MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice announced Thursday that WVU has agreed to lend WVU Vice President and Executive Dean for Health Sciences Clay Marsh to his office to operate as COVID-19 Czar.
Also, people without insurance receied some good news. Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said Medicaid will cover coronavirus testing and treatment for all uninsured.
Marsh has been a constant presence at the Capitol during the crisis, Justice said. “At the end of the day he has done an incredible job.” So he asked WVU to offer Marsh on loan. “I’m really pleased that Clay’s going to come on board.”
Marsh said, “This is a big job and this is an unprecedented time. … I feel that we have a tremendous team,” including the medical schools, hospitals and state agencies coordinating the response. “Our job here is to serve you.”
As of Thursday afternoon, Marsh said, there were 51 positive cases, 1,031 negatives and 19 tests pending. The growth in positive tests has stabilized in the last 24 hours at 5%.
“That is a very good sign that we are doing the right thing as a state,” he said. They don’t know if the growth curve is flattened but they have bought more time. “If we do the right things, I very much believe we can be the model for the rest of the country.”
Justice apologized for starting Thursday’s press conference 26 minutes late, saying he’d been in a state governors’ call with President Trump, reviewing the CARES coronavirus stimulus bill that passed the Senate Wednesday night, and making his case to get supplies to West Virginia.
Speaking of his regular calls to the White House, he said, “That’s our lifeline in lots of ways.” He added later, “Everyone’s short, everyone’s frustrated, but we’re going to get our fair share of what we need.”
He also commented on the CARES bill, “There’s going to be an incredible amount of dollars to flow into West Virginia.” Some of that money will allow people to keep working – from home, he cautioned. And the relief won’t come at the usual governmental snail’s pace. “This is moving at light speed.”
Crouch didn’t elaborate on the Medicaid for uninsured issue. He did note, in response to a question, that DHHR is working with the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety to coordinate services for the homeless.
The issue of keeping daycares open had been raised frequently at the press briefings. Bureau of Public Health Commissioner Cathy Slemp has said daycare services were needed because kids were out of school. But the governor’s order closing all but essential businesses has changed that.
Slemp said Thursday that no childcare should be provided other than for essential workers.
Some interest groups are pushing the governor to release some jail and prison inmates in order to reduce the crowding and protect their health. In response to a question from The Dominion Post about that, Crouch indicated that’ not on the immediate horizon.
DHHR is regular communication with DMAPS, he said, about the jail population and keeping prisoners separated. “We’re working hard to make sure those individuals stay safe.”
Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch reported that WorkForce West Virginia has processed 41,549 initial unemployment claims since March 19, along with 10,000 low-earnings claims; 148 employees are handling them. The agency processed just 5,000 claims in all of February.
The Development Office, he said, isworking on plans to assist workers and employers affected by coronvirus impacts, coordinating with the feds to channel resources and relief.
While Justice and Marsh have both referred to West Virginia’s as a national beacon in the light of its coronavirus response, Justice cautioned about folks who might want to come from New York or other hot spots.
“West Virginia looks like a safe heaven, a place to come to to weather the storm,” he said. But those who come here should self-quarantine for 14 days to ensure the safety of those already here. If they quarantine, “We embrace you beyond belief.”