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Justice declares Marion County as latest hotspot, but declines to clamp down everywhere

Gov. Jim Justice declared Marion County as the newest coronavirus hotspot in West Virginia but declined to say heightened social distancing standards should be applied all over the state.

Marion County was part of a New York Times profile today focusing on how coronavirus is affecting rural communities across the country. The Times described last month’s closure of Fairmont Regional Medical Center.

Marion now joins six other counties as being declared official hotspots, which means they are under executive order to tighten social distancing even beyond the stay-home orders that apply across West Virginia.

Marion County has 30 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to figures released today by the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

“We’ve got another hotspot in another county — a county kind of wedged in between a couple counties where we already had hotspots — and that is Marion County,” Justice said.

So Marion joins nearby Harrison and Monongalia counties with a hotspot designation.

Also declared hotspots have been Kanawha, Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties.

Justice’s executive order is meant to limit groups to a maximum of five people and directs all businesses to require employees to work from home “to the maximum extent possible.”

It authorizes the county health departments to limit occupancy of any businesses that remain open to the public and designates support from the State Police and the West Virginia National Guard.

Justice and other state health officials have said the designation relates to an uptick in positive tests, as well as a geographic location that might make the areas vulnerable.

For instance, the Eastern Panhandle counties are so close to the Washington, D.C., area that has seen significant virus spread.

When asked during today’s press conference for any particular factor that led to Monongalia County becoming a hotspot, Justice described a combination of reasons.

“It’s just everywhere,” Justice said. “Whether we gather too much or where there’s more people it just gives us a bigger target.”

Cathy Slemp

State Health Officer Cathy Slemp chimed in, “I think the governor’s right.”

West Virginia was reporting 462 confirmed cases of coronavirus today, although Slemp noted that some cases are so mild that they go unreported.

Clay Marsh

Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus point man, noted new research indicating even greater ease of spread than earlier believed.

Rather than passing the virus along to two or three people on average, the research indicates, each infected person may pass it along to five or so additional people.

But when asked if the entire state should be under heightened social distancing orders — essentially declaring all 55 counties hotspots — Justice suggested that’s not currently necessary.

He noted that some counties don’t yet have a confirmed case.

“Everything is on the table,” the governor allowed, elaborating that he would likely heed the advise of health experts but saying a blanket order would probably be less effective than pinpointing areas with a high rate of spread.

“To just do it blanket across the state, I don’t know that we’re prepared to do that and I don’t think it would be as effective,” Justice said.

Modeling watched closely by state leaders shows West Virginia reaching a peak for virus spread in about a week.

That would not mark the end, and the modeling assumes the continuation of social distancing guidelines through May.

As the projected peak is coming up then staying physically separated and staying at home has the greatest impact in the next 8 to 14 days,” Marsh said.

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