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In a Tuesday evening address, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced the state’s first confirmed case of the coronavirus, as well as the closing of some businesses to combat the spread of the disease.
Justice urged residents not to panic as the state continues to respond to the pandemic that’s so far stricken more than 4,200 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tuesday’s address was closed off from the media and the general public. State officials had scheduled a media availability following the address, but Justice was not in attendance.
“Just moments before I was able to come on tonight and talk with you, our health officials came to me and said now we do have our first positive, confirmed in the Eastern Panhandle,” Justice said.
Justice was not specific with the location of the case but had indicated prior to Tuesday that the discovery of the first case was inevitable.
As of Tuesday evening, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported that 137 residents had been tested for COVID-19. 122 have yielded negative results and 14 other results are pending.
“We knew it was coming. We prepared for this and we shouldn't panic,” Justice said. “We should be cautious, we should be concerned. But we should not panic. We should go ahead and try to live our lives as best we can. But, again, we should not panic.”
Justice also announced another set of precautions to be implemented to prevent the spread of the disease. He mandated that bars, restaurants and casinos close in such a way to avoid crowds — leaving the door open for picking up take-out orders.
While Justice was not specific during his address on the timeline of those closures, state officials later clarified it would take effect at midnight Tuesday night.
“Now, with that we'll be able to have carry out at our bars and restaurants,” Justice said. “But we have to close our casinos and we have to close our restaurants and our bars from the standpoint of people gathering in those and transmitting this terrible disease — or potentially transmitting.”
The announcement of the closing of some businesses came just one day after Justice suggested to people to “go eat at Bob Evans” if they felt like it.
Justice’s address to West Virginians came hours after President Donald Trump indicated that the state did not need federal resources as much as others. At the time when Trump was speaking, West Virginia had not yet confirmed a case of the virus.
“We have all of this equipment in stock and we’re looking at different sites and a few different locations,” Trump said. “And we’re not going to need them in West Virginia, where so far, I guess they have none.”
“Big Jim, the governor,” Trump said, referring to Justice. “He must be doing a good job of that. That’s what’s reported. … West Virginia is the only one that has no cases. So obviously that’s being treated differently than New York or California.”
Trump’s remarks drew swift criticism from officials from the city of Charleston and Kanawha County. In letters to U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, elected officials from those governments expressed concern over the president’s remarks.
“The President was commenting on the lack of positive tests in West Virginia — which is a direct result of the failure of the federal government,” Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin and Kanawha County Commissioners Kent Carper, Ben Salago and Henry Shores wrote. “The federal government rationed the tests and now the people of West Virginia are put at a severe risk.”
Justice and members of his administration said Monday that the state currently has the capacity to test about 500 people. The governor and other health officials have continued to urge residents to stay at home and socially distance themselves from other people. He reiterated that in the Tuesday evening address.
“Now, you've got to listen to me. We've got to be in this boat together. We've absolutely got to join hands and use our power. Our power is to be apart,” Justice said. “Be apart, be smart, look after each other and try in every way, shape, form or fashion to move ourselves forward,” Justice said.