CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice unveiled an aggressive plan Monday to reopen the state’s economy while loosening coronavirus testing benchmarks without explanation.
The Republican is moving to lift restrictions if the state’s positive test rate stays below 3% for three days, a reversal of a previous goal to have cases decline over two weeks.
“We’ve come up with a methodology that we think will move us forward with science and math behind it and experts behind it and leadership behind it,” Justice said without elaborating. A spokesman for the governor said more details would be released later Monday.
Coronavirus czar Clay Marsh, echoing guidelines from the White House, previously said he wanted cases to decline for 14 consecutive days before virus rules are eased. On Monday, he endorsed the governor’s plan, saying it meets the goals set by the president. There have been no significant declines in positive cases and 21 people have died in the last 10 days, according to state health data.
The first week of the governor’s phased plan is already in motion. Hospitals will resume performing elective procedures as soon as this week and widespread testing of daycare workers is underway to allow the childcare facilities to open as soon as possible.
The second week would involve the reopening of small businesses, outdoor seating at restaurants as well as barber shops, nail salons and church and funeral services. Then in weeks three to six, offices, hotels, casinos, restaurants and other remaining businesses could open. Further instructions on social distancing and rules for the businesses will be set in the coming weeks.
The strategy could slow or stop if there is an “unexpected increase” in hospitalizations, community outbreaks or if the positive rate rises over 3%, according to the plan. Justice has not set a timeline on allowing nursing home visitations or movie theaters, sporting events or concerts.
The Justice administration did not set clear benchmarks on testing capacity, contact tracing and safety equipment availability it wants to meet as part of the reopening strategy.
The state health department reports around 1,000 people have tested positive for the virus after about 43,000 tests. Thirty-seven people have died in the state. Justice has ordered that staffers and residents of all nursing homes in the state be tested, which has dramatically boosted the number of people who have been screened for the virus.
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.
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