doubt - even the tiniest bit - about the safety of children, classes should be canceled.
COVID-19, even in the latter stage of an epidemic, is a far greater threat than any snowstorm, and the governor should act accordingly.
The Herald-Dispatch on the decision to postpone West Virginia’s primary election:
West Virginia officials made another accommodation to the COVID-19 pandemic when Gov. Jim Justice said the May 12 primary election will be postponed to June 9.
That gives the state a four-week cushion to get past the peak of the disease. The most recent modeling shows the greatest number of infections and virus-related deaths will occur a few days before May 12.
“I was hopeful and supportive of having the election May 12, but it’s clear now that is the wrong thing to do,” Justice said, adding his health officials gave him an unequivocal “no” when he asked if May 12 was possible.
Postponing the election was a reluctant call, but a necessary one. From logistics to health concerns, adapting election procedures to have the election on the scheduled date was a daunting task - too daunting.
The task now is to ensure the voting public - and to a degree, the nonvoting public, too - retains its confidence in the integrity of the primary. Having an all-mail election done via absentee ballots is not the way to maintain confidence that certain races aren’t rigged. Given the current divisive political climate, clean elections are as important as ever.
Absentee balloting will still be available, but delaying the election pushes back early and absentee voting. Absentee ballots will still be sent to all West Virginians who are registered to vote. The new deadline to register to vote is May 19, and the deadline to request an absentee ballot is June 3.
Early voting will be from May 27 through June 6 in person at county courthouses.
Voting in person is a basic American ritual that many people treasure. It’s also a rite of passage when young people reach voting age. It’s one of those things that define us as a people, and it must be preserved.
Justice said the June 9 date was chosen because schools are scheduled to be closed for the summer before then. That allows polls to be open without fear of contaminating the school buildings or providing another means of infecting students.
Assuming the peak of the disease is past us here in the Ohio Valley by the time June elections occur, courtesy and caution will require voters to continue their social distancing as they wait in line and engage with poll workers. By then the six-foot rule should be second nature to many voters, if it isn’t already. While the peak of infection may be past by then, prudence dictates that some measures continue for a while.
Another benefit of the four-week delay is that it gives candidates time to do their thing as they go door-to-door, attend meetings or buy advertising. The virtual lockdown the state is under at present pretty much prevents campaigning beyond setting out signs, assuming that can be done while many businesses are closed.
Just as voters need a safe polling place, they also need to get as much information as they can from candidates. The election delay thus serves two purposes in the public interest.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail on the 10th anniversary of a deadly mining accident:
April 5 marked the 10th anniversary of one of the worst mining disasters in modern history.
On April 5, 2010, an explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal claimed the lives of 29 miners. What might be forgotten in the intervening years is how long it took to recover and identify all the bodies and the frustration and anger from the community and miners’ families over how that recovery was first framed as a potential rescue.
The incident remains a stark reminder of the devastation that can occur when safety is secondary, corners are cut and profits are valued more than the people who do the work to generate that money for corporate interests.
Investigators found that Upper Big Branch was ripe for such a disaster. Miners were working without proper ventilation, allowing ignitable gases and dust to build up. Other safety hazards compounded the problem. It was a series of decisions that placed workers in an unsafe environment, in hindsight making it a question of when, not if, a major disaster would occur.
Recorded conversations of Massey executives painted a clear picture of a company trying to dodge regulations and enforcement, all to make sure the mine stayed open and the corporate gains kept coming.
The incident has remained in the news regularly over the past decade with ensuing investigations and criminal charges. More recent court maneuvering has overshadowed the true tragedy and those left to deal with the heartache of lost loved ones.
In 2015, former Massey Energy Co. CEO Don Blankenship was convicted by a jury on a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to violate federal mine safety and health standards. He was acquitted of more serious felony charges. Those who lost family and friends in the explosion were furious.
Blankenship spent a year in prison, using the time and the tragedy to paint himself as a supposed victim of political conspiracies. He has, time and again, attempted to have the conviction tossed, even though he’s served the time. He even ran for the U.S. Senate. The most recent rejection of Blankenship’s efforts came in January.
While the rest of the world may have moved on, those with holes in their lives because of the explosion have to read reports of the man they hold responsible for the disaster pouring his vast resources into what amounts to a continuing public relations campaign.
Blankenship either didn’t learn anything of worth from the tragedy or is in such denial he must put forth the constant effort to make the case that it wasn’t his fault in any way.
Meanwhile, a 10th-year memorial to mark the actual tragedy of Upper Big Branch has been scratched because of the danger such a gathering would pose as the coronavirus runs rampant.
Those 29 lives - and the families, friends and communities affected by the explosion - shouldn’t be forgotten tomorrow. Nor should the lesson that, when the bottom line exceeds every other concern, ordinary people get hurt. Everyone should take a moment to reflect on that terrible day and the wound that still exists in Montcoal.
Take time to think of those who lost their lives just doing their jobs, and count your blessings.
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