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Gov. Jim Justice said Friday he is willing to reimpose restrictions on business and social activities if West Virginia’s COVID-19 infection rates continue to rise.

“We will absolutely have to look very, very seriously about starting to take more aggressive actions,” Justice said during the state COVID-19 briefing. “I hope and pray that we don’t get there, but we’re prepared to take significantly more aggressive actions if we do get there.”

Justice has said previously that more stringent restrictions would be necessary if the state’s cumulative infection rate, dating back to the start of the pandemic in March, tops 3.0% — a threshold the state is likely to cross next week, with the average having increased to 2.72% as of Friday.

Also Friday, a record four counties — Kanawha, Putnam, Fayette and Mingo — were in the highest-risk level category of red.

On the original Harvard Global Health Institute risk assessment map, counties with red risk levels — indicating at least 25 new cases per day per 100,000 population — are directed to impose stay-at-home orders.

The West Virginia version of the map essentially applies only to public school instruction and extracurricular activities, and Justice on Friday took offense at a published report citing a Harvard Global team member who sharply criticized West Virginia’s multiple changes to water-down the risk map.

Justice called the article, published by the new nonprofit newsroom Mountain State Spotlight, “a hit job,” but did not address any issues raised in the article.

Dr. Clay Marsh, state COVID-19 czar and vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University, said there was no intention by the state to use the Harvard Global model in a reckless way.

“We’ve borrowed pieces from many different public health models,” Marsh said. “We’ve combined them in a way we think is going to be very good for West Virginia.”

Justice did not elaborate Friday on what more stringent restrictions might be imposed if state infection rates continue to rise.

Initially, Justice issued a statewide stay-at-home executive order on March 23, ordering bars, restaurants, casinos and most non-essential businesses closed. That order remained in effect until May 4, when Justice ordered a phased reopening of those businesses.

Reach Phil Kabler at

philk@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1220

or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.