The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over, and it still requires us to take measures to prevent the spread of the disease. That includes continuing the indoor mask mandates until enough of the population has been vaccinated so that we achieve herd immunity.
So say the experts, and a large segment of the public is ignoring them.
Retail stores in West Virginia have the signs on their doors saying all people entering must wear masks that cover their noses and mouths. Many people, including people who work in them, either ignore that mandate or forget to put on their masks.
Likewise, West Virginia is short of its goal of herd immunity.
On Monday, Gov. Jim Justice announced the first of several initiatives to encourage the estimated 588,000 eligible West Virginians who are hesitant to get vaccines to get their COVID-19 shots. He’s offering a $100 U.S. savings bond to each state resident ages 16 to 35 who gets vaccinated.
Justice said he hopes that 275,000 of the roughly 380,000 unvaccinated West Virginians in that age group will take him up on his offer, which he said will be funded using unexpended federal CARES Act pandemic stimulus funds.
Reaching that goal, Justice said, would push statewide vaccination rates above 70%, the threshold health experts believe would permit the state to drop mask-wearing and social distancing mandates.
The thing is, though, that for many West Virginians the mask mandates and social distancing guidelines are pretty much over with now.
There could be several reasons. A number of people figure they’re vaccinated and it’s spring, so they don’t think they need masks anymore. By now, most people who wanted to be vaccinated have received their shots — at least the first of the two-shot regimen. People who don’t want to be vaccinated probably won’t be until they are convinced or compelled to do so. They’ve decided one year of COVID-19 is enough, and they will take their chances.
It could be a difference in how urban white-collar people approach COVID-19 and how rural blue-collar people do. Or it could be a difference in how younger adults and older ones approach it, which helps explain Justice’s offer of savings bonds. The important thing is, some people are resisting the governor’s pleas to be vaccinated.
Government may have reached its limit in persuading people to be vaccinated. There are people who either don’t trust the government’s handling of the pandemic or they don’t trust the process that created the vaccines. It’s time to change the message or even find a new messenger.
The governor has the right idea in expanding the opportunities to be vaccinated by setting up locations in schools or at festivals. That plus a marketing campaign aimed at people reluctant to receive a vaccine could get us to the level of herd immunity he desires. It’s not only a disease the governor is fighting now — it’s culture and attitudes. What’s been done to date has gotten him close to his goal. Now it’s time for different tactics.