Updated Wednesday, April 8, 2020 at 8:00 p.m.
Gov. Jim Justice has announced that another West Virginia county has been designated as a “hot spot” for COVID-19. Marion County will join six others who have been allowed to expand the enforcement of public health guidelines. During a virtual news conference, Justice also said he is holding off on calling a special session to address budget issues related to the ongoing pandemic.
Justice announced Wednesday that Marion County would be added to an expanded executive order. It directs local health departments to enact specific guidelines for essential businesses and the enforcement of social distancing practices. The order also offers additional resources through the National Guard and West Virginia State Police.
According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, four people have died in the state as a result of the coronavirus. As of the agency’s Wednesday evening update, 483 total cases have been confirmed across the state.
DHHR’s numbers show Marion County has 30 confirmed cases of COVID-19. On March 29, an 88-year-old female from the county was identified as the state’s first death related to the virus.
Justice and other state officials continue to ask residents to stay home and practice social distancing measures to fight the spread of the virus.
“Every day that goes by now is a monumental hurdle. Because we know we're close to being in the eye of the storm, and the eye of the storm is close to over top of us – it still may be five or six days away, or it may be here right today,” Justice said.
The state’s so-called coronavirus czar, Dr. Clay Marsh, also noted projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that show West Virginia has yet to see the most significant impact of the virus.
“As the projected peak of the COVID-19 – or novel coronavirus is coming up – the staying physically separated and staying at home has the greatest impact in the next 8 to 14 days. So, ultimately, it's really our time right now to double down to make sure that we are protecting ourselves and protecting each other by staying separated.”
Justice also said Wednesday that he is awaiting the release of rules on how federal aid might be used in relief of the ongoing pandemic.
He said if that funding could be used to backfill what’s expected to be more than $350 million revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year’s state budget, a special legislative session would not be needed.
Justice said those rules are expected to be released on April 17th.
“After the rules come out, we'll know at that point in time [whether] we going to have an influx of federal dollars that are going to backfill the revenue deficit,” Justice said. “And if they backfill the revenue deficit, then there's no need to bring the, you know, to go into any level of special session whether you do it virtually or not.”
Justice said he’s learned from calls with the Trump administration that each state will receive a minimum of $1.25 billion. However, the governor said the way rules are currently written, that funding cannot be used to backfill shortfalls in state revenue.