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Justice names Marsh coronavirus czar; Marsh likes direction of numbers

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice has named WVU Medicine Vice President and WVU Health Sciences Executive Dean Dr. Clay Marsh as the state’s coronavirus czar.

“We got approval from WVU to have him on loan,” Justice said during his Thursday afternoon coronavirus media briefing. “It gives us one more layer of expertise and one more layer of affiliation with hospital knowledge.”

Clay Marsh

Marsh has appeared with Justice at most briefings during the past week.

“At the end of the day he’s done an incredible job,” Justice said.

Marsh will continue to work with state DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch, state Health Officer Dr. Cathy Slemp and others.

Justice said the move will give Slemp the ability to focus on the general health of the state’s population.

“Making Clay Marsh a czar is just appropriate. That’s all I can say,” Justice said.

Earlier Thursday during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline,” Marsh said he was encouraged when comparing the number of confirmed coronavirus cases to the number of people tested.

“Two days ago it was 5.1 percent (confirmed cases vs. those tested) and today it’s about 5 percent, so we are staying steady at that level,” Marsh said.

The numbers would indicate that West Virginia has been successful in “pushing the curve to the right,” Marsh said.

“What I mean by that is we’ve bought an extra day where the curve is not jumping,” he said.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources listed the official confirmed cases Wednesday night at 51, The agency said there have been 1,031 negative cases with 19 pending.

Marsh said if the percentage of confirmed cases stays at around 5 percent for the next two days it would be more positive data that the state state is heading in the right direction.

“Usually when states get their first reported case it takes 7 and 9 days for the curve to really jump,” he said. “So we’ll know if we continue to see it more the same then we’ve changed the history of what other states are seeing in our state.”

The first confirmed case in West Virginia was recorded on March 17.

“Flattening the curve is a longer term view. This though means we are starting to push the curve to the right buying us more time,” Marsh said.

More time would mean more time to plan, respond and receive adequate supplies, Marsh said. He, along with Gov. Jim Justice and state Adjutant General Jim Hoyer have spoken with the White House and FEMA during the last two days about equipment and supplies.

Marsh warns that West Virginia doesn’t want to be like Hong Kong that relaxed some of its response after seeing the number of confirmed cases decrease only to see the number of cases rise again.

“This is not a sprint, it’s a little more of a middle-distance run, not a longer distance run,” Marsh said. “We have to be very vigilant and very cognizant. I have a feeling that West Virginians have really embraced this. It’s going to be a while but we’re doing really well right now,” Marsh said.

Gov. Justice’s stay-at-home order went into effect Tuesday night along with a requirement that all non-essential businesses close. Other orders in the past 10 days have closed schools, dining-in at restaurants, bars, casinos, gyms, barber shops, beauty salons, nail salons, gyms, public recreational facilities, state park lodges and cabins.

Justice was asked at Thursday’s briefing about residents from neighboring states camping out at various campgrounds around West Virginia. Justice turned to comments from President Trump.

“Our president has said over and over and over that if you come from New York to here you need to self-quarantine for 14 days. The same thing is probably true if you’re coming from another area of the country,” Justice said.