Did the governor cave, or did he yield to the demands of his constituents?
Are plans for a gradual and orderly reopening of the West Virginia economy in danger of being subverted by a populace that is tired of waiting out the novel coronavirus?
This week could be significant in answering the second question. West Virginians seem to be divided on how to approach the virus when it comes to wearing masks in public. People who voluntarily wear masks to protect others are in the minority in many areas. Meanwhile, the return of warm weather this weekend showed that many people are eager for a return to the pre-coronavirus days.
A controversy last week showed that many West Virginians think their state government is moving too slowly.
As described by The Herald-Dispatch reporter Taylor Stuck, Gov. Jim Justice said last week he had received an “awful amount of calls” from frustrated gym owners who were seeing other gyms “push the envelope” of his order permitting wellness centers operated by hospitals or licensed health care providers to reopen. One of the gyms “pushing the envelope” was Snap Fitness, which has locations in Cabell, Putnam and Kanawha counties.
Eric Tarr, owner of Snap Fitness, a physical therapist and Republican Putnam County state senator, interpreted the order to mean he could fully open his gym. Tarr’s family operates Generations Physical Therapy, which has been operating throughout the stay-at-home order as an essential business. Generations operates out of five Snap Fitness locations.
Several YMCAs in the state asked why they could not open too. Bob White, owner of Nautilus Fitness Centers in Charleston, said he would open his gym this week despite state orders.
That defiance became moot on Thursday, when Justice announced that all gyms in the state could reopen this week.
So now what? Are public health officials’ plans for a slow, controlled reopening about to crumble under the weight of public demands for a quicker one? Public health officials are focused on limiting damages from the pandemic. For many West Virginians, those efforts are causing more harm to the public in general than the coronavirus itself is.
Who is right? It depends on what you value most and whose opinions you trust.
As for Justice and his advisers, it may be a losing battle. He has a re-election campaign underway, and he has to consider public opinion as he confers with public health experts.
Memorial Day weekend is almost upon us. People will be traveling despite any “stay at home” or “safer at home” orders. Actually, they already are. They aren’t just “pushing the envelope.” They’ve torn through it.
West Virginians aren’t alone. People in many states that have not been hit as hard by the virus are already returning to the old normal as best they can.
The experts who predicted a wave of COVID-19 patients swamping hospitals unless stay-at-home orders were put in place are now warning we could see a second wave of infections if people go back to their pre-coronavirus habits.
The experts have spoken. So has the public. Now we see whose prediction will be more accurate.