Gov. Justice and officials planning for coronavirus

We can hope and pray that COVID-19 — otherwise known as “the coronavirus” — does not become a serious threat to the health of West Virginians. But if it does, we need to be ready.

To their credit, Gov. Jim Justice and other state officials already have begun planning what to do if the virus makes an appearance in our state. As we have reported, local health departments are preparing, too.

Effective advance steps to deal with an outbreak cost money, of course. State government should have all it needs for the purpose.

State Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, wants to be certain the cash is waiting if it needs to be tapped. To that end, he wants to formally set aside $2 million for the purpose. “I think it’s really important for us to allocate this $2 million so we can get ahead of this coronavirus. We need to do something now. We need a plan now,” he told fellow lawmakers last week.

Stollings has some idea of the potential for serious trouble. His “day job” is as a practicing physician. He is also a candidate for governor — a Democrat running against Justice, a Republican — but he is not using COVID-19 to score political points.

He is absolutely correct. State — and local — public health officials should not be worried unduly about money as they prepare for COVID-19. They should know the $2 million is available. They also should understand, not just incidentally, that if they spend it wisely, no one will accuse them of wasting taxpayers’ money if the virus does not come to the Mountain State.

West Virginia’s general revenue fund budget for this year already is tight. Authorizing agencies to spend $2 million for COVID-19 work would take money needed for other purposes.

Stollings has proposed dipping into the state’s “Rainy Day” fund. Actually, it is two separate accounts held in reserve for emergencies, but together, they contain more than $850 million.

COVID-19 certainly qualifies as an emergency. Legislators should approve withdrawing the $2 million, and hope it never needs to be used.


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