With COVID-19 cases trending upward across West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday he is not prepared to impose more stringent restrictions on businesses and activities — for now.
“From the standpoint of pulling the plug and shutting things down, we’re not going to do that,” Justice said when asked about the likelihood that the statewide cumulative average of positive cases will soon top 3%.
“I do not think we need to move aggressively at this point toward shutdowns,” he added, saying all options are on the table if the pandemic worsens.
In April, when Justice announced a planned phase-out of a six-week state shutdown for COVID-19, he set a requirement of having the cumulative average fall below 3% to proceed with each week’s reopenings.
“By using a metric, instead of a wild guess, then we’ll absolutely know when there’s a problem,” Justice said then of using the 3% threshold.
As recently as last month, the governor said he was looking at imposing more aggressive restrictions if the cumulative average exceeded 3%. As of Wednesday, the cumulative positivity average had increased to 2.97%, with a daily positivity rate of 4.88%.
Wednesday’s Harvard Global Health Institute COVID-19 risk map, based on data from Monday, had 45 of the state’s 55 counties showing accelerated or extreme virus spread, with 19 counties — including Kanawha, Putnam, Cabell and Boone counties — at the highest-risk red designation.
West Virginia’s version of the map, which has undergone multiple tweaks and revisions, on Wednesday showed 11 counties in orange or red risk designations.
However, Justice indicated Wednesday he is not prepared to further water down the state map to allow teams to compete in high school sports, including the upcoming high school football playoffs. Teams from counties designated as high risk on Saturday’s state Department of Education map will be excluded from the playoffs.
Justice recalled how the West Virginia girls high school basketball tournament was shut down in March, eliminating a chance for the Greenbrier East team he coaches to win a state championship.
“It’s a real, real difficult thing, and it’s a big-time sacrifice for the kids,” Justice said, seemingly putting public health ahead of scholastic sports.
Also Wednesday, when asked to comment about President Donald Trump’s claim that continuing to count mail-in and early vote ballots in undecided states past Election Day constitutes “a fraud on the American public,” Justice said: “I’m not Donald Trump. I’m Donald Trump’s friend, and I think he’s done a heck of a job.”
Comparing the possibility of mail-in ballot fraud to individuals who illegally filed for CARES Act unemployment benefits, Justice said, “I believe with all in me that there is fraudulent activity. It’s just too ripe for there not to be.”
Justice also said he thinks it’s unfair to criticize Trump for expressing frustration over “something that’s extremely likely” — an apparent reference to the increasing likelihood that Joe Biden will be elected president.
“We don’t need to attack his personality,” the governor said. “His personality is his personality.”