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Justice hews closely to Trump in words, but sometimes disagrees on covid response

Gov. Jim Justice speaks often of his close relationship with President Donald Trump, but the governor sometimes differs with the president on handling the coronavirus.

President Donald Trump

Trump, in an interview on Fox & Friends last week, said, “If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely — but almost immune from this disease. He added, “They don’t have a problem. They just don’t have a problem.”

The president has been pushing for a bottom line of schools opening in the fall.

“My view is the schools should open,” Trump said on Fox & Friends.” “This thing is going away. It will go away like things go away, and my view is that schools should be open.”

He repeated those positions in a later news conference.

Videos with Trump’s comments were taken down by social media companies who cited false claims. Doctors say children can catch – and pass on – the coronavirus.

Governor Justice

Asked about Trump’s statements during a Friday news briefing, Justice disagreed.

“First and foremost,” Justice said, “I don’t write the scripts for our president and he says what he thinks are his ideas and on his mind.”

Justice said children seem to be resistant to covid-19, but not immune.

“From my standpoint, I would say that children surely have shown that they have more resistance to this. But as far as being children immune, I don’t think that. I think this disease can affect our children as well. But we all know from the standpoint of the number of children running around and being with parents or being with friends or being with everybody the numbers we show that children have problems are very, very, very small,” he said.

The Centers for Disease Control says based on available evidence “children do not seem to be at higher risk for covid-19 than adults.” The CDC says it is investigating cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.

A Johns Hopkins Medicine report similarly notes that “the disease seems to be much milder in babies and children” while expressing caution about rare instances of multisystem inflammatory syndrome. The Mayo Clinic agrees.

Of West Virginia’s coronavirus cases, ages 0 to 9 make up 3.74 percent and ages 10 to 19 make up 9.98 percent.

But those are also the two smallest age groups to receive testing at 3.13 percent and 5.81 percent respectively.

Children have not gathered in schools in West Virginia since they were abruptly closed in March.

Justice is aiming to open West Virginia schools by Sept. 8, while giving families options for in-classroom or virtual learning. In the governor’s statements, Justice has emphasized a desire to maintain community health.

The governor has talked about the need to deal with covid-19 while working toward he goal of a medical solution.

“From the standpoint of this thing going away, I think absolutely this thing will go away. But I do not think it’s just going to go away; I think it’s going to go away because our scientists and our medical community have got to find vaccines or drugs that greatly minimize the situation as we go forward,” he said.

Justice, a Republican, has often described his admiration of President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Justice and Trump have been close political allies, based in part on their background as wealthy owners of resort properties. Justice changed his party affiliation to Republican during a Trump rally in West Virginia, and the president calls the governor “Big Jim.”

During Friday’s news conference, Justice blasted Trump’s political opponents, as he often does.

“If you want the real truth, from my standpoint, I will tell you the Washington Pelosi liberals that run through the streets in D.C., do you really think these people care about our kids in West Virginia? Do you really think they care about our teachers? Do you think they care?” Justice asked.

“What they care about is one thing, they care about hitting our president and trying to win an election.”

But although Justice’s political statements align with Trump and often knock House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the governor sometimes parts ways with the president on policy.

Last month, Justice’s announcement delaying the start of the school year came right as the Trump administration was ratcheting up its push to open schools five days a week.

Justice made reference to his close relationship with the president while also saying he would abide by advice from closer to home, including state schools Superintendent Clayton Burch.

‘Our president is urging all of us to go back to school. Nobody wants us to go back to school more than I or more than our Superintendent Clayton Burch,” Justice said. “We absolutely are tee-totally ready to go back to school today.

“But the other thing is just this simple. From my standpoint — I love our president and all the great things he’s doing, and I hope he’ll be reelected. But in this situation I’ve got to look out for the kids, the teachers, the personnel.”

The delay came as West Virginia’s numbers for positives compared to overall testing, reproductive rate and hospitalizations surged alarmingly.

“I can assure you that I am not going to move until I am absolutely as sure as I can possibly be that our kids are going to be safe,” Justice said then.

Scott Gottlieb, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner who has become a public face of handling the coronavirus, described medical uncertainty about how covid-19 affects children during an appearance Sunday morning on “Face the Nation.”

“We need to have a degree of humility about the risks. We need to try to protect children,” Gottlieb said. “So if we do reopen schools, and I believe we should, we need to do it with a sense of caution.”

Gottlieb made several social media posts this weekend about the potential for tragic consequences of covid-19 raging out of control in student populations.

Justice’s comments seemed to align with those concerns when he spoke at Friday’s briefing.

“Children surely can get this. We know babies have gotten this. So from that standpoint, that’s exactly where my thoughts are,” the governor said.

“And from the standpoint of, ‘Will it just go away?’ — I don’t think it will just go away. I absolutely believe that what we’re dealing with here is a real, live pandemic that is absolutely going to stay with us until we are able to get a vaccine, get drugs that will make it go away — and the other thing we’re going to have to do in the meantime is we’re either going to have to just ball up in a corner or we’re going to have to learn to live and deal with the risk as best we possibly can.”





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