In a Thursday news conference that was wide ranging on West Virginia’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Jim Justice announced that he has tested negative for the disease. The governor also provided an update on various aspects of the state’s response to COVID-19, which has swept the globe in recent months.
Speaking to the public through a remote news conference in which the press was allowed to participate virtually, Justice explained that he was made aware that he had contact with a man who has been identified as the person with West Virginia’s first confirmed case of COVID-19.
The governor said he was alerted to the contact when he was shown a photo of him with the man from the Eastern Panhandle and his wife. He noted that he hugged the two of them when he congratulated them at a February 15 grant reception in Martinsburg.
“Today, when I came into the office to go to several different meetings, I was abruptly welcomed by one of our people that was going to do a coronavirus test on me,” Justice said.
Justice said that he self-quarantined at the Governor’s Mansion until the results came back later Thursday as negative.
Justice also noted that the state has ordered various medical supplies through the governor’s contingency fund, including 100,000 N95 surgical masks at a cost of $570,000.
He said 30,000 masks will go to law enforcement, first responders and corrections officers, with the remaining 70,000 to be distributed as needed by the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
The state has also purchased 275 “highly protective suits” to help medical professionals and emergency personnel combat the spread of the disease at a cost of $600,000.
Citing questions from members of the public, Justice announced the closure of barber shops, nail salons and hair dressing facilities.
“I really don't know exactly why this is this way, but I guess everybody is looking to me or the government for guidance, you know.” Justice said. We had many, many requests from the standpoint of our barbers saying, ‘You know, we don't feel comfortable being that close and that close contact with others and everything.’”
Justice noted those additional closures would take effect at midnight Thursday.
In addition to an executive order announced earlier Thursday expanding unemployment benefits, Justice said during the news conference that West Virginia has been designated as an “economic injury disaster zone” by the Small Business Administration.
The program allows small businesses to take out low interest loans to help them stay afloat in the event of a disaster.
Throughout the course of the news conference, Justice reiterated that he wants citizens to not be afraid of the coronavirus outbreak. Instead, he urged them to stay separated from others to help combat the spread of the disease.
He also explained that he sees this moment as an opportunity to attract people to the state in the future.
“We will become the place. We will become the shining light — the place that everybody wants to come to after this passes,” Justice said. “We West Virginians that everybody used to think of as the dark dingy backward state. We West Virginians will become just what we are already becoming — an economic engine. The absolute treasure that everybody missed, the diamond in the rough that everybody missed.”
As of Thursday, the DHHR has reported two positive cases of COVID-19.