As the leaders of Ohio and Maryland announced moves to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus amid increasing case numbers in those border states, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday instead took no action, saying “I don’t know what else I can do.”
For the fifth time in the past seven days, West Virginia set a record for the highest number of new daily cases, 885. Hospitalizations dipped slightly in that same time — 277 people were hospitalized Wednesday, down from last week’s high of 290 — but the number of COVID-19-related deaths has continued to climb, with 81 reported since last Wednesday and 553 overall.
Justice said Wednesday the time had come for tough decisions regarding slowing the spread of the virus in West Virginia. While affirming he’s the one who most likely will make those decisions, the governor also absolved himself of such responsibility, instead imploring businesses to do their own enforcement for masks and distancing.
“We have had every opportunity in these counties [to slow COVID-19], and I’ve been out in front of you over and over saying, ‘test, test,’ and, in a lot of situations, we didn’t do it. I say, ‘wear your mask, wear your mask,’ [and] we didn’t do it,” Justice said. “We’re continuing in every way to look at each and every thing, as far as the possibility of shutting something down, whatever it may be. We sure don’t want to go that way if we can possibly avoid it.
“I don’t know what else I can do. I have given it everything I have. I don’t know what else I can do.”
While Justice declined to act, other governors in the region and across the country this week took measures to attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday issued a revised statewide mask mandate with consequences for noncompliance as cases there rise. DeWine also said other restrictions would be coming — including one to limit congregate areas and activities, such as dancing and games at bars — especially if the numbers don’t turn around soon.
In neighboring Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan limited dine-in restaurant capacity to 50%, discouraged gatherings of more than 25 and issued a travel advisory as that state entered a “danger zone” with case increases.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday set a 10 p.m. curfew for bars and restaurants as COVID-19 cases there continue to rise. He also limited gatherings.
In Oregon, which last week recorded a record 805 new COVID-19 cases in one day — 80 fewer than West Virginia’s Wednesday record, Gov. Kate Brown implemented further restrictions on indoor dining, limits on visitations in long-term care facilities, and general gathering restrictions in counties with high spread of the virus.
New Jersey also has set a number of record COVID-19 highs in the past week, but there, localities have adopted their own measures — above those established by the state — to mitigate spread through business curfews and ceasing all sports activity for two weeks, only restarting after all teams have been tested.
West Virginia’s current COVID-19 guidelines come from a mishmash of executive orders, the most recent of which was announced Sept. 15. That order limited gatherings to just 10 people in counties deemed red, orange or gold on the state’s COVID-19 risk map. Neither that order, nor its guidance, have been regularly promoted by Justice, who continues to host tri-weekly briefings on the state’s coronavirus response.
The state’s main line of defense against COVID-19 remains testing, which Justice said is the responsibility of every West Virginian to seek out and utilize. Justice attributed Wednesday’s record number of positive cases to increased testing.
“The big spike in [COVID-19] numbers is driven by the fact that we’ve tested 11,000 people [Tuesday],” the governor said. Health officials say that, depending on the kind of test administered, on average it takes three-to-five days to receive COVID-19 test results. Some results are received within 24 hours.
Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar, said increased testing isn’t the only reason for the rise in positive cases.
“It’s not just a proportional more tests, more positive cases — there’s actually more disease in West Virginia,” Marsh said. “[COVID-19 rates continuing to increase] tells us that West Virginia, while people have done well and we’re so proud of our citizens’ actions and working together as a community of West Virginians, that we need to step it up.”
- Justice said he would meet with West Virginia National Guard Adj. Gen. James Hoyer, Marsh and other state officials at 3 p.m. Wednesday to discuss plans for future COVID-19 response. No details for the meeting were shared.
- The governor announced a COVID-19 outbreak at Stevens Correctional Center, in McDowell County. As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, there were 42 cases confirmed in the facility, with 92 tests pending.
- State Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad said the Department of Health and Human Resources posted guidance on its website for the upcoming holiday season. She said people who are sick, who are knowingly positive for COVID-19 or who are exhibiting any symptoms should limit their contact as much as possible.
- Justice, when asked whether he accepted Joe Biden as president-elect, said he is waiting for the election to actually end. “As far as acknowledging that the election is over, I do not do that,” the governor said. “We want to absolutely know that the votes cast were legal votes and we all want our election process to be absolutely sound.”