W.Va. Officials Give Update On Coronavirus Preparedness, Brace For First Reported Case

Mar 11, 2020

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Members of Gov. Jim Justice’s administration held a news conference Wednesday to give an update on West Virginia’s response to the novel coronavirus. Justice did not accompany those officials during the news conference.

Officials gave the update after universities and other state agencies put precautionary measures in place in hopes to mitigate the spread of the virus. Those officials noted they have been meeting with local health departments and long-term care facilities for planning. 

“We're trying to make sure we cover our bases and that we move forward methodically and carefully,” Department of Health and Human Resources Sec. Bill Crouch said.

Crouch said eight residents have been tested for the coronavirus as of Wednesday. He reported that seven of those tests have yielded negative results — the other remains pending from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the CDC, West Virginia is one of a few states that have not reported cases of COVID-19. However, Crouch indicated that a reported case in the state appears inevitable. 

"We will, I'm certain, get a case of coronavirus," Crouch said. 

John Hopkins University has reported more than 1,100 cases of the novel coronavirus — known as COVID-19 —  in the United States. Nearly 125,000 cases have been reported worldwide with more than 4,500 deaths. 

“We will not be surprised when we first find the first one. We would anticipate that, in time, we will have some community transmission,” state health officer Dr. Cathy Slemp said.

The state announced Saturday it had acquired the capability to test for the disease on its own. Slemp said the state has a test kit that allows 300-400 tests, but that changes in procedure may allow for capacity of that kit to be doubled.

West Virginia University, Marshall University and other higher education institutions in the state have suspended in-person classes and are transitioning to remote learning. Slemp said those decisions were thought out carefully and were meant to be proactive. 

“Universities have international travel and other things that are going on. And so it's a different population,” Slemp said. “It's very different there than, say, the school system — our K through 12 schools — this would not apply the same way at all.”

Newly appointed state superintendent of schools Clayton Burch said he has been on phone calls with county superintendents as well as officials at the U.S. Department of Education. He said school officials have been directed to deep clean facilities. 

“This is not unusual during any flu season we go through,” Burch said. “We actually asked them to take those precautions even during flu season that they take time out when necessary — when there's large exposures — to do deep cleans to their facilities.”

Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Sec. Jeff Sandy said that visitations at state correctional facilities are being suspended effective Wednesday. He said inmate visitors may be coming from metropolitan areas or areas that have had more exposure to international travelers. 

“Attorneys representing the defendants in these facilities may still continue to come,” Sandy said. “But we are going to recommend to them to use video conferencing on that. So, we're being proactive.”

Throughout the course of Wednesday’s news conference, Crouch and Slemp urged residents to cover their coughs and sneezes, to frequently wash their hands and to stay home if they are sick.

“We would just ask everybody to understand the obstacles going forward, in terms of individuals not being fully aware and being worried,” Crouch said. "We know how to deal with this and we want the public to know that they can do a great deal to address this issue themselves — just by using your elbow when you cough, and again, not shaking hands. Those are actually huge things.”

Residents seeking more information on the coronavirus can call 1-800-887-4304 or visit coronavirus.wv.gov