While West Virginians can take some satisfaction that they have been doing a commendable job of putting a horse collar on the spread of coronavirus in the state, and while we are seeing the first faint glimmer of hope at the end of this long, dark tunnel, we have a ways to go before anyone – from the president on down – can announce that all systems are go.

Because they are not.

We understand President Trump’s eagerness to reopen the economy. We join him in that aspiration. But he must know that cannot happen before we are assured that we, as a nation, have taken the necessary steps to avert further spread of the coronavirus. It has been expertly documented that the administration, early this year, bungled its first response to the pandemic. We cannot afford additional clumsiness, mismanagement and inattention going forward.

In short, for our economy to find its footing, we must promote and protect public health. Americans must feel confident in reentering public spaces – spending money at their favorite restaurant, sending kids back to school, stopping by the barber shop for a much needed trim and walking into a business office without fear of catching a cough.

Where to begin? The president needs to wield the awesome powers of his office and direct widespread testing so that we can learn more about the nature of this bug and isolate carriers until they are well. Until he does, we will be stuck at home or getting sick while out and about.

Yes, for the most part, we in West Virginia have been playing by the rules. And our numbers prove it. As of Thursday morning, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services was reporting 723 confirmed cases with a total of 18,207 residents having been tested. That equates to a positive test rate of 4.01 percent. Comparatively speaking, a leader.

But it also points to a problem: Just around 1 percent of the state’s population has been tested. How do we arrest the spread of the illness if we do not know where it lingers?

Gerald Parker at Texas A&M, where he directs the Bush School’s biosecurity and pandemic public policy program, told The Houston Chronicle this week that we are in Stage 2 of a 5-stage process with this pandemic.

Because we lost the battle early on with the Stage 1, containment, we are now solidly in the mitigation stage, Parker said, trying to slow the spread of the virus through social distancing and preventing our hospitals from being overrun.

Parker, who served for decades in federal government and led efforts to prepare for public health emergencies, said Stage 3 is a return to containment, greatly expanded lab testing – both the antigen and the antibody testing – so we can have a much better view of what’s happening in our community. He told The Chronicle that without the lab testing and drawing samples from greater numbers of us, we will remain blind to what’s really happening in our communities.

The hope, of course, is to develop effective treatments in the short term – over the next three to fix months – while a vaccine is being developed and tested. Scientists say that reality is 18 months out. And that is Stage 4.

The final stage? Preparing for the next pandemic – because, if recent history has taught us anything, there will be another.

So why is this scientific approach important in the here and now?

The news that banged on the front door Saturday was three COVID-related deaths in West Virginia, the most so far in any one day. From a purely analytical perspective, that’s not a bad number, but devastating to three different sets of families, their circle of friends and their communities. We are now at 12 deaths in the state.

In order to rev up our economy, in order for jobs to return and our favorite restaurant to serve our favorite meal, we have to protect one another, first.

The only way to do so is the scientific method: know who is carrying the virus so that they can be isolated. That way, the great majority of West Virginians can go about their business.

— The Register-Herald

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