Healthcare, Latest News, Monongalia County, State Government

Justice adds Marion County to COVID-19 hot spot list and executive order with extra restrictions

MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice added Marion County to the list of state COVID-19 hot spots Wednesday and announced during his daily press briefing that he was expanding his executive orders imposing additional restrictions and expanding local health department authority to include Marion.

Marion’s positive test count rose from 17 on Monday to 25 on Tuesday and 29 on Wednesday, according to Department of Health and Human Resources information.

The executive orders limit groups to a maximum of five people; direct all businesses to require employees to work from home to the maximum extent possible; direct the health departments to establish the maximum occupancy of and proper social distance within essential businesses and take action to enforce these health regulations; direct the National Guard to provide logistical support and services to assist county agencies; and direct State Police to assist with enforcement of local county orders.

This will be his third county-specific order. The first applied to Berkeley, Jefferson, and Morgan; the second to Monongalia, Harrison, and Kanawha. He said, in answer to a question, that he prefers not to issue a blanket statewide order with these restrictions at this time because some counties have no positive cases and because residents might be less likely to take it seriously.

Social media was abuzz Wednesday morning with word that someone at West Virginia Lottery hd approved a sports book company’s request to allow betting on the presidential election.

The news prompted Secretary of State Mac Warner to issue a release reminding everyone that gambling on elections has been illegal since 1868.

Justice brought it up during his briefing, partly on his own and then in response to a question. He first thought people were just fantasizing aloud, he said, then learned Lottery OK’d it about 15 minutes before the briefing. He didn’t know why it was done or why he wasn’t notified. But he immediately put a halt to it.

“That is absolutely ludicrous,” he said of Lottery’s OK. “It’s humorous but its ridiculous.”

Wednesday’s DHHR statistics showed 462 positive cases out of 12,545 tests. The rate of positives to all tests was 3.69%, slightly reversing a downward trend in the rate, but still low compared to the nation.

“They eye of the storm is close to over top of us,” he said. “We should still be very concerned but at the same time we hold hope there is light at the end of the tunnel.” Know one knows when the pandemic will pass. “Only God above knows and he’ll get us through this.”

COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh said we should plan on another eight to 14 days of staying home and staying apart. “If we let our guard down … the chances are the virus will start spreading at a faster rate.”

Mon County is one of the seven county hot spots, with 73 positive cases reported on Wednesday. The Dominion Post has fielded questions about how it spread inside the county, and passed that to Justice and his team.

Justice said, in effect, no one knows. “Guys this is everywhere.” It would be nice to be able to pin it ot one site, such as Sundale nursing home, and go fix it.

Bureau of Public Health Commissioner Cathy Slemp agreed with Justice, saying some came from Sundale but the disease is easily transmissible in the community. And they are detecting only a small percentage of the virus – some have mild cases with no symptoms and don’t know. So everyone needs to keep taking the protective measures.

Marsh added that any part of the state that interfaces regularly with outside areas will have a higher susceptibility. Mon is tied to Pittsburgh and Washington County, Pa.

COVID-19 is affecting the state budget, with businesses closed statewide, and Justice answered a question on the possibility of a previously discussed special session to deal with that.

He said the state is looking at a $350 million shortfall for the fiscal year, largely due to $300 million in deferred income tax collections.

He and his advisors are waiting, he said, on what comes to West Virginia from the CARES Act, which has allocated $300 billion to the states. West Virginia is looking to collect the minimum, about $1.25 billion.

The rules on how that money will be allocated are supposed to be released on April 17, he said, and the money to go on on April 24. Right now, the proposed rules don’t allow states to use the money to backfill budget holes caused by COVID-19, bu the states are pushing to get that changed.

If there’s no federal backfill, he said, then a special session will be needed. But what form it takes to preserve social distancing – virtual perhaps – will be decided when the time comes.

Justice sprinkled a few other tidbits throughout the briefing. He said Optum, the national health services arm of UnitedHealth Group, has provided a free emotional support call line at 866-342-6982.

He put in a plea for all to keep in mind the 7,000-plus children in the foster care system during this pandemic and consider becoming foster parents.

And with Easter and Passover here, he a answered a question on his advice on holiday travel.

We want to see more Easters to come, he said, so we need to keep social distancing. “We’ve got to minimize our travel.”

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