CHARLESTON, W.Va. – “We have a real problem right now in this state, and we have a bigger problem in the nation,” West Virginia Governor Jim Justice said during Friday’s virtual COVID-19 briefing.
The state set a 24 hour record with 540 new active cases and crossed the 3% cumulative percent positivity threshold.
Gov. Justice reported 15 more COVID-19 deaths since Wednesday, now 487 total.
There are now 280 patients hospitalized in West Virginia, Justice also reported.
“We’ll keep everything on the table as far as shutdowns,” the governor said, explaining that decisions on shutdowns would be based on the recommendations of health and education officials.
The state is working on new “first in the nation” effort to better protect residents of nursing homes, Justice hinted, but did not offer further details.
There are currently three “red” and nine “orange” counties on the state’s color-coded map(none are in north central region). Gov. Justice blamed those color labels on a lack of people showing up to testing events, citing a number of events with low attendance, including sites in several counties where no one was tested.
“Some places we get it and some places we’re not and in some places where we’re not, then we complain. The balls in your court West Virginia. You gotta show up,” Justice said hammering home his point on testing.
The governor said he and his staff were being tested again, themselves.
Addressing the concerns of the high school athletic community about allowing teams and athletes to participate in events despite counties being labeled as “red” or “orange,” Gov. Justice said he asked State School Superintendent Clayton Burch to “circle back” with state health officials and the WVSSAC, to come up with a recommendation on how to handle the situation. The answer the group came back with is to continue using the color-coded maps, Justice said.
“These decisions are dog flat tough,” the governor said.
Later in the day, officials issued a joint statement on the decision:
The West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission (WVSSAC), the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE), the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) and the State Coronavirus Czar understand the importance of sports and extracurricular activities to our education system. However, during this pandemic, we all agree the health of our students must be the top priority.
While there have been interest and inquiries into changing our metrics and protocols and allowing student athletes to participate in upcoming tournament play, we cannot sideline student health.
Based on the recommendation of health professionals, WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan and WVDE Superintendent Clayton Burch will continue to support the use of the Saturday Education Map and DHHR County Alert System Map to guide decisions on which counties may participate in upcoming tournaments.
These are difficult decisions; however, they are decisions that must be made.
State officials are working to build a list of “steady” state testing opportunities at places like pharmacies, in addition to pop-up testing events, WV National Guard Maj. Gen. James Hoyer said.
Current and former football and basketball coaches from West Virginia and Marshall universities will be doing public service announcements to raise awareness about COVID-19 guidelines, Justice said, when asked what could be done to increase state residents adherence to protocols.
Gov. Justice ended his briefing by commending the media for asking questions focused on the pandemic, instead of talking about election-related issues.