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State numbers grow worse but optimism remains at governor’s office; death toll reaches 100

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia’s COVID-19 death toll reached 100 Friday morning.

Gov. Jim Justice remarked on it at the start of his Friday briefing. “Our numbers continue in not the way we want them to continue,” he said. The average age of those who’ve died is 76.

There were 125 new COVID-19 cases in the state Friday morning, a daily positive rate of 4.89%, and 1,450 active cases statewide with 390 of them in the state hot spot, Monongalia County. Boone, Kanawha, Raleigh and Taylor counties have church outbreaks.

Turning back to those who’ve died, he said, “I hate more than you’ll ever know to look at the number 100 and think that we’ve lost 100 people in West Virginia. … These people have names; these are families. … This pandemic across our nation is real.”

Moving on, Justice said he believes that in the next 10-14 days we’ll see case numbers get better as a result of the mask mandate.

But meanwhile, the disease is spreading here and across the nation, with Florida suffering the most.

“Florida’s governor is a very confident younger guy,” Justice said. He “was the star of the game show.”

But Florida’s daily positive raterecently hit 28%, he said. “This thing has jumped back and bit them … in a very, very bad way. … Things were so good in Florida. Things were so good in West Virginia. It can change.”

COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh said, “We know the coronavirus is spreading rapidly around the world.” In a five-day stretch, 1 million new cases emerged. The U.S. Just saw a record one-day total of 77,000 new cases, and nearly 1,000 people died on Thursday. Florida is running out of intensive care unit beds while hospitals in Texas and Arizona have brought in refrigerated mortuaries because their morgues are overwhelmed.

We know hospitalizations in West Virginia will increase over the next week as the case numbers have been going up, Marsh said, and in the next two to three weeks we’ll see people get sicker and die.

With universities and colleges set to open next month and K-12 schools slated to reopen Sept. 8, Justice said he wants to want to be optimistic but cautious about students returning.

In light of the disease spread here and in the states around us, The Dominion Post asked officials are considering reinstating some kind of travel ban or mandatory quarantine, and whether it’s practical to have college students flood back into Morgantown and Huntington right at the edge of the window where we expect to see deaths increase.

Justice said, “We’re really concerned.” He’s met with WVU and the private colleges. “I’m listening to all kinds of plans to be able to assure that we’ll be able to keep our students and faculty safe. … They’re absolutely going to be ready.” And keep watching the numbers.

Things were different seven days ago than they were today, and seven days form now we’ll know more.

Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Sarah Tucker asked him if they need to mandate testing for every student coming back from out of state. About half the colleges and universities are able to do that now. “I said, without any question we’re going to test every single kid that comes into West Virginia from out of state.”

Regarding a travel ban, the health community is looking at that, he said. “We’re absolutely on top of this. … But we’ve still got to really watch.”

Special session revisited

In response to a question, Justice again talked about his reluctance to call a special session to appropriate CARES Act money.

“I have been an architect,” he said of the current allocation plan, which was crafted in consultation with his financial advisors. There are no pet projects and no money is coming to him. “It was a good plan.”

Justice said he’s had a wide-open suggestion box – that legislators could bring spending ideas to their leadership, who would pass them to him, “I didn’t hear squat.”

But, as has been reported before, all House and Senate Democrats, along with enough House Republicans to reach the three-fifths supermajority needed to call themselves into session, have asked Justice to call one. But Senate GOP members aren’t on board.

Justice said, “Now you’ve got as bunch of people in an election year who want to turn this into a circus. … I am here for all West Virginians.”

A special session could undermine the GOP majority, he said. “You got a bunch of what I would call outcasts or oddballs that are running this scenario fro the standpoint of the Republican side andif they don’t watch out they’re going to gut their entire party. … There are people dying here.”

If they want to call themselves back, he said, “I’ll sit on the sidelines and watch. I’m not going to help them.” It’ll cost $35,000 a day if they do. Later, he added, “I don’t want to be your king. I want to be your governor who drives his own car.”

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