High School Football

New W.Va. health officer wants to encourage masks and learn why some reject them

West Virginia’s new public health director told lawmakers she wants a sustained outreach campaign to persuade more state residents that wearing a face covering is good for everyone during the coronavirus pandemic.

But Ayne Amjad also said she would seek more insight from people who don’t want to wear a mask.

“Obviously people do not like to wear masks,” Amjad said today during an informational meeting of the House Health and Human Resources Committee. “You have a group of people who do not believe in wearing a mask for different reasons. There are some who cannot tolerate it for healthcare reasons, and there are some who do not want to wear one.”

“We have to address West Virginians on that end of the spectrum as well. We cannot ignore that group of people who don’t want to wear one or who cannot wear one. We have to keep everyone healthy on both ends of the spectrum. I’d like to find why they can’t or why they don’t want to and help them as well because that’s what we do.”

Amjad, a Beckley physician, was named the state health officer on Friday, following the forced resignation of her predecessor, Cathy Slemp.

“I believe in keeping communities together as well as people together,” Amjad said during brief remarks today.

Members of the House Health and Human Resources Committee had two hours to ask questions about West Virginia’s coronavirus response to state officials like Amjad.

This was the first opportunity the representatives of districts around the state have had to directly question those in charge of West Virginia’s response.

The meeting took place in the House Chamber with social distancing and with most — but not all — lawmakers wearing masks.

Many of the questions were about state policy or what’s known about the science of covid. Several had reached out to constituents on social media to ask what they would like to know.

Mark Dean

For example, the first questioner, Delegate Mark Dean, a Republican from Mingo County, asked about the status of the “flatten the curve” effort that was described months ago.

“Originally we started all these protocols to flatten the curve, to make sure we had adequate hospital space and hospital beds. Where are we with that right now? Do we have adequate beds?” Dean asked.

West Virginia listed 66 daily hospitalizations on Monday, higher than any daily rate since early May. West Virginia also listed 22 daily confirmed cases in intensive care units, which equaled a high from early May.

Clay Marsh

Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s coronavirus response coordinator, said there are adequate beds available in West Virginia hospitals right now, though.

“That’s one of the key metrics that we’re watching,” Marsh said. “We’ve seen there’s an uptick of people who are covid positive in our hospitals today, so we’ve seen that steadily starting to increase. There’s been a very much smaller uptick in ICU use.

“That’s a lagging indicator. We usually see hospital stays surge, as you suggest, happen about two to three weeks after we see a rapid increase in the amount of cases. So that’s one reason why we’re so concerned right now. We’re trying to mitigate against having that surge happen.”

Dean followed up by asking what information is used to make decisions such as opening or closing parts or the economy or issuing a mask order.

“We seem to be all over the place on our different decision-making data points. How can we get more concrete? Is there a plan, do we have a rubric? It seems like we’re seeing more severe protocols taking a place like wearing a mask, but we’re also postponing opening schools. So where can we get those metrics?” Dean asked.

Marsh specified several indicators such as the reproductive number that shows rate of spread, seven and 14-day rolling average of new cases and the rate of new cases.  He also described the hospitalization.

Dean followed up by asking, “You talked about our increase in testing. Are our numbers in correspondence to our increase in testing? Or have we seen an uptick in increased percentage of tests to positive cases?”

Marsh responded, “We are seeing an uptick in percentage of positive tests to people being tested.”

He specified that daily positive rate has risen from about 1 percent a few weeks ago to more than 3 percent in recent days.

Members of the House Health and Human Resources Committee agreed to try to have a similar informational meeting in the next few weeks.

One of the members, Delegate Michael Angelucci, D-Marion, concluded the meeting by requesting that members of the Department Education, as well as former State Health Officer Slemp, be available for questions at the next meeting.

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