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Modeling shows improved outlook for West Virginia, but that assumes continued precautions

A coronavirus model being closely watched by state leaders was updated recently to show an earlier peak in West Virginia but fewer predicted deaths.

State leaders said that’s a good sign that social distancing efforts are working but cautioned that an improved outlook by the model isn’t reason to let up.

Clay Marsh

“Just like the model changed in a good way because of what we’re doing it could easily flip back into a much worse way, and it’s completely because of what we do. So we can’t be complacent,” Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus point man said on MetroNews’ “Talkline” today.

West Virginia will reach peak at on April 16 — in about a week and a half, according to data analysis of all 50 states by The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which is affiliated with the University of Washington.

The model now predicts 182 coronavirus-related deaths in West Virginia through early August.

However, the model indicates significant uncertainty — with an upper possibility of almost 600 deaths and a lower possibility of more than 50 deaths.

Last week, the model predicted West Virginia would reach peak in early May and that there could be 495 total deaths in the state over the course of the outbreak.

Through today, West Virginia has recorded four deaths and 345 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said in a news release today that it updated its models because of “a massive infusion of new data.”

The institute indicated new data on health service use from multiple states led to revisions of the virus effects.

Christopher Murray

“As we obtain more data and more precise data, the forecasts we at IHME created have become more accurate,” stated Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

He specified that four states – Florida, Virginia, Louisiana, and West Virginia – will have peaks earlier than previously projected.

Murray also emphasized caution, saying social distancing efforts are working and should continue.

“As we noted previously, the trajectory of the pandemic will change – and dramatically for the worse – if people ease up on social distancing or relax with other precautions,” he stated.

“Our projections are strengthened by the new downturns in more regions. This is evidence that social distancing is crucial. Our forecasts assume that social distancing remains in place until the end of May.”

During a press conference with the organization today, reporter Dave Mistich of West Virginia Public Broadcasting asked a question about how the modeling reflects West Virginia’s outlook.

Murray said that there has been very little information so far specific to West Virginia, but the new data, overall, provides greater insight.

“So our general conclusion is that what we show now for West Virginia is likely more robust, but we will want to stay and watch carefully as new data comes in,” Murray said.

“If we suddenly see a big upswing for deaths that will be telling us something because we think these big upswings are related to density and use of mass transit and other factors.”

West Virginia has taken broad measures to encourage social distancing over the past few weeks.

Gov. Jim Justice ordered school buildings to be closed on March 14 and issued a stay-home order on March 25.

State officials on a daily basis have cautioned residents to keep their distance from others and to wash their hands often to slow the virus spread.

“If we continue pursuing these strategies as well as we’ve been doing, we’re going to make a big difference here,” Marsh said on “Talkline.”

“We are writing our future. We are writing the story by what we do. And we know that what we do today will have an incredible impact on mid-April, mid-May, mid-June.”

The latest version of the model also came up several times during a regular news briefing led by the governor today.

“As the information changes, so do the models,” Marsh said during the news conference.

He said the latest version “suggests we are doing a good job.”

“But, this model is only as good as the information that is currently being fed into it.”

Marsh concluded: “I would implore you to not be complacent with this, because things can change quickly.”

When asked if the earlier peak projection provides even greater urgency to be ready with personal protective equipment, ventilators and intensive care unit beds, Marsh suggested the strain shouldn’t be as severe as it could have been because of the social distancing standards.

“We have been able to create more time through the actions of our policies and our citizens. I have confidence that we are ready,” he said.

Dr. Cathy Slemp

State Health Officer Cathy Slemp agreed that projections appear not as severe as first believed.

“That being said, it will get worse before it gets better,” she said.

Governor Justice said that although the projections give hope that West Virginians should buckle down.

“I commend all West Virginians again and again. We’re doing great stuff,” he said.

“Stay the course. Please stay the course. If we stay the course we hope and pray we don’t have long to go.”

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