MORGANTOWN — Wednesday’s coronavirus press briefing from the state Capitol offered no new announcements or executive orders but continued to look ahead to life after the virus.
In response to a question about when we might see some kind of roadmap or guidelines setting out the benchmarks to reopen the state, Gov. Jim Justice’s answer boiled down to: It’s complicated.
West Virginians have certain expectations but they’re looking at just three parts of a 35-part puzzle, he said, while he’s looking at 32 parts. President Trump laid out his reopening plan last Friday, and Justice announced the restarting of elective hosptial procedures and testing at all nursing homes at the start of this week.
So he’ll announce something as soon as he can, based on the advice of his advisory team. “It’ll only be a guideline, it’ll only be a format,” he said. It will come “in the very nears days” but “it will be fluid and changing from time to time.”
He cautioned that we’ll be going back to work while the coronavirus is still active, and the plan will be a bridge until we have treatments and a vaccine. Patience is required. “Justice wants to put us back to work and wants to put us back to work right now,” but he’ll do it but guided by experts and federal direction to be as safe as possible.
COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh said experts here are learning from what’s being done wrong and right in other parts of the world. Singapore was regarded as having the best concept to deal with the virus, but it started letting in people from Bangladesh and elsewhere and is struggling with new infections. South Korea, on the other hand, also had a good initial response and continues to respond well with broad testing.
“So testing is important,” he said, and they want to keep focusing on that, especially in vulnerable and at-risk populations.
Wednesday afternoon’s coronavirus numbers from the Department of Health and Human Resources were 963 positive cases out of 26,961 results reported – a 3.57% rate – with 29 deaths.
The official number of deaths changed during the briefing, leading to Justice becoming briefly speechless.
The number was 27 when Marsh was talking about half of the state’s deaths being in nursing homes, which reflected well from a public health standpoint on community spread. As he concluded, Justice interrupted the transition to the next speaker to announce he’d just been handed the new number.
Then he sat silent for a bit. Then said, “I don’t know what to say. … This disease has been nasty, that’s all there is to it.”
One of the recent victims was 69 and Justice commented he’ll turn 69 this week and has one young grandchild and one on the way. People at that age still have a lot of life to live.
DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch reported that coronavirus testing has been started in 38 nursing homes, with 11 completed and results from one. There have been no new outbreaks; 680 residents and 706 staff have tested negative.
Crouch announced that DHHR’s Bureau for Children and Families is now able to provide one-time payments, called Pandemic Diversionary Cash Assistance to people who are not receiving WV Works benefits, have a dependent child, have low or no income due to COVID-19 but expect to work after the pandemic. For details and to apply, residents can go to dhhr.wv.gov or call 877-716-1212.
Adjutant General James Hoyer said that both VA nursing homes have completed testing and the Barboursville home reported just one positive case.
Justice commended Hoyer and the National Guard for being recognized as the first unit in the nation to deploy mobile testing trailers. How they’ll work is the DHHR will alert the Guard of a need for rapid testing response and the Guard will send out one of its two trailers within 45 minutes. One of the trailers was ready for use on Wednesday.
Justice commented on the Federal Paycheck Protection Plan money that will be available again for small businesses, but also urged owners to review their insurance policies for business interruption coverage. Their insurer may tell them they don’t have it, but he said owners should engage their lawyer or accountant to examine the fine print and push for it.
Justice concluded with noting how others are noticing West Virginia’s successful response to the pandemic; he was just interviewed by New York media about it. “You have put your mark in the sand of how great West Virginians are,” he said.
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