CHARLESTON GAZETTE - Novel coronavirus outbreaks in the more rural areas of West Virginia should be a concern for all residents of the Mountain State.

COVID-19 spikes in places like Logan County are a warning that West Virginia has lost its geographic advantage in relation to the pandemic.

Of course, a virus doesn’t recognize lines on a map, but in the early stages of the outbreak in the United States, West Virginia was aided by its relative seclusion, smaller, more dispersed population and negligible influx of people from places where the virus was more prevalent.

Unfortunately, as public health guidelines were relaxed elsewhere, more West Virginians have ventured to other parts of the country, particularly crowded vacation spots in states like South Carolina and Florida. They brought COVID-19 back with them, often without even knowing.

It probably was inevitable that a virus that spreads so easily would find its way to the more rural parts of the state, but public health officials are noting that travel has been linked to most of these outbreaks. Now, COVID-19 is in places where the population is more susceptible to the virus and adequate health care infrastructure is an issue.

Just how big a problem that will be remains to be seen. As coronavirus czar Dr. Clay Marsh noted during a briefing Monday, West Virginia’s transmission rate has dropped to a relatively safe level, but it will take two or three weeks to see the results of that, and, in the meantime, it can change.

Marsh also reemphasized that the original beliefs that younger, healthier people aren’t likely to contract COVID-19 or spread it have now been proven false. Everyone is at risk.

Gov. Jim Justice again, on Monday, expressed a fear of growing cases linked to travel, particularly those hitting the southern counties. The governor said he might have to consider forcing those who leave the state into mandatory quarantine when they return. It’s hard to imagine how such a thing would even work. It would make the controversy over mandated masks look like a polite disagreement, and it would be a nightmare to enforce.

A much better solution would be West Virginians controlling their own destiny by making smart decisions about where they go, following proper public health guidelines (regardless of whatever the practices are in the places they travel to) and — if it’s an extended trip to a place that is a hotspot — voluntarily quarantining and getting tested when returning.

If that sounds like too much of a hassle, the best decision is probably to stay home. It’s no fun, but this is serious. COVID-19 has killed more than 150,000 Americans and saddled millions more with illness and long-term aftereffects. West Virginia has been fortunate to see comparatively few illnesses and deaths, but the virus is here and spreading.

No one should panic, because there is a solution. West Virginians can continue to slow the spread and mitigate the effects here by weighing their options and doing what is best for themselves and their communities. If someone wants to take the risk of traveling to a hotspot, then they must realize that comes with certain responsibilities.

You can’t keep people cooped up forever, but it’s not too much to ask that they consider the health of others, given the current circumstances. Facebook Twitter Email Print