Gov. Justice discusses further reopening, new high-alert system during Monday press briefing on coronavirus


CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Gov. Jim Justice held a press briefing Monday afternoon about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Justice began by reporting the deaths of five people since his last update. He also stressed his concerns over becoming numb to the death toll and urged people to remember the people who have died and not view them as statistics.

“I ask everyone to not turn these deaths into statistics,” said Justice. “Now, we are at 67 people that we’ve lost in West Virginia, and we should, we should all recognize in every way these are individuals with a name, and a family and loved ones, that I’ve said over and over. Please keep them in your hearts and your prayers.

“Now, imagine just this just for a second. In this country, we have diminished to where now, we are losing only, if you can imagine that, 1,400 people a day as an average,” Justice continued. “Now, what if I were to say to you that only, we only had five major airline crashes yesterday, and we only had five the day before and we’re only gonna have five today, in which we lose 1,400 people? We’d all be just on a heightened alert more than we probably are right now.”

Counties have been removed from the hotspot list, which is being done away with in favor of a new system for tracking high-concern areas.

“As we…transition to our new high-alert status, our counties today that we are removing from the hotspots are Monongalia, Marion, Harrison, Jefferson and Berkeley counties. And, therefore, at this point in time, under the new system, we no longer have counties that are on the hotspot alert,” said Justice.

A question was posed during the briefing about testing and outreach among vulnerable populations in the state, including African-Americans. West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch discussed those efforts, including early meetings of a recently-formed task force.

“We’ve had two meetings of the, uh, African-American and minorities task force. We, we’re really, uh, looking for their assistance, and they’ve provided a great deal already with regard to how to get the messaging out in terms of testing,” said Crouch. “As I mentioned earlier, we had…33, almost 34% African-American population in Raleigh and 36% in, uh, Mercer County.

“We’re getting a good turnout from, from the African-American population. Uh, we want to do more with regard to that population,” Crouch added.

Justice went over week four of the reopening of the state, which will kick off May 21. Week five will begin May 26.

Week 4 will begin May 21 and will include indoor malls; whitewater rafting and ziplining; indoor dining at restaurants at 50% capacity; large/specialty retail stores; state park campgrounds for in-state residents (state park cabins and lodges to reopen to in-state residents May 26); outdoor recreation rentals; outdoor motorsport and powersport racing with no spectators; Hatfield-McCoy trail system; tanning businesses; fitness centers, gymnasiums and recreation centers (effective May 18); and sports training facilities (effective May 18).

Week five will begin May 26 and will include state park cabins and lodges for in-state residents; indoor and outdoor bars at 50% capacity; museums and visitors centers; zoos; and spas and massage businesses (effective May 30).

Limited video lottery retailers will be allowed to reopen May 30, while casinos can reopen June 5.

“We have got to open ourselves back up, and as we do that, we’re gonna watch. And, our medical team and experts are watching in every single way, and absolutely, if the numbers start to trend in a, in a direction, in a negative direction, then we pull back. And, we either stop, or we go back, or we surely slow down,” said Justice.

COVID-19 czar Dr. Clay Marsh stated that the usage of personal protective equipment among the general population continues to be important.

“The other thing that we really need to consider is to wear face coverings or face masks. And, if we all wear the face masks and the face coverings, we protect each other, and if other people are wearing face masks, that protects us,” said Marsh.

Justice again went over the cumulative positive testing rate for West Virginia, which is now at 1.9%.

“Remember when I said if we went three days below 3%, we were rolling? And, compared to other states, it is unbelievable to have three days under 3%,” said Justice. “I mean, just think about it just for a second, today, Virginia is at 16%, Pennsylvania is at 17%, Ohio is at 11% and Maryland is at 20%.

“Yesterday, we dropped to one-tenth of 1% (on the positive growth rate). Our cumulative number is 1.96%. And, our active cases versus our recovered, and you can see it, we just continue to widen, and we continue to trend the way we want to trend. All that’s good,” said Justice.

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