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State COVID numbers get worse; Justice urges all to show their mettle

MORGANTOWN — It was all about the numbers Wednesday.

West Virginia’s COVID numbers are turning steeply south and Gov. Jim Justice spent a good part of his briefing in coach mode, urging unity and cooperation to reverse the decline.

“West Virginia, we are absolutely getting worse by the day,” he said. “This situation right now is very critical. West Virginians, you’re going to have to buckle down.” NewYork and Connecticut now require West Virginians to quarantine when they come into those states.

Some of the bad numbers: Daily positive rate of 7.78%, the highest since April 18 when it was 10.94% and the third-highest of the pandemic; current active cases, 2,806, the highest of the pandemic; deaths, 254; one county in the red (Monongalia) and eight in orange, with school all-virtual in all nine.

The state’s Rt value – an indicator of the potential for spread – was 1.35, the worst in the nation for the fourth consecutive day. The state’s Rt history on looks like a roller coast, falling form a high of 1.57 in early March to a low of .80 in early April, rising to 1.27 in mid-June and falling again to .90 in mid-July. The current run of 1.35 and 1.36 in the past few days is the worst since March 18.

COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh highlighted the current Rt status and said, “We are in a really very delicate situation.”

Justice and his COVID team fielded several questions on the bad numbers.

One asked if renewed restrictions for orange and red counties are being considered. “We’re looking at that very, very closely,” Justice said. Texas and Florida may not see West Virginia’s numbers as a big deal but he does. “As we go forward that could very well be a possibility.”

Marsh answered one on what the Rt value means in the big picture. West Virginia still has relatively fewer cases compared to most other states, so a lot of new cases are overweighted on States with small numbers of people infected see new infections swing the value more dramatically.

So Rt has to be viewed in context. It’s an early indicator of increased spread. Combine that with more active cases than ever, the daily positive rate and the number of deaths both climbing, and the virus moving to rural areas where the most vulnerable residents live.

“We are needing to get this COVID pandemic under better control in a number of our counties. … This is really people’s lives we’re talking about. … This is a vital moment for us.”

The Dominion Post posed a question that Justice called “wonderful” but didn’t completely answer. The Dominion Post noted that Marsh often talks about two approaches to COVID response measures: the sledgehammer and the scalpel, one broad and one more local and precise.

Some have viewed the current Mon bar closure as more sledgehammer since it involves more that just those that cater to WVU students and involves bars far outside the limited downtown area. So we asked if a more scalpel-like approach was possible.

Justice replied that immediately after the bars reopened, the pictures began circulating of maskless students jammed up outside several downtown establishments.

“What are you going to do? You can’t just say we’ll just live with it.”

Bars serving food aren’t affected, he said. And he understands that Morgantown students don’t have to go far to cross a county or state line to get served. “With where we were and what we saw, we’ve got to react, we’ve got to do something. The great people of Mon County need me to react.” And he can’t allow the situation to get worse.

Justice announced that in response to families who monitor the color-coded County Alert System map for school status and need more time to plan, the map will now be updated at 5 p.m. Saturday instead of 9 p.m., to give more time for planning.

Justice wrapped up with one more plea to turn the numbers around. “West Virginia, I need you right now and you need yourself right now.” The state has been the envy of the country and the world in many ways but we’re but now at a crossroad and residents need to show their mettle. “Absolutely West Virginia, I know you can do it.”

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