Justice says elective surgeries may be among first activities to resume

Gov. Jim Justice says he wants to let West Virginia’s hospitals resume elective procedures, one of the first steps in easing the state’s coronavirus precautions.

During a daily briefing Monday afternoon, Justice said he will issue an order allowing the resumption of elective procedures.

But it won’t happen automatically. He said medical providers may apply April 27, outlining plans to assure safety.

Justice first took a public position today on MetroNews’ “Talkline” when asked about possible first steps in starting to reopen West Virginia’s economy while still monitoring coronavirus precautions.

“We need to get our hospitals back and functioning with the standpoint of elective surgeries,” Justice said. “These hospitals need those surgeries to be financially viable.”

The White House’s guidelines for “Opening Up America Again,” released last week, suggests elective surgeries can resume in Phase One.

West Virginia is still assessing whether it meets the conditions for starting Phase One, which is a gradual process for reopening.

Justice ordered a halt to elective surgeries on March 31, although West Virginia’s major hospitals had already instituted their own stops based on the advice of the U.S. Surgeon General.

The stoppages were put in place to conserve personal protective equipment such as surgical masks, gloves and gowns.

“This is being done to conserve our personal protection equipment for our frontline healthcare workers that are battling this terrible virus,” Justice said when he announced the executive order.

But the result has been economic turmoil for the hospitals, which had their activities severely curtailed. Charleston Area Medical Center’s president earlier this month described being in “financial never-never land.” 

Clay Marsh

“Opening up the hospitals for healthcare is really important,” Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s coronavirus response coordinator, said during the news briefing today.

One of the overriding concerns in preparing for the coronavirus pandemic has been preventing a surge that could overwhelm staff and hospital resources such as intensive care unit beds.

The widely-cited Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which runs a model associated with the University of Washington, indicates West Virginia is in adequate shape with hospital resources.

The model shows that West Virginia would need 47 hospital beds of an available 3,032.

The model suggests West Virginia would need 10 intensive care unit beds for covid-19 patients out of an available 196.

And it suggests 10 ventilators would be needed, although it doesn’t specify how many are available.

Justice today described the desire to open up other areas of West Virginia’s economy, although he didn’t describe a timetable.

The White House guidance suggests the first steps could be undertaken under circumstances such as two weeks of downward trends in positive tests.

That guidance also suggests the first steps of reopening could take place when states have widespread testing capacity and the ability of healthcare systems to handle any surge.

Even at that, Phase One envisions vulnerable individuals continuing to shelter in place, employers encouraging telework when possible and non-essential travel kept to a minimum.

Referring to a possible decision to start by allowing elective surgeries, Justice said,  “There’s a multitude of things that could be after that.

“Each step is going to have some element of risk. But we have to understand the opposite side of the risk is real and monumental as well.”

But he said West Virginia and other states will have to begin the difficult balance of safeguarding people’s health while also ensuring business activity and employment.

“It is one difficult, difficult balancing act. And we’re going to do it in West Virginia and do it well,” Justice said.

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