State coronavirus hotline: 1-800-887-4304. For information and updates: coronavirus.wv.gov
MORGANTOWN — State administration officials offered a coronavirus update to the press and public Wednesday afternoon.
So far, there are no reported cases in the state, said Bill Crouch, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources. Eight people have been tested; seven were negative and one test is pending at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Cathy Slemp, state Health Officer and commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health, said, “We will not be surprised when we find the first one.” They expect some community transmission. They keys are planning, preparedness and prevention.
Coronavirus – COVID-19 – spreads like other respiratory viruses, she said. A sneeze or cough projects droplets six feet ahead, so it’s important to respect that social distance.” It’s not just floating in the air 45 feet away.” The germs enter through your eyes, nose and mouth, so cover a cough or sneeze with your elbow and don’t shake hands.
The germs can linger for a time on a surface, she said, so be careful about touching something and then putting your fingers in your mouth.
Crouch said the governor is very engaged on the issue. They met for three hours on Tuesday and most of that was devoted to coronavirus.
West Virginia has received $5 million from the CDC for planning and preparedness, and the state Legislature set aside $2 million for it. “It’s hard to say what’s going to be enough or what we’re going to need,” Crouch said. They we will use the money wisely in terms of our planning going forward, and they know how to ask the feds for more.
The state has testing kits, Slemp said, and commercial labs will have them available soon. People who believe they need to be tested should consult their healthcare provider. The tests done at the state lab will be free. The state with working with the commercial labs and insurers to minimize the barriers there and make sure costs are covered.
The state has two priority groups for testing, she said. One is those who have the symptoms: fever, shortness of breath and a credible reason to suspect exposure, such as travel to an infected area. The other is those who are hospitalized and are seriously ill have display symptoms; they do not need an exposure history. Healthcare providers are expected to perform tests to rule out other viruses first.
Clayton Burch, state superintendent of schools, addressed precautions at the schools. There are 267,000 students in West Virginia, he said. “It’s very important that they feel safe and sure in their schools.”
His office is in regular communications with the counties. Every district must have a preparedness plan up to date and ready to roll. Deep cleans are common for flu season and should not be unexpected now.
Slemp said closing the schools in not on the table at the moment. “That is a measure that is pretty serious to do,” and requires weighing risks and benefits. Children very rarely develop coronavirus, she said. The down side of closing them includes care and feeding of the kids and parents missing work to be home with them.
A more likely scenario, she said, would be closing a single school if an outbreak should occur there.
Sarah Tucker, interim chancellor of the Higher Education Policy Commission and Chancellor of the Community and Technical College System, addressed WVU’s plan to suspend on-campus classes and what other institutions are doing.
WVU is exercising an abundance of caution, she said, considering the risks of students who will be traveling on spring break and the possibility of brining the disease back to the state. Different institutions will take different measures. “Every single campus has different needs with different student populations.”
Jeff Sandy, Secretary of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, said the Division of Corrections has stopped all visitations. Attorneys representing defendants will still be allowed entry but Corrections is recommending video conferencing. An arrestee who displays elements of virus before going to jail be quarantined with 24-hour security surveillance.
For those considering travel, Slemp said, evaluate whether you really need to go, what level of disease is present and exposure you will face and your own risk level.
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