Governor announces more closures as virus cases hit 8

By Anthony Izaguirre - Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Friday closed lodges and the famous Hatfield–McCoy Trails as the state’s confirmed coronavirus cases rose to eight.

The closures come as Justice, a Republican, has ordered several other businesses in the state to shutter. He said he hopes the state can avoid widespread shutdowns like those in California, Pennsylvania and New York by adhering to guidance on social distancing and avoiding large crowds.

“West Virginia can be the beacon of the world right now if we’ll just do everything in our power to stay apart,” Justice said.

Still, the governor encouraged people to get outside into nature and the state parks, saying “we want you to get outside and stay away from people.” He said the closures of the lodges and Hatfield-McCoy Trails is meant to deter out-of-state tourism.

The state now has eight confirmed cases of the virus, health officials said. There are two cases in Tucker County, one in Monongalia County, two in Jefferson County, one in Jackson County, one in Kanawha County and one Mercer County, state health officials said. As of Friday afternoon, 240 people have been tested, with 219 negatives, 13 tests pending and the eight positives.

Testing in the state has increased in recent days, though a lack of tests remains a problem nationwide among people who’ve been turned away or had to navigate onerous bureaucracies while suffering symptoms.

Drive-thru testing sites for pre-screened patients have opened in multiple West Virginia cities. WVU Health Sciences Executive Dean Clay Marsh told reporters Thursday that WVU Medicine has tested around 300 people at its drive through sites in Morgantown, Parkersburg, Bridgeport, Wheeling, and Martinsburg, with results expected in the coming days.

Justice said West Virginia’s cases will rise as more testing inevitably leads to more confirmed cases.

“It’s going to get worse, and that’s what we’re concerned about,” he said.

West Virginia was the last state in the U.S. to report a confirmed case of the virus — a fact that drew praise from President Donald Trump — though Justice had said it was due to a lack of testing and had repeatedly warned residents that the virus was in the state undetected.

The governor previously issued a state of emergency and ordered the closure of bars, restaurants, casinos, gyms, health clubs, recreation centers, barbershops, nail salons and hair salons. Bars and restaurants can still offer carry-out and food delivery services, as well as sell unopened beer and wine to people who buy food.

Schools statewide are closed until at least March 27.

Justice issued an executive order Thursday easing regulations around unemployment benefits following a spike in claims from people who have lost jobs or had hours dramatically scaled back due to the pandemic.

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.


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By Anthony Izaguirre

Associated Press