CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Even though West Virginia has tested more than 80 people without a coronavirus confirmation so far, Gov. Jim Justice and state health officials urge continued precautions.
The virus’ presence in surrounding states would lead any clear-thinking person to conclude, “It’s here,” Justice said during a news conference today.
State Health Officer Cathy Slemp added, “We’re moving forward based not on positive tests; we’re moving forward based on assuming it’s here and being proactive.”
Justice and the state’s top health officials expressed desire for more testing kits in West Virginia and said supplies should be based on the state’s vulnerability rather than the number of people who have tested positive.
And they said that although schools are closed and large events discouraged, West Virginia has not yet reached the point of shutting down restaurants and bars.
“In our state today we have been blessed and sheltered. But we should be concerned. We should really be concerned,” Justice said.
“If this virus were to really attack us, we have a very high risk population.”
Justice and the others appeared at a press conference today spaced apart more than in past appearances, a nod to “social distancing” advice. Seats for reporters also were spaced apart.
“We have no positives, but we have to take this seriously. What has worked in other countries is simply more testing and social distancing,” said Bill Crouch, secretary for the Department of Health and Human Resources.
The state leaders expressed frustration that only 500 testing kits have been available in West Virginia so far — and those have only been made functional by jerry-rigging some flu test kits.
“None of it’s enough,” Slemp said.
“Testing supplies are behind. We need more, we need more. Everybody’s screaming that,” said the governor, who was on a conference call today with President Trump, Vice President Pence and governors from other states.
State leaders expect broader testing once more kits are passed along to states and through commercial labs.
“You need to be prioritizing states not just based on cases, but based on risk,” Slemp said, noting that West Virginia has an older population and a high prevalence of heart and lung disease.
Right now, she said, West Virginia has been conducting “targeted testing” based on displaying symptoms and having exposure — or having the symptoms and being seriously ill enough to have been hospitalized.
“What we all want to do is community-based testing, not this targeted testing,” Slemp said.
Due to the evolving #COVID19 situation, @WV_DHHR is clarifying the state's testing criteria: https://t.co/dCz7013WvV pic.twitter.com/tfuyc6Owoj
— WV DHHR (@WV_DHHR) March 16, 2020
Last week, West Virginia shut down the girls and boys basketball tournaments and then sent all K-12 students home for off-campus learning.
Some states like Pennsylvania and Ohio have asked bars, restaurants and gyms to close their doors.
But Justice said that’s not necessary in West Virginia so far.
“I don’t think any of our people yet think that’s necessary to do,” Justice said.
Brian Abraham, the general counsel for the Governor’s Office, suggested the governor’s emergency powers probably don’t extend to shutting down private businesses. In the instances of other states, those shutdowns have actually been strong suggestions to close.
Right now, Justice urged West Virginians to lean on their tradition of supportive communities.
“I would ask West Virginians to do just this: help each other.”