Gov. Jim Justice announced four new coronavirus-related deaths in West Virginia, the highest in weeks, even as more aspects of regular life continue to reopen.
That brings West Virginia’s total deaths attributed to coronavirus to 82.
“I just hate this, that’s all there is to it,” Justice said Friday as he announced the deaths. “I want everybody just so much to not become numb to these numbers. They’re people. They’re West Virginians.”
State officials said they will continue to balance public health with an economic rebound by watching key numbers carefully.
“Some people have wondered as we see more cases that are identified in the state of West Virginia — and the governor pointed out the people who have died in the last 24 hours — how do we continue to assess whether or not it’s safe to open up?” said Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus response coordinator.
Marsh said watching specific numbers is the key to answering that question.
On Friday, he said a figure used to determine the rate of spread is looking better in West Virginia.
The R-naught is down to .6865, he said, “which is a really good number. Under 1 it suggests the virus is not spreading and is starting to reduce. Over 1 suggests the virus is spreading and gaining steam.”
As testing increases, particularly through a series of community events, Marsh said West Virginia will almost certainly see an increasing number of positive tests overall.
He said the state officials will judge the number of positives by comparing them to the amount of testing overall.
Through Friday morning, the percent of positive cases for the day was .80.
The cumulative percent positive over weeks and weeks was 1.96 percent.
“So far we’re doing well,” Marsh said, advising continued caution. “Be careful. Wear your masks. Stay distanced.”
More and more is opening up in West Virginia that could affect those numbers.
On Friday, movie theaters and casinos were allowed to open at 50 percent capacity and with social distancing guidelines in place.
That prompted an enormous line of people waiting to get into Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort, as shown in video by local television station WTOV.
This is the scene at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort. There are hundreds of people wrapped around the building. This video was taken at 11:00 a.m. one hour after opening. @WTOV9 pic.twitter.com/yZT8Lgb810
— Julianna Furfari (@JuliannaWTOV) June 5, 2020
West Virginia also was lifting its limits on casual gatherings from 25 people to 100. State officials have said this applies to gatherings such as picnics, family reunions or parties.
Asked during a Friday briefing what numbers were used to determine that number, Justice said what really matters is caution on behalf of those who gather, no matter the crowd size.
“I can’t really say why it’s that number,” Justice said. “You know, to be perfectly honest, if you have a gathering of 50 and they do all the wrong stuff you’re going to have just as much exposure as a gathering of 100.
“But as we go forward, we want to still try as best within us to walk a little bit before we take off running. You know we could just lift the number tomorrow and say there is no number. But I really believe capping it at 100 right now still has us with our hands on the reins a little bit.”
On Sunday, a demonstration about civil justice and systemic racism at the state Capitol was expected to draw hundreds of people, although questions arose late Friday about whether it would really go on as planned because of safety concerns. Justice has repeatedly indicated support for the protests but urged participants to wear masks and social distance.
The resumptions of even more activities are up ahead.
On Monday, low-contact youth sports and Little League baseball practices may resume. Additional adult sports facilities, including indoor tennis courts and outdoor basketball courts, also may reopen.
Justice said fairs and festivals may resume on July 1, giving organizers time to start planning.
Guidelines include cleaning and sanitizing common surfaces such as seats and handlebars on amusement rides between each patron, as well as assuring social distancing of at least six feet between those in line.
Justice received another question about whether community Fourth of July parades could go on.
“They absolutely have the green light to go,” the governor said.
Justice began Friday’s briefing as he often does, lamenting more deaths of West Virginians from the coronavirus, although this time the four were more than usual.
“Please, please keep them and their loved ones in your thoughts and prayers,” Justice said.