Only a handful of states have no reported coronavirus cases to date, one of which is West Virginia. Gov. Jim Justice held a press conference Thursday to talk about the state’s plan to prepare.
Although a coronavirus case has not been diagnosed in West Virginia, state officials said it’s likely only a matter of time. All bordering states have cases.
Gov. Justice instructed all state agencies to avoid holding large gatherings and issued a travel ban.
“Today I’m issuing a state employee travel ban for both out of state and international travel for our state businesses,” he said.
He also urged all West Virginians to reconsider nonessential travel out of state or internationally, citing particular concern for the state’s elderly population. Older adults and those with preexisting health conditions have been hit hardest by coronavirus internationally.
Justice also asked nursing homes to severely restrict visitors except in the case of serious illness or end of life circumstances and suspended the state’s high school basketball tournaments.
The panel of experts called these measures “preventative.”
“The risk today in West Virginia is not dramatically different than the risk yesterday,” said commissioner for public health, Dr. Kathy Slemp.
“With all these interventions we know they make a difference if you do them early rather than later so we know they’re disruptive, they’re awful, we hate to have to make these decisions. The challenge is if you wait too long to make them we have the disruptions but not the benefit. If we do them early, we maximize the benefit so it’s a better balance.”
When pressed, the Governor acknowledged concerns about the various cancellations and closures impact on the state’s economy, pointing to market nosedives happening at the federal level. But said keeping West Virginians safe was of the utmost importance.
When asked about the state’s capacity for testing, Slemp was vague on the exact number of tests the state could perform a day -- saying prevention is not about testing.
“It’s about all of us at this point taking all the measures we can do to reduce our own risk, to protect our families and to protect especially our elderly so it really is about how we work together as communities to get the job done,” she said.
Speaking to her after the conference, she said from a public health perspective, it’s more important for those with mild symptoms that can be managed at home to do that rather than going out in public and potentially infecting other people. Additionally, if the disease were to hit West Virginia hard, hospital capacity is always a concern, especially in light of recent hospital closures and the ongoing demands on hospitals already, such as managing the opioid epidemic and chronic diseases.
Despite these preventative measures, Justice said although West Virginia is preparing for the virus, panic is not necessary. Live your life he said, wash your hands and stay home if you aren’t feeling well.
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from Marshall Health and Charleston Area Medical Center.