In the first coronavirus briefing since West Virginia recorded its first COVID-19 fatality, Gov. Jim Justice announced additional steps intended to limit the spread of the virus, including issuing an executive order requiring visitors to the state from COVID-19 hot spots to self-quarantine for 14 days.
The order, to be enforced by the West Virginia State Police, does not apply to interstate travel, essential workers or health care professionals, Justice said, adding, “Other than that, we don’t want people coming across our state lines.”
Justice said that, if the State Police receives reports of people from Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Italy or China who are visiting and not self-quarantining, they will confront those individuals, who could face obstruction charges if they refuse to cooperate.
Along the same lines, Justice ordered state park campgrounds closed. He also ordered the Blackwater Falls and Cooper’s Rock overlooks closed because of reports of large crowds at both attractions over the weekend.
The additional restrictions come at a time when West Virginia’s 4 percent infection rate remains about half of the national average and a fraction of rates in hot spots, such as New York City.
“This is something to really take a moment to be proud of,” said Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University and the state’s COVID-19 czar. Marsh said the low infection rate indicates most West Virginians are taking social distancing and hygiene issues seriously.
“People are very much committed and responsible, but we need to keep it up,” Marsh said.
He explained how, with the compounding factor, one person with coronavirus can be responsible for 1 million positive cases in just four months.
Justice stressed that residents can’t let up on social distancing efforts, noting that, if people do, “This monster can turn on us in a bad way. This thing could get ugly, and get ugly fast.”
Also during Monday’s briefing:
- Justice, who last week said he was not inclined to postpone the May 12 state primary election, said President Donald Trump’s announcement Sunday to extend social distancing guidelines through April 30 is cause to revisit that decision.
“With the new approach that we’re going to be shut down through the end of April, with the primary less than two weeks away, we’re considering all options at this point in time,” Justice said. “We’ll let you know very soon of the possibility of an extension.”
He added, “We’re surely going to try in every way, shape, form or fashion not to endanger anybody.”
Earlier Monday, Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper sent a letter to the governor warning that proceeding with the May 12 primary could put poll workers and county employees at risk, even with a liberal absentee-vote policy.
“The decision to conduct a Primary Election on May 12 now is contrary to the president’s extended social distancing guidelines and contrary to the data that suggests West Virginia’s peak [infection period] is still a month away,” Carper wrote.
- Marsh said U.S.Food and Drug Administration approval of a COVID-19 test that can provide results in as little as five minutes will be a great addition in helping to quickly identify positive cases, making it easier to ID with which people those individuals have had contact.
“This is something we are very excited to add to our armaments,” he said.
- West Virginia National Guard Adj. Gen. James Hoyer said the state has received a federal Department of Agriculture waiver for its efforts to feed schoolchildren while schools are closed. Hoyer said the Guard also is awaiting federal pay classification for its COVID-19 efforts.