West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and other state officials say the state is faring well with handling the coronavirus compared to other hot spots around the globe, but that residents need to continue to stay the course by staying at home.
At a virtual news conference held Monday, March 30, the governor announced additional executive orders to help stop the spread of the virus.
“We've made the right moves thus far, but we are a state that is extremely high risk, and we've got to continue to do the things that we've been telling you,” Justice said.
He continued to urge residents to wash their hands, not touch their face and to remain socially distanced from other people as much as possible. But Justice and other officials also cautioned that West Virginia is not yet in the clear.
Justice announced he is ordering incoming travelers from Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Italy and China to quarantine for 14 days upon entering the state. Other states have issued similar orders.
“We don't want anybody coming here from across state lines, unless you're doing something that you're commuting back and forth, you know, from an essential business standpoint,” Justice said. “Other than that, we don't want people coming across our state lines.”
The governor said Monday he is closing all state park campgrounds as well as the scenic overlooks at Blackwater Falls State Park in Tucker County and Cooper’s Rock State Forest in Preston County.
“We have a stairway at Blackwater Falls waterfall and absolutely we're congregating crowds,” Justice said. “We've got to close those.”
The governor said he is directing the West Virginia State Police to monitor and enforce the new orders, including the 14-day quarantine order for travelers from places that have been struck hard by COVID-19.
“Our state police can go to them and request that they quarantine themselves for 14 days and if they resist, they're obstructing justice,” Justice said. “That's all there is to it.”
State officials also announced Monday that trends indicate that West Virginia is testing positive for COVID-19 at a much lower rate nationally and compared to states like New York, which has been devastated by the virus.
Gov. Justice said West Virginia residents are testing positive at a rate of about four percent. Nationally, that number stands at eight to ten percent. And, in New York, residents there are testing positive somewhere between 30 and 50 percent.
But West Virginia is far behind the pace compared to states with severe outbreaks of the virus. New York first confirmed a case of COVID-19 on March 1. West Virginia’s first confirmed case of the virus was announced March 17.
State health officer Dr. Cathy Slemp said officials will post Monday evening more robust data on testing for the coronavirus.
Despite the positive outlook from state officials, Justice and others participating in Monday’s news conference urged residents to continue to take mitigation practices seriously and to stay at home unless absolutely necessary.
“We are absolutely doing it, doing it , in a good way today, but this monster can turn on us and turn on us in a bad way. And the reason this monster can turn and turn bad is just as simple as this: We're an old, old state,” Justice said, noting that the state’s high elderly population and poor health metrics puts it as the highest risk for the coronavirus.
Dr. Clay Marsh, a physician from WVU Health Sciences who was recently appointed the state’s coronavirus czar, reiterated the importance of not letting up on mitigation practices like socially distancing and proper hygiene.
“I think that the danger in saying that is we don't want to curse ourselves — that all of a sudden we can let up and be complacent,” Marsh said.
Marsh said successful mitigation practices are particularly important to reduce the strain on health care workers who are more susceptible to contracting the virus. He said the power to prevent a surge in hospitals and, therefore, a devastating impact on health care workers will take a continued, long term effort from all residents.
“This is not just a sprint,” Marsh said. “This is a longer race.”