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Gov. Justice confirms state’s first COVID-19 case; orders restaurants, bars, casinos closed

MORGANTOWN — Confirming speculation circulating throughout the day, Gov. Jim Justice confirmed on Tuesday evening the state’s first confirmed coronavirus case – in the Eastern Panhandle. And he mandated the closure of all restaurants, bars and casinos in the state.

In a departure from his daily press events with coronavirus leadership team at his side, Justice appeared alone on Tuesday and spoke for just nine minutes.

He didn’t specify the locality of the confirmed case. And he didn’t give any details about when the shutdown would begin. He said only that the bars and restaurants would still be able to provide takeout.

He did say that his friend, President Trump, is seeking to make everyone whole and the state will do the same for those businesses and employees who will be losing income as a consequence.

Justice opened by repeating his daily message: Don’t be fearful or panic. “We have a real plan.”

It was known that the first case was coming, he said. “We prepared for this. We should be concerned but we should not panic.”

Justice said he was providing a pathway to solve that problem. And that pathway is closing the restaurants, bars and casinos (he owns a casino at The Greenbrier).

Justice talked at length about our power to fight the disease. “Our power to combat this disease is being apart from one another.”

That means staying 6 feet apart, avoid crowds, go to store for elderly, leave if the stores are full, follow CDC hygiene recommendations. “We’ve got to be in this boat together. We’ve absolutely got to join hands and use our power – our power is be apart, be smart, look after each other.” He concluded, “By the grace of God shepherding in every way shape, form or fashion, we’ll get through this. We’ll win.”

Test kits coming?

State officials and the state’s Congressional delegation have expressed frustration that few test kits have been available in the state. As of Tuesday, only 500 kits were available.

The state Department of Health and Human Services reported after Justice’s speech that 137 tests had been conducted: 122 were negative, one was positive and 14 were pending.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced Tuesday afternoon that help may be coming. He said he spoke to Dr. Stephen Hahn, the Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about the urgent need for COVID-19 testing in West Virginia hospitals.

He also urged, he said, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec to provide personal protective equipment (PPEs) which includes gloves, gowns, face shields, and masks, to the DHHR.

“Dr. Hahn committed to me that he will do everything in his power to ensure West Virginians have access to the testing equipment necessary to curb the rapid spread of the COVID-19 outbreak and protect our brave healthcare professionals who are fighting this virus on the front lines,” Manchin said.

He said, “I am hearing from West Virginians across the state about being denied testing despite having physical symptoms. This is unacceptable and I am glad Dr. Hahn committed to rectifying this situation quickly. … I urged Azar and Kadlec to send more PPEs from the federal stockpile to West Virginia so our public health professionals are adequately prepared for this virus. No state is more at risk than West Virginia.”

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