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Justice: Public heeding call to get tested for COVID

Gov. Jim Justice encouraged all West Virginians to keep getting tested for COVID-19. (Photo Provided)

CHARLESTON — Despite higher numbers of COVID-19, Gov. Jim Justice was encouraged by the increased number of West Virginians getting tested.

“It seems like, and even feels like, this thing is starting to move our way,” Justice said Monday during his COVID-19 briefing at the State Capitol Building. “We’re going to win this war … I feel in my gut that we have an opportunity to go.”

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, the number of positive cases over the last 14 days between Sept. 14 and Sept. 28 was 2,656 — a 4-percent increase in positive cases from the previous 14 days. As of Monday — the most recent data available — the state reported 164 new cases in a 24-hour period.

After urging by Justice and state health officials, the number of West Virginians getting tested for COVID-19 increased. The total number of test results over the last 14 days was 66,877, which was a 26 percent increase in testing compared to testing conducted between Aug. 31 through Sept. 13.

Active COVID-19 cases — the number of infected people in self-quarantine or hospitalized — was 3,987 cases as of Monday — a 13 percent increase from 3,544 active cases seven days ago and a 25-percent increase from 3,184 active cases 14 days ago. Active cases have increased in 36 out of 55 counties, while cases in 16 counties have decreased and three counties have seen no changes in case numbers. Only two counties have no positive coronavirus cases. Kanawha and Monongalia counties contain 44 percent of the state’s active cases.

Yet, West Virginia’s Rt number — the rate that shows how quickly the virus is spreading in the community — was 0.98 as of Monday, showing signs that the spread of the virus in the state may be slowing. At one point the state with the worst Rt value in the country, West Virginia’s rate is now the 15th best compared to last week when the Rt value was 1.11 and the 12th worst. Any Rt value below 1 means the growth of the virus is slowing.

“It’s been a goodly amount of weeks that we have been in excess of 1,” Justice said. “When you get under 1 as far as our spreading capabilities, they’re being diminished, and they’re being diminished to a better and better number.”

The state reported 337 total COVID-19 deaths as of Monday, with three new deaths reported to DHHR Monday. West Virginia saw a 28-percent increase in deaths when comparing two 14-day periods. There were 68 deaths reported between Sept. 14 and Sept. 28 and 53 deaths reported between Aug. 31 through Sept. 13.

There were 168 hospitalizations as of Monday. The average number of hospitalizations between Sept. 14 and Sept. 28 increased by 13 percent over the average number of hospitalizations the previous 14 days. Hospitalizations peaked at 177 on Sept. 24. The number of infected people in intensive care units was 51, and 29 people are on ventilators.

On Saturday’s County Alert System color-coded map update for public and private schools, only Wayne and Kanawha counties were orange, meaning in-person school was not allowed. There were no red counties on the map. On the daily County Alert System map on the DHHR coronavirus dashboard, only Kanawha and Barbour counties were orange.

As of Monday, the Department of Education reported 17 active outbreaks with 52 confirmed cases in public schools. Justice said that county school systems and local health departments have things under control.

“When we go back to school there is an additional level of risk,” Justice said. “None of this is going to be perfect. All of us know to expect outbreaks here and there and everything, and we run to those fires and try to handle that and do all the contact tracing and keep moving forward … but when you go back to school, when you open a restaurant, or when you do anything, you’re going to have additional cases.”

Justice continued to ask West Virginians to get tested for COVID-19. DHHR received results on 7,463 test results on Saturday — the third highest number of test results in one day. Justice said testing would help identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus and provide data for the County Alert System metrics.

“The more we test, the more we learn,” Justice said. “The more we absolutely test, the more we’re going to find … spreaders who are out there. If we don’t stop it, we’ll never be able to get our arms around this.”

Those wishing to find COVID-19 testing dates, times and locations can go to coronavirus.wv.gov and click on the “Free Testing” button.

In addition to the school outbreaks, there are five church-based outbreaks in Tucker, Harrison, Nicholas, Fayette, and Kanawha counties; seven inmates and 21 staff members at Mount Olive Correctional Center in Fayette County and one in North Central Regional Jail in Doddridge County; and 37 outbreaks in long-term care facilities across the state. Justice urged the state to take the virus seriously, especially in counties that are seeing cases decrease.

“Don’t drop your guard,” Justice said. “Just because your color code dropped and all of a sudden now you’re in the green, it doesn’t mean we can run through the streets with our masks off and be good. Now is the time to … to be smart.”

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

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