Justice not ready to close West Virginia as coronavirus cases grow to 12

CHARLESTON — Citing the example of New York, Gov. Jim Justice said Saturday West Virginians need to stay home as much as possible but didn’t announce any further shutdown of businesses in the state as the number of positive coronavirus tests grew to 12.

“I hate to alarm you, but we’ve got to move, and we’ve got to move right now to save additional lives. All stars — with New York showing us exactly what could happen — are lining up,” Justice said. “We don’t want to end up 10 days from today where New York is today.”

Justice gave an address to the state Saturday evening from the Governor’s Conference Room at the State Capitol Building in Charleston.

New York alone has 11,170 confirmed coronavirus cases according to Johns Hopkins University with 60 deaths, nearly 20 percent of all total deaths in the U.S. Justice continued to stress the importance of staying home, avoiding non-essential travel, staying away from crowds larger than 10 and maintaining 6 feet of distance from others, washing hands, not touching the face, and covering coughs.

“We can’t really believe if we’re watching TV and watching closely what’s going on in New York,” Justice said. “If we employ all these things … maybe we can prevent that from happening, but we’ve got to move, and we’ve got to move stronger than we already are now.”

Justice has issued several executive orders shutting down casinos, bars, and restaurants except for carryout, curbside, and delivery; gyms, fitness centers, and recreational facilities; barbers, hairdressers, and nail salons; and lodges at state parks and the Hatfield and McCoy Trails. Last week, Justice told the Department of Education to close schools and, end extracurricular activities, and had the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission postpone the state boys and girls basketball tournaments.

Still, Justice said he doesn’t plan yet to order more businesses to close, similar to what Pennsylvania did last week by ordering all non-life-sustaining businesses to close. As long as West Virginians keep following guidelines from state health officials, the White House, and the Centers for Disease Control, Justice said there would be no need to take that step yet.

“I’m telling you tonight, we’re not going to shut down the entirety of our state now,” Justice said.

Justice said work continues to get health care workers the equipment and supplies they need, such as N-95 surgical masks, gowns, hazard suits, and other personal protective equipment. The state recently purchased 100,000 N-95 surgical masks, with 30,000 going to first-responders and 70,000 going to the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

“We cannot lose our health care workers,” Justice said. “We’re trying and we’re making great inroads as far as getting supplies and getting all the essential things we can supply them. First and foremost, we have to supply our health care people.”

According to DHHR, 12 West Virginians have tested positive for the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, as of Saturday afternoon. The first positive case, James Vigil of Jefferson County, was announced March 17.

Of the four new cases Saturday, two were a husband and wife couple from Marshall County according to The Wheeling Intelligencer, one was an employee of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals from Kanawha County, and one was from Mercer County. A press release from DHHR said all four cases involve out-of-state travel. According to the state Supreme Court, their employee has been hospitalized, while the other cases are self-quarantining at home.

As of Saturday evening, there have been 398 total tests conducted for coronavirus in West Virginia, with 385 tests coming back negative and one test pending at the DHHR lab in South Charleston. DHHR’s test numbers now include positive and negative test results from hospitals and commercial labs.

Joining Justice on Saturday was Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president of West Virginia University and executive dean for Health Sciences. Marsh said New York is being hit by a tsunami wave of coronavirus cases. If West Virginia can stay home as much as possible the next few weeks, Marsh said the tsunami wave can become more like a stream for West Virginia.

“We are faced with a pandemic by a virus that we have no immune system that responds to, so we can’t fight it,” Marsh said. “If we do these things, we’ll continue to be the leaders. We have demonstrated how we too, as a state pulling together, can protect each other and protect our health care workers. Once this window of opportunity is gone, it won’t matter what we do then.”

According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 24,148 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. with 301 deaths. Worldwide, there are 303,816 confirmed coronavirus cases with 12,966 deaths. COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that is dangerous to people over the age of 60 and people with chronic health issues, such as diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease. Symptoms can include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

Last week, Justice also signed an executive order ending a one week waiting period and other requirements for turning in applications for unemployment compensation benefits. As of Friday, Workforce West Virginia received more than 7,000 applications in four days. People wishing to file for unemployment benefits can file at uc.workforcewv.org or call 1-800-252-JOBS.

“All of us are really worried about where our next paycheck is going to come from,” Justice said. “The government in every way is stepping up … you’ll be made as whole as you can possibly be made.”

Justice said he understands the frustrations and confusion of West Virginians, but he encouraged residents to take the coronavirus seriously and continue to stay home as much as possible.

“We’re really perplexed — really and truly is this real. We’re all perplexed, but this is the event of all our lifetimes unlike what we’ve ever seen,” Justice said. “There is still a lot more we can do, and I still truly believe that if we absolutely if do not drift more into the spin cycle and employ all the good things we’ve already done, we’ll be OK.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com


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