Justice feels better about Eastern Panhandle, but National Guard plans continued support

Gov. Jim Justice expressed more confidence that the spread of coronavirus in the Eastern Panhandle is manageable, a day after dispatching the National Guard to help assess the situation.

But West Virginia’s adjutant general today also described ongoing steps meant to make sure the region remains stable.

“Everyone concluded at this time that things are OK. Things aren’t high alert and things are OK,” Justice said during a Friday briefing.

Justice said that was a conclusion reached by representatives of the National Guard, local elected leaders and health officials in the Eastern Panhandle.

“I’m really proud of what we did,” Justice said. “We kind of paused. We got numbers. Those numbers were alarming to our health professionals.”

During a briefing on Thursday, Justice said West Virginia’s daily coronavirus positive percentage had moved to 3.1 percent. That compared to 2.4 percent the prior day.

There was a surge of testing availability in the area just last weekend when free testing was made available to anyone over two days.

Berkeley County now has the most confirmed cases in the state, with 253. Jefferson is fourth with 136.

Speaking on Thursday, Justice had alluded to the possibility of having to issue an order for residents to wear masks to slow the spread of coronavirus.

But today, the governor said that would not be necessary.

“We’re not going to make it mandatory at this time as we move forward,” Justice said. “But I would highly encourage everyone to wear their masks when they go in buildings outside their home.”

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer

Adjutant General James Hoyer said the National Guard did work with local health officials to establish a multi-pronged cooperation effort.

He said that would include broader testing support, more data collection and epidemiology support for local health departments, more support for outreach, education and sanitzation, plus additional cloth face coverings being made available for distribution in the area.

Clay Marsh

Coronavirus response coordinator Clay Marsh said the Eastern Panhandle situation represents the first test of the state’s rapid response effort.

“Ultimately, we will continue to try to learn from every experience we have,” Marsh said.

Speaking earlier today on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” Marsh said this is a complicated new phase of dealing with the coronavirus.

As opposed to closing down much of society, people are now trying to remain cautious while returning to activities.

That will mean better testing, more contact tracing to reach out to those who have been in contact with those who have the virus and more outreach, he said.

“The truth is, we’re all learning together,” Marsh said.

Marsh said it is vital for problems to be identified quickly.

“If you get even a local surge, it represents even a two week period of time and it takes a two week period of time to come out from under it,” he said.

“We don’t want this to become a surge and suffer the consequences that could happen.”

Bill Kearns

Bill Kearns, the director of the Berkeley-Morgan counties health board, said “things are going well” when he appeared on “Talkline” today.

“I don’t think we’re going to get a serious spike,” Kearns said.

Kearns said two days of testing last weekend in the Eastern Panhandle provided useful information.

“We’re looking at doing more broadened testing throughout the area,” he said. “We just want to get an idea of what are the additional numbers.”

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