Economy: Balancing safety and recovery is necessary

Not since March 1984 has West Virginia’s unemployment rate been so high. Last month, it hit 15.8 percent, matching the rate 36 years ago. Chances are it is even higher now — on Tuesday, Gov. Jim Justice said the number of claims for unemployment compensation since the coronavirus epidemic began has topped 200,000.

That is approximately one-fourth of the state’s workforce. Continuing down this road is unsustainable.

But there are still a few people insisting Justice is pushing the envelope too hard in relaxing restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19.

Justice is engaged in a balancing act, between risking a resurgence of COVID-19 and allowing the state’s economy to deteriorate even more. Unemployment is, in its own way, hazardous to the health of those suffering from it. West Virginians are all too familiar with the other plagues that accompany continued economic struggle.

Science is on the governor’s side, of course — IF people follow the preventive guidelines. West Virginia is in the enviable position of having had fewer than 2 percent of the COVID-19 tests conducted come back positive. Of the total of 1,500 Mountain State residents diagnosed with the disease as of Tuesday, 922 had recovered from it.

Give the governor and other state officials credit for decisive action — not taken in many other states — such as testing each and every resident and employee of nursing homes in West Virginia. That saved lives.

And Justice’s reopening strategy is a cautious one. One example is the rapid response plan revealed this week. It is aimed at spotting resurgences of COVID-19 quickly and responding decisively.

Nothing is without risk, of course. COVID-19 could come back strong. But West Virginia is using scientific safeguards against that, and counting on us to use our heads as we are out and about. Not just for the good of the economy in general but for the hundreds of thousands of people without jobs due to the epidemic — the unemployment numbers make it abundantly clear we cannot cower in our homes, waiting for a risk-free “new normal.”


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