6:06pm: Sportsline with Tony Caridi

Justice, while still expressing caution, hopes return to normal can start in a few weeks

Gov. Jim Justice says he hopes people can begin returning to normal in a few weeks, although he is also continuing to express caution.

“I honestly believe within a week from today if we keep trending the way we’re going we’ll see a little better news and a little more hope,” Justice said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

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.

“I think our numbers and our curve are still moving in the right direction,” Justice said.

Through this morning, the state Department of Health and Human Resources reports 462 confirmed coronavirus cases in West Virginia. West Virginia has had 4 coronavirus-related deaths so far.

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

That does not reflect an end to the effects of the virus  — merely the peak.

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.

The results assume the continuation of social distancing guidelines through May.

Asked today if he sees an end in sight, Justice said he tends to look on the bright side.

“I’m an optimist. I always want to cling to hope. I don’t want to be criticized for being an optimist if this doesn’t come to pass — but I really believe you’re beginning to see the light on this situation change in our favor,” Justice said.

Easing back to normal would likely mean avoiding handshakes and other physical greetings such as hugs, Justice said.

Justice, who is close with President Trump, said he thinks the president also sees the situation improving enough to start easing some social distancing guidelines later this month.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if somewhere in the week of the 20th of the month you’ll see the president start to slowly start the engine of our country back,” Justice said.

“And then I think it’s going to take another three weeks beyond that to start seeing real live things begin to happen. That would be a very optimistic timetable, and I hope and pray it would come to pass.”

West Virginia has tens of thousands of new unemployment claims. Justice has acknowledged a backlog of claims while describing efforts to improve such as assigning members of the National Guard to help and having call centers go 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“In all honesty, considering how far we got behind on the backlog — and everyone surely understands my frustration,” he said today.

“If I’ve got people at home who are worried about their health and worried about their loved one’s health and then they’ve got to worry about a paycheck from the standpoint of paying the power bill, that’s no good.”

Workforce West Virginia is now able to process 20,000 to 30,000 claims a day, state officials have said.

“I still think realistically it’s going to be end of next week before we catch up with the backlog.”

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