Justice, state officials weighing options to control COVID-19 spread in West Virginia
CHARLESTON – After constant warnings over the last seven days, Gov. Jim Justice said Monday he is meeting with members of his cabinet and other state officials to look at options at controlling the spread of COVID-19, particularly in the state’s largest counties.
“If (counties) remain in the orange and/or red, I’m going to look at additional things we can do within those counties from the standpoint of things we need to shut down to make things better,” Justice said.
During his Monday coronavirus briefing at the State Capitol Building, Justice said he was meeting Monday evening with cabinet officials, West Virginia National Guard Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, state health officials with the Department of Health and Human Resources, State Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh, and others to determine the next steps.
Justice also said the officials would discuss another change to the County Alert System color-coded map, adding an additional color in between yellow and orange to keep schools open for in-person learning. Other changes could include re-calculating how cases are counted in counties with colleges and universities.
“From the standpoint of our kids, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense that a ball team that has practiced and worked as hard as they have or a kid who really wants to go to school as much as a kid wants to go … that we continue to let other things remain open and them not be able to do what they would like to do,” Justice said.
According to DHHR, the number of positive cases over the last 14 days between Aug. 31 and Sept. 13 was 2,525, which is a 37 percent increase in positive cases from the previous 14 days. As of Monday – the most recent data available – the state reported 112 new cases.
Active COVID-19 cases – the number of infected people in self-quarantine or hospitalized – was 3,184 cases as of Monday – a 16 percent increase from 2,747 active cases seven days ago and a 58 percent increase from 14 days ago. Active cases have increased in 27 out of 55 counties, while cases in 19 counties have decreased and six counties have seen no changes in case numbers. Only three counties have no positive coronavirus cases.
Justice singled out Kanawha and Monongalia counties, which account for 42 percent of the state’s 3,184 active cases. Kanawha County had 750 active cases as of Monday, followed by Monongalia County with 571 active cases. Justice said Kanawha County’s numbers were linked to numerous outbreaks in long-term care facilities. His remarks were most scathing at Bible Center School in Charleston, where a number of cases have been reported.
Justice accused the school of violating state law by having school even though the county is in the orange, meaning public and private schools must remain closed.
“They are taking it upon themselves to just ignore the executive order … and go back to school,” Justice said. “From the standpoint of running down and saying, ‘you’re violating the law,’ well, you know you are, and it’s a crying pitiful shame.”
Monongalia County’s cases are linked to the Morgantown campus of West Virginia University. According to WVU, 443 students are in isolation due to likely COVID-19 test results. Another, 1,004 students are in quarantine due to possible close contact to infected students as of Sept. 10. Justice said officials would discuss ways to possibly re-calculate case numbers for the school re-entry map to allow Monongalia County schools to re-open despite the cases at WVU.
Part of that discussion will involve adding an additional color and metrics for the color-coded map. Counties in the yellow category have between 3.1 and 9.9 cases per 100,000 people based on a seven-day rolling average of cases for counties with 16,000 or more residents and a 14-day rolling average for counties with less than 16,000 residents. Counties in the orange have between 10 and 24.9 cases per 100,000 people.
Justice said he would like to see a new gold color added between yellow and orange which would have its own set of metrics. Justice said the new color would help schools stay open for in-person learning and give counties more time to stay out of the orange and red categories which requires schools to close for in-person learning and halt sports and extracurricular activities.
“I believe that the orange color code is just too wide,” Justice said. “I think we need to do something about it. I also believe with counties that can get themselves into a level that is very very close to being into our yellow category, then I believe we ought to try with all in us to help them not only be able to go to school, but help them be able to participate in sports.”
The total numbers of test results over the last 14 days was 53,636, which was a 28 percent decrease in testing compared testing conducted between Aug. 17 through Aug. 30. West Virginia’s Rt number – the rate that shows how quickly the virus is spreading in the community – was 1.27 as of Monday, peaking at 1.35 last Wednesday. While the rate is coming down, West Virginia’s Rt value remains the highest in the U.S.
The state reported 275 total COVID-19 deaths as of Monday, with nine new deaths reported to DHHR Monday. However, there have been no increases in deaths when comparing two 14-day periods, with 53 deaths reported between Aug. 31 and Sept. 13 and 53 deaths reported between Aug. 17 through Aug. 30.
There were 151 hospitalizations as of Monday. The average number of hospitalizations between Aug. 31 and Sept. 13 increased by 6 percent over the average number of hospitalizations the previous 14 days. There are 58 infected people in intensive care units and 24 people on ventilators.