Reporter’s Notebook: A house divided
I feel bad for Senate President Craig Blair and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw. I can only guess at how Hanshaw is feeling right now, but I can attest that Blair is tired as he tries to keep the Senate Republican Caucus together over the issue of COVID-19.
I saw Blair a few hours after he led Senate Republicans in a press conference last Tuesday that was meant to show caucus members as united despite having differing opinions on aspects of COVID-19. But instead, the presser showed the divides even among Republicans over COVID vaccines and what lawmakers should do regarding possible mandates.
It appears most members are against President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates for federal employees, federal contractors, and businesses with more than 100 employees. It also appears that most Republican senators are behind an effort by the state to get monoclonal antibody treatments out the door more quickly to the infected before they become so symptomatic that they require hospitalization.
That’s about it. Blair confirmed that there were not enough votes in the 23-member Republican supermajority to call themselves into special session (they need 21 out of 34 votes on the Senate-side). Some of the Senate Republicans present for the press conference admitted that there is not even 18 votes (just a simple majority) needed to pass any kind of legislation dealing with vaccine mandates, mask mandates, or vaccine passports.
It just so happens that polling sponsored by the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and conducted by North Star Opinion Research the first week of September revealed that 67 percent of poll respondents said employers should make decisions about vaccines instead of the Legislature, with 18 percent disagreeing.
You have your more moderate Republicans, such as Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, who are strong supporters of the vaccine, even if they believe that people and businesses should have the choice to be vaccinated. Then you have state Sen. Mike Azinger who believes (falsely) that the vaccine is a danger, believes that businesses shouldn’t be allowed to mandate their employees be vaccinated or require proof of vaccination for patrons, and doesn’t believe local school boards (accountable to the people) should be allowed to require masks in schools.
Takubo and Azinger represent the wings of COVID-19 opinion in the caucus, with other members of the caucus taking up positions in between. Again, it was apparent that all present for that press conference do not see eye-to-eye on all issues. While the goal of trying to show a united front was laudable, that’s not how it came across. Don’t believe me? The video is on the state Senate’s YouTube channel now.
It can’t be an easy job right now for Blair and Hanshaw, trying to keep their caucuses together and not be led either by fringe members, or the minority of the public who agree with that fringe.
At the end of the day, a majority of eligible West Virginians are fully vaccinated at 60 percent. That might not be a landslide, but it’s also not a slim majority either. At least 74.2 percent of eligible West Virginians have at least one dose of a vaccine. That leaves 25.8 percent of eligible West Virginians who are not vaccinated — 402,449 West Virginians. Some of these West Virginians are filling up our hospitals and morgues.
The former leader of the state Republican Party, Melody Potter, pointed out a few weeks ago on Steam Release on WV MetroNews Talkline that the media needs to share the number of recovered COVID-19 cases. I suppose she thinks that pointing out that many people survive COVID will show this isn’t a big deal.
OK, there are 185,033 recovered COVID-19 cases in West Virginia as of Wednesday while there are 28,773 active cases in the state that day. So what? Here is a number for you: there were 2,214 total COVID-19 deaths since vaccines were available last December, with 95.02 percent of those deaths being people who were unvaccinated.
As of Thursday, we have 107 ICU beds in the entire state to handle severe COVID-19 infections. Guess what? That also means we only have 107 ICU beds to handle any other serious injury or condition. Now, we had 1,153 total hospital inpatient beds available Thursday, and hospitals are capable of converting a regular bed into an ICU bed if needed. But that’s not like flipping a switch.
More than likely, if you have a loved one with a heart attack, they’re going to get shipped across the state if not to another state and guess what? Our surrounding states are having the same issues. All because 84 percent of those hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated and 90.9 percent of ICU beds are taken up by unvaccinated people infected with COVID.
I’m told some members of the Senate Republican Caucus were unhappy with Takubo’s appearance last Monday on Gov. Jim Justice’s COVID-19 briefing. Takubo is a medical doctor, a pulmonologist who specializes in respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19. He has been actively fighting for people’s lives since the beginning of the pandemic.
On Monday’s briefing, he simply told the truth: he hasn’t admitted one person to the hospital due to reactions to a COVID-19 vaccine. It’s not to say there can’t be any: all drugs have issues. But so far, Takubo’s experience with the vaccine is it is safe and effective. While he supports getting monoclonal antibody treatments out the door more quickly, he wants more people getting vaccinated, so they won’t need those treatments in the first place.
It’s sad that a factually accurate statement from a lawmaker employed as a medical doctor based on experience on the front lines would garner criticism from other lawmakers. I guess it’s a good thing they don’t have the numbers to act on a special session.
Steven Allen Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.