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30 nursing homes across state see COVID outbreaks; visitation ban, testing, other measures in talks

MORGANTOWN — Most involve just one or two people, and they’re trying to keep the outbreaks contained, he said. They’re not quite the same as community-spread outbreaks, but the staff members are part of their communities.

“That’s where the community spread is generally introduced into the facility,” he said.

DHHR is particularly concentrating on four homes, Crouch said. Pine Lodge Center in Beckley has 33 residents and 13 staff infected. Grant Rehabilitation and Care Center in Petersburg has 33 staff and nine residents infected.

Trinity Healthcare nursing home in Logan County has an outbreak but Crouch didn’t provide numbers. And the outbreak at Princeton Health Care Center in Mercer County continues – as of Friday the home had 21 staff and 34 residents infected, the center says on its website.

The Dominion Post asked if the safety protocols for staff and visitors are inadequate and if a beefed-up statewide standard needs to be imposed.

Gov. Jim Justice said his office is discussing returning to a ban on visitation. And “We absolutely are looking at ways to better screen our staff.”

Myrtle Beach keeps jumping out, he said. Plans need to be developed for another round of statewide testing for nursing homes and for jails – where two have seen new cases of infected inmates.

“If we don’t jump on this and jump on this right now, it’s already bad enough.”

In response to another question, DHHR said PPE at the homes is adequate and they’ve spoken with all the county health departments to make sure they know DHHR has contract tracers available to help them.

Later, Justice added, “Absolutely, we should be more concerned, have a broader approach.” Nursing home deaths across the nation are high and it’s a national and world concern.

COVID numbers

Justice opened his briefing by saying, “The number of deaths we have to report today is staggering.”

Reports from Saturday of four deaths, eight Sunday and two Monday brought the state total to 141. The eight deaths reported Sunday were all at the Princeton Health Care Center but had occurred over the course of several weeks and were belatedly reported to DHHR.

Bureau for Public Healh Commissioner Ayne Amjad said the belated reporting stemmed from personnel issues at the Mercer County Health Department that led to death reports not getting filed in a timely manner. The nursing home and the victims’ families knew but word never reached DHHR.

The eight deaths brought the total reported deaths at the home to 11.

In other COVID numbers, Sunday saw 60 new positive cases, down from 121 Saturday and 126 Sunday. But total active cases rose to 1,914 Sunday, up from 1,877 Saturday and 1,823 Friday.

Unemployment benefits

Justice and WorkForce West Virginia Director Scott Adkins talked about unemployment benefits.

President Trump on Saturday issued an executive order extending federal unemployment benefits at $400 per week – right between the GOP $200 and Democrat $600 figures that are part of the stalled HEALS Act haggling.

But Trump’s order puts 25% of the burden for paying the $400 on the states. Justice said that amounts to $26 million per week for the state.

He said he believes that will be reversed and the feds will pick up the whole tab, but until then the question arises can the state afford it.

“We’re going to pay it,” he said. “We cannot let our people, sitting out there with no job, wondering what in the world they’re going to do, sit out there and wilt on the vine.”

The money will come out of what he devoted to WorkForce from CARES money, he said: $287 million to backfill Fiscal Year 2020 expenses and $400 million for FY 2021. “That’s why we did it, and God knows I’m glad we did it.”

Adkins said the order provides the money in an unusual fashion: through FEMA rather than the U.S. Department of Labor. They’re trying to figure out how that will work. But claimants already receiving money won’t have to do anything to receive the $400.

Don’t get careless

Justice wrapped the briefing warning residents not to get complacent because – despite the various outbreaks – our overall numbers are low relative to the rest of the country.

Our mountains and rural population don’t protect us, he said. “Absolutely West Virginia you are not protected.”

Wearing masks and practicing social distancing are what has protected us, he said, but people are growing slack and becoming less cautious that when he first ordered the statewide shutdowns.

“Are we trying with the same level of concern that we had then,” he asked. “If you’re brutally honest you’d say no. … Absolutely this thing could jerk our guts out. … We have got to belly up to the situation that we have got to do better.”

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