CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice pushed to ease coronavirus restrictions on hospitals even as confusion over the state’s testing capacity continued Monday.
The Republican governor said he will allow hospitals to begin performing elective procedures if the facilities meet an unspecified set of criteria, saying it would be the first step to restarting the economy.
Justice, a billionaire coal and agricultural businessman without previous government experience, has described reopening the state amid the pandemic as a balancing act between finances and safety.
At a news conference Monday, while promising vast increases in the state’s ability to test for the virus, the governor shifted his emphasis to businesses. He pitched the state as a manufacturing hub and warned of the fatal consequences of an economic lockdown.
“We have got to start back,” he said. “And I will assure you that we will start back as safely as we possibly possibly can but there’s no possibility that we can avoid 100 percent of the risk.”
Clay Marsh, a high-ranking West Virginia University health official tapped as the state’s coronavirus czar, and Bill Crouch, secretary of the state health department, said new facilities are beginning to test and that the state has partnered with LabCorp, a major lab testing company.
Marsh, who on Friday said the state could do up to 3,000 tests a week, offered dramatically different figures Monday, some in contradiction with numbers he had said minutes prior. First, he said the state could do between 4,000 to 6,500 tests in a day. Moments later, he said “so currently we do about 2,500 tests a day, 17,000 a week, our potential in-state is 4,566 a day and 31,900 a week, and that’s not with LabCorp.”
There have only been 22,357 tests done so far statewide since the outbreak began, according to health officials. The death toll has jumped from 16 people on Friday to 26 people on Monday. At least 908 people have tested positive for the virus.
Justice has directed the state health department along with the National Guard to test residents and staffers at all nursing homes in the state, as a rash of outbreaks at the centers has lead to several cases and deaths, including four fatalities at Eldercare Health and Rehabilitation in Ripley. The governor said the effort would involve testing 28,000 people and could be finished in a week.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can bring about more severe illness, including pneumonia, and even death.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.