MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice on Friday added four more counties to his executive order list imposing additional restrictions to combat the spread of coronavirus: Wayne, Wood, Cabell and Ohio.
A fifth county – Jackson – fell within the parameters, including total number of positive cases, but asked not to be put on the list because some of the cases are old and health officials there feel they have a handle on the situation, Justice and his advisors said.
His order raised the total number of counties on the list to 11, including Monongalia and Marion.
Justice also addressed the question of “hero pay” – additional pay for front-line COVID-19 workers and responders – during his Friday press briefing. He said he didn’t believe he could fairly distinguish which occupations should receive a pay boost.
So he authorized $100,000 block grants for each county to use at their discretion, he said, for “the people that are the true soldiers right on the front lines.” He cautioned that counties may not use the money to backfill budget holes.
Asked about granting the same dollars to counties of widely varying populations, Justice said he hopes that the bigger counties with more resources will pitch in on their own. And the money is just a bridge until the federal CARES Act money flows in.
Unemployment claims continue to challenge WorkForce West Virginia, Justice said, despite opening two new call centers. Nobody can plan for a pandemic and it’s impossible to cram 90,000 claims into a process designed to handle just 3,400 during the same period.
So Justice said he ordered 24 employees of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, including five state troopers, and 60 new temporary workers, to join the crew to take calls and process claims.
The new help will be trained by next Friday, he said. They’re also working on new software to help speed the process. “All your money is going to come, but frankly to be honest it ought to already have been there.”
Justice described and displayed a letter he was sending to President Trump on Friday to ask him and to looking into shaping the CARES rules to allow some of West Virginia’s $1.25 billion to go to first responders and other essential front-line workers.
Justice has raised the idea over the past several weeks of gearing up the now-closed Fairmont Regional Medical Center as a backup facility to handle any COVID-19 case surge if other facilities are overwhelmed.
Justice said on Friday that right now, based on the latest projections, it won’t be needed for that, but WVU is in progress to get it running as a community hospital by sometime in June.
COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh talked about the latest projections from the University of Washington model.
The projections show West Virginia is “moving rapidly in an extremely good direction,” he said. The peak surge date has been moved to Easter Sunday – April 12 – with the number of deaths down to 74, a significant drop form the original projection of 500.
He emphasized that this is just a projection. “If we’re in a football game, we’re just about to finish the first quarter. … This is a long game.” That means we have to keep up on the precautions.
We should expect to see a decrease in positive cases over a two-week period, he said, and await the development of treatments and a vaccine.
Justice praised the state’s residents for taking all the precautions. “Your good work has led to savings lots and lots and lots of lives.”
Friday afternoon’s numbers from the Department of Health and Human Resources were 574 positives out of 15,101 tests – a rate of 3.8%. That reflected a slight rise over Thursday but still under 4%. The number of deaths remained at five.
Berkeley County had 89 positive cases; Kanawha, 82; Mon, 78; Marion, 32; Preston, 6
Justice and his advisors took a question about how the state is dealing with the challenge of obtaining PPEs – personal protective equipment – with all 50 states competing for limited resources.
Adjutant General James Hoyer said the competition is actually worldwide. Here in the U.S., the national stockpile is limited and states such as New York with more acute problems are getting the resources first. But the state has a network of more than 20 suppliers able to send of the needed gear.
They are working on building some of their own PPE, Hoyer said, and we may see some next week.
With people confined at home, domestic violence is a concern. DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch highlighted some resources for people to contact with concerns. The state domestic abuse hotline number is 800-352-6513. The Coalition Against Domestic Violence website is wvcadv.org.
The nation hotline number is 800-799-7233 and its website is thehotline.org.
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