CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice shuttered schools statewide on Friday in response to the coronavirus pandemic, even though the state is one of the last in America without a confirmed case.
The closures taking effect after the school day ends Friday will last “as long as we have to close the schools,” Justice said.
There are benefits to keeping schools open, but “to me, the risk outweighs the good,” he said. “How would you answer the question, ‘Why did you wait?’”
As of Friday afternoon, state health officials said West Virginia has no confirmed cases of COVID-19 after 12 people have been tested, with 11 negatives and one test still pending. But Justice said that with so few tests being done, people could be infected and not know it.
“We know it’s here,” the governor said. “I mean, let’s be real, it has to be here — we just haven’t found it yet, but it’s got to be here.”
Health department secretary Bill Crouch said a lack of testing has been a problem nationwide, and that hospitals in the state will begin testing for the virus next week. He said a positive test in the state is almost certainly on the way.
“What the governor is trying to do is be proactive and what we’re trying to do is keep our citizens safe,” Crouch said.
Also on Friday, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin announced that a U.S. Department of Agriculture waiver will allow the state to continue a free food program for students if schools shut down. More than 120,000 students in West Virginia receive the free meals, his news release said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority recover in several weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe illness, including pneumonia.
On Thursday, the governor suspended state high school basketball tournaments and imposed travel restrictions for state employees. He also asked West Virginians to reconsider non-essential out-of-state travel, warned against gathering in large crowds and requested that nursing homes limit visitors, echoing similar precautions taken throughout the country.
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