West Virginia peak now expected today, but Marsh says that doesn’t mean back to normal right away

Today — Easter — a prominent model anticipates a coronavirus peak in West Virginia.

The state’s coronavirus response coordinator isn’t suggesting a letdown in response, though.

Clay Marsh says social distancing guidelines are working. And when it’s time to transition from current practices, life won’t go back to the way we knew it right away.

“Many people are viewing this as ‘When do we get back to the world that we left before the pandemic?” Marsh said Saturday on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

“For me, I’m already moving past that and understanding that we’re moving to a new place. The pressure made our whole system start to move with a great energy that is starting to shift us into a different place. And while I can’t tell you what the different place is, I would say in my own mind and perspective that if we think we’re getting back there, it’s not true. I don’t know exactly what we’re getting back to.”

Marsh expanded on the next steps in dealing with coronavirus in a blog post published Saturday evening.

Across the country, leaders are talking about three steps to start emerging from the current stay-home guidelines that apply to all but essential workers.

The first is ramping up testing to identify people who are infected.

The second is identifying people with whom they have interacted by going over their recent contacts on an enormous, unprecedented scale.

Third, restrictions would focus more narrowly on people who are infected and their contacts. That way, the rest would not have to remain in unceasing lockdown.

The American Enterprise Institute envisions this reopening happening state-by-state with schools and business resuming — but with physical distancing measures and limitations on gatherings in place.

“Individual states can move to Phase II when they are able to safely diagnose, treat, and isolate COVID-19 cases and their contacts,” according to the public policy think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Deep cleanings on shared spaces would be more common, and the use of nonmedical fabric masks would remain initial practice.

Altogether, the next steps would involve a huge escalation of testing and questions about how willing Americans will be to submit to individual scrutiny.

“I think Phase 2 is how do we get out successfully from where we are today to a ‘more normal,'” Marsh said.

“Part of that relates in many experts’ minds on seeing a consistent reduction in the number of new cases. So when we know we’ve knocked the virus down through our physical distancing and home stay then we’ll see that the reproduction rate go below one, and then we should see a consistent decline in new cases.”

In his blog post, Marsh suggested that decline would appear consistently over two weeks before it could be considered a turning point.

“When we see this consistent decline in new cases, we will likely ask our citizens to wear masks or face coverings and stay physically distanced as much as possible,” he wrote. “We will still recommend limiting gatherings of people to 25 or less.”

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington recently updated its modeling, showing a more promising outlook for West Virginia.

At one point, the model showed a peak of spread in early May and deaths of about 500 people in West Virginia.

But it takes into account new information and the social distancing measures West Virginia has put into place such as school building closures on March 14 and a stay-home order on March 25.

Those measures have decreased the predicted affects of coronavirus in the state.

The model now shows peak use of resources in West Virginia today and total deaths of 74.

And the model projects five deaths a day, today through the next few days before starting to go lower.

The model assumes social distancing will continue through May.

And it also provides a range of possibilities. Its anticipated range of deaths could actually be from just a few all the way up to a higher possibility of 352.

On Sunday morning, Dr. Christopher Murray, who oversees the model, warned that if states lift social distancing guidelines too soon then there could be tragic ramifications.

“Some states, it’s possible in May but in other states it’s going to be very unlikely that that would not lead to an immediate resurgence,” Murray said on “Face the Nation.”

Terrance Reidy

Last week, health officer Terrance Reidy expressed concern that such models might encourage people to behave too casually.

“To me, if the peak is delayed, that’s wonderful. It means we’ve slowed the spread,” said Reidy, the health officer for Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties.

“It’s sort of like 20 inches of rain in one day or 20 inches of rain in two months are different things.”

He described limited success in social distancing.

“Not nearly successful enough,” Reidy said.

“Here, the stores are packed, even with executive orders — people aren’t heeding that. The main way to stop the crowds is for people to stop the crowding.”

With some people carrying the virus and not showing symptoms, Reidy said the best approach is to just stay away from each other

“If you’re within a crowd, you should look at every other person as if they have a concealed weapon or a bomb on them,” he said.

Figures released Sunday morning by the state Department of Health and Human Resources showed 593 confirmed cases of coronavirus in West Virginia, although state health experts have acknowledged that there are probably many more cases that have not been confirmed.

West Virginia has recorded six deaths.

There have been 16,124 West Virginians tested for the virus.

State health leaders have pointed toward the rate of positive tests vs. overall testing — still holding steady at 3.68 percent — to encourage people to continue social distancing.

Gov. Jim Justice

“Please, please just stay the course,” Gov. Jim Justice said during a Friday news briefing, encouraging state residents to continue social distancing efforts during the holiday weekend and beyond.

“If In fact Easter is the peak, we’re on the downhill slide here.”

Justice said of those who have heeded social distancing guidelines, “Your good work has led to saving lots and lots and lots of lives”

Marsh acknowledged that the overall number of new cases has continued to grow in West Virginia, but he said the continued emphasis on social distancing measures has helped. Without that, he said, the results could be far more severe.

“When you look at this pandemic and look at the first phase, which is really this acute phase that we’ve been in, we can see countries where they didn’t take these same sorts of precautions — Italy is an example — saw a 12 percent mortality rate,” Marsh said.

“So we know this has serious consequences. We also know that across the world the mortality rate is 5.5 percent. Here in the United States it’s now about 3.5 percent. So that’s a lot of people dying from the covid pandemic.”

Not much will get easier, Marsh said.

Although West Virginia might in the next few weeks get through the first difficult period of dealing with coronavirus, more adjustments are ahead.

Determining how far to go with precautions and gaining consensus among individuals will be big parts of the challenge.

“So my belief is, as we look at repatriation and starting to open back up again, we’re going to have to do that like a dance back and forth — and there’s going to be things that open that do OK and there will be some things that open that don’t do very well.

“A lot of people say the second phase of this could be worse than the first phase. Everybody’s rallied for this. But the second phase is going to be harder.”

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