State leaders say they’re keeping close watch on coronavirus in southern West Virginia

State officials say they are concerned about signs of coronavirus spread in southern West Virginia while also carefully watching outbreaks in other states.

“We, like every other state, are at risk of seeing that spread increase,” said Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s coronavirus response coordinator.

Marsh cited a statistic, the basic reproduction number, that is used to assess the rate of spread. If an area is above 1 to 1 then the rate of spread is growing. If it’s below 1 to 1, then the virus will stop spreading.

West Virginia, as a whole, has been below that number.

But Marsh said some areas of the state have seen an increase.

“Today we’re seeing there is a creeping up of that reproductive value in our southern counties so we really want to increase our testing there, just to sample and see what’s going on,” Marsh said during a daily news briefing.

Officials like Marsh did not specify particular counties.

Marsh said the population of southern West Virginia is vulnerable from the perspective of chronic health conditions such as diabetes or cardiovascular problems.

“So we want to make sure we’re really aggressive in moving to understand how we can help make sure this is not a place that starts to really heat up because there are so many vulnerable people there that we’re really afraid that could lead to some problems with outcomes and hospitalizations and deaths.

“So particularly the southern part of the state is an area that we’re very interested in moving very early and quickly.”

Bill Crouch, secretary for the Department of Health and Human Resources, agreed that state health leaders have been keeping a close eye on the region.

“The southern part of West Virginia, we’ve been watching and talking about every day for at least the past week,” Crouch said. “Very concerned.”

He cited the presence of the Hatfield McCoy off-roading trail drawing tourists to the region.

“So we want everyone down there in the southern part of the state to do what they have to do to protect themselves as well. People coming in from out of state makes this much more difficult to contain.”

Gov. Jim Justice also mentioned the Hatfield McCoy trails and their potential for drawing out-of-state visitors. He urged West Virginians to set a good example for social distancing and wearing masks.

“We do have a bunch of people who are coming from out of state to help us economically,” Justice said. “Try to help them be good stewards of what we’re trying to do.”

But Justice today also urged attendance at another large, annual event, the State Fair.

Justice: State Fair is on

Asked about the possibility of virus spread at that event, which runs August 13-20, Justice again advised social distancing.

“Everybody is going to have to just do this. Just look out after yourself as best you can,” the governor said. “Abide by the guidelines and social distance.”

State officials made several references today to an uptick among a dozen or more states. Arizona, for instance, has doubled its cases in two weeks, coming closer to its hospital capacity.

Justice touted the benefits of long days, fresh air and sunshine — but said even that isn’t helping slow the spread of the virus in Arizona.

“If you were in Arizona today, you could fry an egg in your hand. And Arizona has got a real problem,” he said.

Asked about the possibility of a spike in the fall, Marsh said that’s a genuine concern.

“I think we are at very great risk as a country and as a state as the weather turns,” Marsh said.

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