Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday backed healthy West Virginians “flooding” COVID-19 testing sites, saying it shows people want public schools open.
“There’s nothing wrong with people flooding a testing site because they want to go back to school,” Justice said, when asked about reports of organized efforts to flood testing sites with people, who know they are negative, to lower county positivity rates for COVID-19.
“More power to them. They want to go back to school. That’s fine with me,” Justice said during his COVID-19 briefing.
He closed the briefing by telling viewers, “Please, please, please flood us.”
State COVID-19 czar Dr. Clay Marsh later tweeted a clarification, saying Justice, “interpreted the question as to flood testing sites with people from the county, not to have people intentionally repetitively test only to open schools. We all agree that people should be tested if worried, exposed, curious or doing public service. We do not support repetitive testing only focused at driving negative tests to reduce the percent positive rate solely to influence school opening or sports.”
Justice has been clear about that position in previous comments, said Marsh, West Virginia University’s vice president of health sciences.
Two weeks ago, in the most significant of “tweaks” to the original Harvard Global Health Institute COVID-19 risk assessment map, the state adopted two metrics for determining each county’s color-coded risk level: Counting either the number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people on a seven-day rolling average — the Harvard Global metric — or the county’s seven-day percentage of positive tests, whichever is lower.
That caused most counties on the West Virginia version of the risk map to turn green or yellow, signifying low risk of COVID-19 spread. It also has led to organized efforts to sharply increase testing in order to lower overall positive test rates.
Wednesday’s map showed 37 counties in the green color code, 11 counties yellow and seven gold — another tweak creating the new risk-level designation — with only one county orange, signifying high rate of spread, and no counties red, signifying critically high rates of spread.
By contrast, the Harvard Global map, using data from Monday, shows four counties in green, 32 counties yellow, 17 orange and two red.
Opting to count either the rolling average of cases or the percentage of positive tests has resulted in anomalies such as Kanawha County, which on Wednesday was yellow for positivity rates but orange for infection rates; Barbour County, which was yellow for positivity but red for infection; and Tucker County, green for positivity but red for infection.
“By the grace of God above, we came up with a new metric,” Justice said, “or Kanawha and Mon[ongalia] counties might have been closed forever.”
Justice reiterated his claim that, if the state had stuck with the Harvard Global metric, schools in a third to half of the 55 counties still would be closed.
“Our deal is more right than their deal,” the governor said.
Asked about incidents of breaches of federal guidelines for face mask wearing and social distancing in public schools, Justice answered: “That is what has made America great in so many ways,” referring to the independent nature of some Americans that has led them to ignore guidelines.
To date, as Justice noted, more than 210,000 Americans have died of COVID-19.
Also during Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing:
- Commenting on President Donald Trump’s announcement Tuesday halting negotiations on a new COVID-19 economic stimulus package until after the Nov. 3 general election, Justice said, “I don’t want him to do that, and I do not think that’s the right thing to do.”
Later Tuesday, Trump walked back the announcement partially, calling for immediate congressional action on selected parts of the stimulus plan, including a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks for most Americans.
Since June, Justice repeatedly has expressed confidence that passage of the next federal stimulus package would happen soon.
- Justice confirmed the COVID-19 deaths of two nurses at WVU’s Ruby Memorial Hospital, in Morgantown, and Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital, in Huntington.