We are headed in the wrong direction.
West Virginia did remarkably well for weeks in the early stages of the pandemic. The shutdown orders, social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing paid off in minimizing the spread of Covid-19.
The spikes in the early stages were in places where the virus could quickly spread in a confined population, like nursing homes and prisons. Those hot spots were also more easily contained because those who came in contact with the virus could be quickly identified, tested, and quarantined if necessary.
But our situation is different now. As the state has reopened, we are seeing more community spread, and that is harder to contain.
The number of daily positive cases, which dropped to ten to twenty a day in early June, has been heading upward with a significant increase just in the last few days; 115 on July 4, 92 on July 5, 110 July 6 and 147 on July 7 and 107 new positives yesterday. Those represent the five single highest days since the DHHR started posting figures in mid-March.
(Link to the DHHR dashboard here.)
Two of the state’s most populous counties have seen spikes. Monongalia County’s number of positives doubled over a week’s time, to over 300. Kanawha County had 19 new cases Tuesday, the highest one-day number since the start of the pandemic.
Here are two more numbers that are worrisome:
Yesterday, the daily infection rate (percent of positives of those tested) had risen to over six percent after hovering at or below two percent since April.
Wednesday’s R-naught number was 1.23, the fifth highest in the country. Any R-naught number above one means the virus will spread quickly since one person can infect more than one other person.
Governor Justice sounded almost desperate during his briefing Wednesday, begging West Virginians to take the rise seriously. “We’ve got to be as strong as we possibly can about wearing our mask and face covering,” he said. “Please, West Virginia, let’s do this.”
Justice warned that if the numbers continue heading in the wrong direction, he may add teeth to Monday’s executive order for people to wear masks inside public buildings. “I trust West Virginians can… handle being on an honor system,” he said. “If you can’t, we’ll have to assess some level of penalties for not wearing those masks.”
Justice also took the unprecedented step of delaying the start of public schools this fall to September 8, the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend. “It’s the wrong decision to go back to school in two or three weeks,” he said. “We have to buy some time.”
Health officials warned months ago that the virus could be with us for a long time. West Virginians responded by acting responsibly and flattening the curve. But our success may have lured us into a false sense of security.
That early optimism combined with ‘virus fatigue’ and the obstinance of the never-maskers have led us to another pivotal moment in our fight against Covid-19. West Virginians must rededicate ourselves to following best practices for slowing the spread or we will suffer the consequences.