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Coronavirus cases come down after Eastern Panhandle spike, prison outbreak

Gov. Jim Justice leaves the Capitol after his Tuesday coronavirus briefing. (Photo by Steven Allen Adams)

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice said Tuesday that everything is under control after a spike in coronavirus cases last week centered on the Eastern Panhandle and more cases were found in a state prison.

“As far as our comeback and our reopening, that seems to be going very very well,” Justice said. “We’re trying to do that while monitoring with our health experts and our medical communities and everyone really watching and watching like a hawk. We’re trying to monitor everything to keep you as safe as you possibly can be.”

Justice Tuesday held his daily coronavirus briefing at the Capitol in Charleston.

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, the state saw 15 new coronavirus cases since Monday evening, bringing the total of confirmed cases to 1,797. As of Tuesday, there were 585 active cases, which include infected people in self-quarantine and people admitted to hospitals.

Last week, West Virginia saw its biggest surge in new coronavirus cases since the end of April. There were 55 lab-reported cases on May 20 and 68 lab-reported cases on May 22. Most of the cases centered on Berkeley and Jefferson counties. Which saw 117 confirmed cases the week of May 18 through May 24.

“We want the active cases to drop off,” Justice said. “It has crawled back up a little bit and we’re hoping that it will turn the other way and start dropping back down again.”

Randolph County also was home to a surge in cases due to an outbreak at the Huttonsville Correctional Center. According to the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 39 inmates at Huttonsville have tested positive for COVID-19, an increase of 14 inmates since 25 tested positive last Friday.

“Thanks to (Justice’s) quick action and quick response on Friday after we completed some of the testing, we were able on Monday to test 1,029 inmates, which was the remainder of the inmate population at Huttonsville,” said Betsy Jividen, commissioner of the Corrections Department. “We are hoping to have the remaining tests back in the next several days and we will plan our policy and response accordingly.”

The Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety announced at the beginning of last week that a part-time correctional officer and an inmate tested positive for the coronavirus at Huttonsville. So far, only four staff members have tested positive. Testing of all Huttonsville staff started last week, while testing of all 1,029 inmates started Friday.

“We tested the whole block and I told our people Friday that ‘no, that’s not good enough. Test everyone in the whole facility,'” Justice said. “We do expect, as these thousand-plus tests come back that that number is going to rise. We’re on it and our people are staying right on top of it. We ran to the fire.”

Since Friday, the number of daily new cases has gone down, with 11 new cases as of Monday evening. Even with the spike in cases last week, the daily and cumulative percent of positive cases have mostly trended down from a peak in mid-April. The cumulative percent of positive cases has remained below 3 percent since April 18. With outside spikes that sent the daily percent of positive cases above 3 percent on May 22 and May 24, the percentage has remained below 3 percent since April 27.

“If you look at our numbers, naturally we were all apprehensive to see the impact of the Memorial Day weekend for a few days, but we are seeing that since we began reopening we should have seen more and more numbers move and move in a really negative way,” Justice said. “We’re not seeing that in a big way, but we’re watching and we’re watching all the time.”

Tuesday was the start of week five of Justice’s reopening plan for state businesses, with state park cabins and lodges opening to in-state guests, the opening of bars with 50 percent in-door capacity and outdoor bars, museums and visitor centers and zoos.

Starting this Saturday, spas and massage parlors, limited video lottery retailers, swimming pools, bowling alleys, pool halls, roller rinks and other places with indoor amusement can reopen.

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