West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice says he and his administration are “watching the numbers” as they decide next steps in the state’s response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. That comes as the state has set records in key infection metrics that measure the potentially deadly virus and the use of health care resources.
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported Friday all-time high numbers in key metrics as it relates to the pandemic. State health officials report 1,712 active cases of the coronavirus — as well as 102 related hospitalizations, 40 patients in intensive care and 19 on ventilators.
All of those numbers are the highest in these respective categories, according to data from the DHHR. Active cases in the state represent more than 25 percent of the total number of infections that have been documented.
Despite those record-breaking figures in the state, Justice said he is not yet ready to call for additional response, including reinstating a 14-day quarantine for out of state travelers, business closures or other shutdown measures.
“This is an ongoing process, without any question. We're watching the numbers and we're watching every day and we're consulting with all the experts and we're doing any and everything that is within all of my capabilities — mental capabilities, physical capabilities, you know, contacts, everything — that I know we can do,” Justice said.
Justice said, given the increase officials are seeing, returning to more restrictions is “absolutely on the table.”
“It may be that we need to be backing up in a more aggressive way — and that may absolutely come to pass, and everything. I hope and pray that we don't have to go there,” he said.
In recent weeks, Justice has instituted a statewide mask order and also closed bars in Monongalia County after a surge in cases in the area. However, he delayed action on both policies, before going through with imposing those restrictions through executive order.
Also Friday, Justice continued to take aim at his Democratic opponent for governor, Ben Salango, and U.S. Senator Joe Manchin.
“I wish to God above we would stop this crazy politics stuff,” Justice said in his briefing when asked about criticisms on the spending — or lack thereof — of federal aid related to the pandemic. “It’s not good for us. It’s not healthy for us.”
During Friday’s briefing, Justice received various endorsements on his response to the pandemic.
West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts, Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce and Fairmont State University President Mirta Martin all took part in Friday’s briefing.
The three praised Justice and his administration for their efforts in combating the virus.
“Please accept our very heartfelt and sincere gratitude, sir, for your support and monumental assistance that you have ordered today to test our students, our faculty and our staff,” Martin said. “God bless you, sir.”
But Friday’s briefing also focused heavily on the state’s response to an outbreak in Mercer County, as state officials pushed back on reports that they were not doing enough at a nursing home there.
On Wednesday, Justice announced at least two deaths stemming from the facility. The governor also attributed infections at a Mercer County nursing home to travel to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina — which has been widely cited as a source of infections in the state.
Officials Princeton Health Care Center said in a Wednesday statement that no information had been provided to them by health officials indicating travel to Myrtle Beach was the source of the outbreak.
DHHR Sec. Bill Crouch detailed a timeline of the state being notified of positive cases at the facility. He defended allegations that health officials have not properly responded to an outbreak at PHCC.
“What I'm not okay with is bringing politics into the middle of a pandemic. It's wrong, it's unconscionable — and I will not allow DHHR to be used as a political tool, primarily [against] the governor and our staff. The governor doesn’t deserve to have DHHR used as a political tool against him,” Crouch said.
“I know of no other governor that's done more to protect the elderly population, the nursing home population in the country,” Crouch added. “We have done everything that we could do as rapidly, as quickly as possible.”
As of Friday, the DHHR reported 116 deaths from COVID-19, as well as 6,578 total cases of the virus that causes the disease.