On Monday, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., described a shortage of coronavirus testing materials made available to West Virginia as “ridiculous,” producing only 137 tests to date for a population of nearly 1.8 million, with only enough diagnostic supplies on hand to test fewer than 500 additional residents.
With none of the 84 tests having produced a positive result when Manchin made those remarks, and with no widespread testing capability on the horizon, the senator said he feared West Virginians would be lulled “into a false sense of safety.”
On Tuesday, that false sense of safety found a champion in President Donald Trump, who, during a White House briefing on the coronavirus outbreak, took note of West Virginia’s status as the only state yet to report a confirmed case of the coronavirus.
Trump praised “Big Jim,” his nickname for Gov. Jim Justice, for “doing a good job” of keeping the coronavirus at bay.
“We have all of this equipment in stock and we’re looking at different sites and a few different locations” to send it to, he said. “We’re not going to need them in West Virginia, where so far, I guess, they have [no confirmed coronavirus cases].”
With an absence of known coronavirus victims, West Virginia, Trump said at Tuesday’s briefing, “is obviously being treated differently than a New York or a California.”
The president’s remarks prompted Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper and Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin to write a joint letter to Manchin, urging him to speak in opposition to Trump’s remarks.
The lack of positive coronavirus test results in the state, they wrote, “is a direct result of the failure of the federal government,” which “rationed the tests and now the people of West Virginia are put at a severe risk.”
Manchin and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., declined to comment on Trump’s remarks.
Earlier in the day Tuesday, the two West Virginia senators announced the award of a $5.5 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help pay for the state’s response to the coronavirus.
Capito said part of the money will provide personal protective equipment from the federal stockpile for use by public health professionals. Manchin said the funds would help reduce the risk of infection for the 52 percent of West Virginians over 18 years old who are at risk for serious complications from the coronavirus.
Late Tuesday, Justice announced that a resident of the state’s Eastern Panhandle had produced West Virginia’s first positive coronavirus test result, ending the zero-confirmation status.
“I hope that the announcement of the first case in West Virginia will encourage every individual to take this virus seriously and follow CDC guidelines to protect themselves and our communities,” Manchin said upon learning of the test result.
Earlier Tuesday, Capito met with members of the White House staff, seeking a Medicaid waiver that would give West Virginia hospitals more flexibility in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
While more test kits and testing supplies are needed to identify coronavirus carriers in the state, “Our hospitals are amazingly well-prepared to begin treating coronavirus patients” once they are diagnosed, Capito said.
To ensure that as soon as West Virginia coronavirus patients are diagnosed, treatment can begin at the earliest possible opportunity, Capito is seeking a Medicaid Section 1135 waiver for West Virginia from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The waiver, among other things, allows states to bypass prior-authorization requirements, streamline provider enrollment procedures and allows care to be provided in alternative facilities.
On Monday, Florida became first state in the nation to be granted the waiver.
Despite Trump’s remarks Tuesday, which Capito noted were made before a confirmed coronavirus case had been diagnosed in the state, Capito said the president “has consistently been a friend to West Virginia and helped our state in times of need. I have full faith that this will be no different and he will come through and help us during this uncertain time.”
Capito wished a speedy recovery to the West Virginian diagnosed with the virus on Tuesday and pledged to continue working to provide more testing kits and more flexibility for rural hospitals.