West Virginia slows reopenings for next week to assess, Marsh says

West Virginia coronavirus response coordinator Clay Marsh says reopenings for the week ahead are intentionally modest.

Clay Marsh

That’s so the state’s condition can be assessed after the first steps in easing restrictions, Marsh said.

“This week we have reduced the aggressiveness of some of the reopenings. We’re going to see how things play out,” Marsh said during a Tuesday afternoon briefing.

“We want to be sure to take time to see from a health and well-being standpoint for the first part of what we’re doing, still continuing to open up and allowing businesses to regain jobs.”

Marsh was referring to what is eligible to reopen in Week 3 of “West Virginia Strong: The Comeback.”

Gov. Jim Justice has said he would announce one week ahead of time what is eligible to have restrictions eased.

On Monday, Justice announced those include wellness centers and drive-in movie theaters for the coming week.

Wellness centers offer exercise therapy, physical therapy, post-operative therapy, and/or rehabilitative therapy programs. They do not include gyms or recreational facilities, which remain closed.

There are only a few drive-in movie theaters remaining in West Virginia, including Meadow Bridge Drive-In in Fayette County, Sunset Drive-In in Shinnston and Pipestem Drive-In Theatre in Summers County.

“We know as we go back out again, we have to be extra careful,” Marsh said.

West Virginia started easing some restrictions last week with the resumption of elective medical procedures. The current week, the state allowed reopenings of barbershops, hair salons and nail salons by appointment, small businesses under 10 employees and restaurants with outdoor seating and takeout.

Some national models were recently updated to reflect greater effects of coronavirus as states ease restrictions.

A widely-cited model for the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, for example, doubled its projected death toll for the United States.

That model suggests West Virginia could experience 121 deaths by the end of summer, although it has an upper-range possibility of 402 and a lower-range possibility of 57. West Virginia has reported 50 deaths so far.

As West Virginia reopens incrementally, Marsh said health officials are starting to pay more attention to conditions at the county level.

“We’re trying to transition from looking at the state as a single entity to the state made up of all the counties, so we can make our view more specific at the county level,” he said during the news conference.

Officials have removed several counties from “hotspot” designation this week, but have left five — Marion, Berkeley, Jefferson, Harrison and Monongalia.

Speaking on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” Marsh said the difference between hotspots and non-hotspots are treated mainly applies to how many people may congregate at one time — five for hotspots and up to 25 for others.

But he acknowledged that there might be significant differences from county to county, particularly in the Eastern Panhandle. That is West Virginia’s most vulnerable area, he said, because of its proximity to Washington, D.C.

Marsh said he hopes the state will soon be able to provide the public with more precise county-by-county data, including total testing rates.

“We need to come up with the ability to follow this very precisely,” he said.

Terrance Reidy

Terrence Reidy, the health officer for counties in the Eastern Panhandle, said those counties do need special consideration.

“For us, it should be a gradual return to increased activities,” he said. “What we need to do is to learn in many other businesses and other areas of our life how to incorporate these safe distancing features.”

He urged continued caution.

“People are looking at these changes like a starter’s gun — now you’re gonna rush out and everybody’s gonna be shopping and going all these places you couldn’t go,” Reidy said on “Talkline.”

“We just want to be sure people understand the virus hasn’t changed even if the regulations have changed.”

John Unger

Senator John Unger, D-Berkeley, said he is concerned that cases are being under-reported in the Eastern Panhandle. He would like better access to total testing results on the county level.

“I’m all about opening — targeted, measured opening. But I want us to do it with our eyes wide open, not blindfolded,” Unger said on “Talkline.” “And I have a lot of concerns about the testing.”

He said surrounding counties in Virginia and Maryland are reporting significantly more confirmed coronavirus cases.

“We’re not doing adequate testing to catch the numbers. We’re not doing it,” Unger said.

“I’ve asked for the information of how many tests are run each day in the counties.”

He concluded, “How can they make these decisions without the data?”

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