In a rambling Saturday night address to the state, Gov. Jim Justice didn’t order a statewide shutdown of non-essential businesses or order residents to stay in their homes unless necessary to leave, as governors in California, Illinois and New York state have done.
The inaction came despite Justice saying in the same speech that waiting to act will mean more people will die from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
He even said West Virginia’s number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of 6 p.m. Saturday — the state now has 12 — is proportionate to what New York had 10 days ago. New York ordered its lockdown Friday, The Associated Press reported.
“Think where we could end up 10 days from today,” he said.
Instead of ordering a shutdown, Justice mentioned it as something that may happen if people don’t follow public health officials’ previous recommendations to stay away from others as much as possible. He said he has heard of gatherings in bingo halls.
“We are not going to shut down the entire state now,” he said. “But you’ve got to know that just this — as we go forward, if we’ll absolutely employ all these things that I’m going to tell you of tonight, maybe we can prevent that from happening. But we’ve got to move and we’ve got to move stronger than we already are right now.”
But Justice announced no new moves during the nearly half-hour speech, other than a vague reference to more support for health care workers.
Instead, much of his speech was reiterating past advice from health officials. The media was not given a chance to ask questions afterward.
“I can never tell you enough about how insignificant the economics are compared to just the reality, and it’s just this: If we don’t act and we don’t act as strongly as possible, right now, we’re going to lose lives and lots of lives,” Justice said.
“If we’re going to keep our state open, and we’re going to salute our businesses for all that they’ve done, please continue in every way, shape, form or fashion to let people work from home.”
He repeatedly referenced the importance of his speaking Saturday night instead of waiting until Monday.
“If in fact we can become New York, and we can, many, many, many will die if I’m not here in front of you tonight,” Justice said.
Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia University’s vice president and executive dean for health sciences, was the only other person who spoke during the governor’s address.
“I commend the governor for his leadership. I think it is really setting a standard for the rest of the country, but our work is not over. In fact our work has really just started,” Marsh said.
Before Tuesday night, state officials had announced no confirmed cases of COVID-19. Testing and confirmed cases have grown since then.
As of 6 p.m. Saturday, the state had 12 confirmed cases, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources. The DHHR announced four cases Saturday, in Marshall, Mercer and Kanawha counties.
With the addition of Marshall, the Northern Panhandle has now joined the Eastern Panhandle and Southern West Virginia as areas with confirmed cases.
On Friday, the first positive test in Kanawha was confirmed, so the county now has at least two cases. The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department said in a Saturday night news release that a new case it learned of at Charleston Area Medical Center was not a Kanawha resident.
The Kanawha County Commission ordered the Judicial Building closed to the public because this person had “significant access” there. Only the sheriff will be able to permit residents or employees to enter.
The state Supreme Court announced in a Saturday evening news release that a judicial branch employee who works in Kanawha tested positive for the disease and is hospitalized.
According to the DHHR, all confirmed cases in the state are travel related.
In the past week, Justice gradually announced the shutdown of different entities and services.
Every day he announced a new closure: schools; then casinos, bars and dining in at restaurants; then gyms; then barbershops and beauty salons; then state park lodges and the Hatfield-McCoy Trails system.
On Saturday, he announced no new closures.
The DHHR said that as of 6 p.m. Saturday, nearly 400 residents have been tested.