Justice Outlines Testing Efforts At W.Va. Nursing Homes, Says Roadmap to Reopening Will Be 'Fluid'
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday widespread testing of the coronavirus at nursing homes has so far yielded encouraging results. However, he and other officials cautioned that effort is early on, with just under one-third of the state’s facilities fully tested, and broader testing is planned as the state considers how to reopen with the pandemic lingering.
The governor ordered last week that all nursing home residents and staff across the state be tested for the coronavirus. He said so far only one new confirmed case of the coronavirus has been found at those types of facilities.
Justice said the case was discovered at a veteran’s nursing home in Barboursville.
The widespread testing followed outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities in Monongalia, Wayne and Jackson counties.
“Those breakouts in nursing homes have been very, very alarming and so that's why we went on this — basically — crusade to test everybody,” Justice said.
But Justice said that widespread testing is not yet complete and the situation could change as nearly 28,000 residents and staff will be tested as part of the effort.
“What worried me was we would find that we have a significant problem in lots and lots of places and the jury's still out,” he said.
West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch says the state has initiated testing in 38 long-term facilities, with 11 of them reporting they have completed testing. Crouch reported nearly 1,400 negative tests between residents and staff as of Tuesday.
“Thus far we're showing good results, you'll notice that the number and the percentage of individuals tested for West Virginia is growing rapidly as a result of this,” Crouch said.
Justice noted that he’s seen two distinct viewpoints become clear as state’s grapple with the virus while they consider reigniting stalled economies. He compared protests in state’s calling for reopenings with other calls to postpone those efforts until the fall.
“There could probably be better thought in both situations,” Justice said. “Now the one thing I've tried with all in me to do is guide us through a pathway to keep as many of us from getting sick, and as many people from dying as I possibly could.”
State coronavirus czar Dr. Clay Marsh said Wednesday as testing ramps up in the state, other vulnerable and hard-hit populations such as inmates, African Americans and the elderly will be a priority. He said the state plans to have a “very broad” testing plan.
“As we get back reopening as we're doing now under the governor's direction — and his decisions which I think are always with the best intentions for the well-being and the health of our population — what we've realized from what other countries have done this is the fact that we can't, just by seeing people's symptoms know who can spread this virus and who can’t,” Marsh said.
Justice has not yet announced a plan for reopening the state beyond saying hospitals will soon return to full operations. On Monday, he announced an executive order that allows hospitals to apply beginning April 27 to resume elective medical surgeries and procedures.
“In the very near days you will get more and more and more of a guideline — a roadmap to where we're going,” Justice said. “But just be prepared [that] the roadmap has got to be fluid and have the ability to pivot all the time because, you know, this situation can jump up and bite us, Justice said.
According to state officials, 26,961 test results have been turned over to laboratories. As of the DHHR’s Wednesday evening update, 963 cases have been confirmed in the state.
A large majority of West Virginia’s 29 reported deaths have been elderly residents with underlying health conditions.