West Virginia joins 49 other states with virus confirmation; takes more shutdown steps to slow spread

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia is no longer the only state in the nation without a confirmed case of coronavirus.

Gov. Jim Justice announced on Tuesday evening that West Virginia has its first confirmed case, which he said was identified in the state’s Eastern Panhandle.

State health officials later declined to provide additional details about the patient, including age, gender and the county where the case was identified. But they did say the case is being treated as “outpatient,” meaning the person’s symptoms are mild enough to be quarantined and treated at home.

Dr. Cathy Slemp

State Health Officer Cathy Slemp later said state officials were able to make contact with the coronavirus patient and family. She described responsible behavior by the person. “They’ve been doing all the right things and following all the guidance,” Slemp said.

Justice also announced, as other governors have, an order shutting inside service for restaurants, bars and casinos starting at midnight. He said delivery and takeout would remain available.

The goal, he said in a statewide address, is to slow a surge of the coronavirus. By limiting human contact over the next few weeks, health experts have said, the spread could be slowed enough to prevent overloading the medical system with fragile patients.

“We should be Mountaineer Strong,” he said.

He later added, ““We have to take seriously our power to stay away from crowds.”

By 8 p.m. Tuesday, West Virginia, through its public health lab, had tested 137 residents for COVID-19, with 122 results coming back negative and 14 tests pending.

And, now, there’s the single confirmed case, although that doesn’t mean there aren’t others.

Life has swiftly changed in West Virginia as more and more coronavirus precautions have gone into effect.

A week ago, West Virginia’s colleges started announcing spring break would be extended and students would transition to off-campus learning.

Late in the week, in the middle of a game, Justice announced that the state girls basketball tournament would be shut down. And on Friday, in the middle of the school day, Justice announced K-12 learning would have to continue at home.

Just yesterday, when other governors were shutting down restaurants, Justice said some aspects of life could remain normal. “Go to the grocery stores. For crying out loud, go to the grocery stores. If you want to go to Bob Evans and eat, go to Bob Evans and eat.”

Justice has been urging West Virginians to practice “social distancing” — scrubbing hands, coughing into sleeves, staying a few feet apart.

But today, after the confirmation of the first West Virginia case, he was ready to slow down even more of life. His speech alluded to economic sacrifice, but he said that without attempts to slow the spread the weight of elderly family members being taken would be too much.

“If by chance I left a stone unturned and to cure an economic issue I exposed others to where you lost a loved one how would we overcome?” Justice said.

The governor’s address, which was formal for him, took place in a reception room without the public or reporters. His advisers and state health officials then went to a separate room in a separate building where reporters had gathered for reaction.

Speaking about the most recent decision to discourage congregating in restaurants, bars and casinos, Slemp said, “We need to live our lives and to do it in ways that have that distancing, that protect families and that higher risk population.”

Clay Marsh, executive dean for Health Sciences at West Virginia University, also said it’s important to maintain distance from others right now.

“This virus doesn’t understand state lines and is spreading,” Marsh said. “So we can very much together start to reduce the connections, the contacts that we have.”

Shelley Moore Capito

Responding to the governor’s remarks, Senator Shelley Moore Capito stated, “I am thinking of the person impacted by this virus and wish them a speedy recovery.”

Capito said she continues to be concerned about West Virginia’s rural hospitals and the need for more testing kits in the state.

“This is an issue I remain on top of and will continue to monitor as the situation evolves,” said Capito, R-W.Va.

Joe Manchin

Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he supports Justice’s decision to limit access to bars, restaurants and casinos.

“I hope that the announcement of the first case in West Virginia will encourage every individual to take this virus seriously and follow CDC guidelines to protect themselves and our communities,” Manchin said.






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